April 16, 2019

Nordic Ministers Call for Global Agreement on Marine Plastic

News Source: SDG Knowledge Hub

Author(s): Catherine Benson Wahlén

The ministers of environment and climate of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden approved a Nordic Declaration on plastics at the Nordic Council meeting. The Declaration calls for a global agreement to more effectively and comprehensively address marine plastic litter and microplastics “in an integrated manner.”

In the Declaration, the ministers note with concern the “high and rapidly increasing levels of marine plastic litter and microplastics as a global environmental problem” and a “serious threat to the marine environment” and coastal and marine ecosystem services, such as fishing, recreation and tourism, and maritime transport. The ministers underline the need for a stronger global response to effectively implement measures to reach SDG 14 (life below water) target 14.1, which focuses on preventing and reducing marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution. The ministers further affirm that prevention and reduction of marine plastic litter and microplastics constitute an “essential contribution to achieving the SDGs” and longer-term ambition of eliminating discharges to oceans and seas.

The ministers recognize the importance of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) resolution 3/7 and its ambition of eliminating discharge of plastic litter and microplastics into the oceans, and welcome the UNEA resolution 4/7, including the extension of the Ad Hoc Open Ended Expert Group on marine litter and microplastics. The ministers further encourage active participation in the Expert Group, including through work towards an “ambitious outcome” at the fifth session of UNEA (UNEA-5) in 2021.

In the statement, the ministers stress an urgent need for strengthened action to prevent further plastic pollution and reduce levels of marine plastic litter and microplastic in the marine environment. They further underline that this issue’s global nature “cannot be solved by any one country alone,” and “effective, dedicated global governance” is needed to promote coherence, coordination and effective prioritization of efforts and address existing gaps. The ministers call for development of a global agreement to effectively and comprehensively address marine plastic litter and microplastics and the “whole lifecycle of plastics” with the aim of eliminating plastic litter from land- and sea-based sources from entering the oceans. The ministers encourage other interested actors to join the call for a new global agreement.

The ministers agree to provide financial support for a Nordic report to inform decision making on possible elements and approaches of such a new global agreement. The resulting report will be submitted to the UNEA expert group on the topic before the group meets at the end of 2019. The report is also expected to serve as an input to the EU’s position for the UNEA-5 in 2021.

Norway’s Minister of Climate and the Environment, Ola Elvestuen, who initiated the Nordic Declaration on plastics, emphasized that “no country can solve this [plastic challenge] on its own.” Elvestuen called for a change of course in which discussions begin with asking: “What can the world achieve together?” Iceland’s Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources, Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, said the Nordic region should be a “pioneer in reducing the environmental impact of plastics.” Guðbrandsson stressed, “With this declaration, we are continuing to take the lead globally.”