February 26, 2019

UNEP Report Finds Positive Trend Towards Marine Litter Reduction

News Source: SDG Knowledge Hub

Author(s): Catherine Benson Wahlén

February 2019: The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has shared a report analyzing voluntary commitments made in support of SDG 14 (life below water) and efforts to address marine litter and microplastics. The report is one of several that UNEP has released in advance of the fourth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-4).

The report titled, ‘Analysis of Voluntary Commitments Targeting Marine Litter and Microplastics Pursuant to Resolution 3/7’ (UNEP/EA.4/11), analyzes commitments in the context of the UN Conference to Support the Implementation of SDG 14, the Our Ocean Conference, the UN Sustainable Development Platform, the Clean Seas campaign and the Environment Assembly portal for voluntary reporting relating to marine litter. The commitments analyzed focus on two tracks: targeted interventions that specifically address marine litter and microplastics, such as improved management of land-based waste; and system-wide actions to help shift the economy away from plastics and fossil fuel use towards a circular economy of reuse, remanufacturing and recycling of plastics, such as behavioral change and societal transformation.

The analysis finds that the main difference in 2018 commitments is the scaling up of stakeholder engagement and innovation and the increase in the number of voluntary commitments with the potential to significantly improve plastic removal and reduce leakage into coastal and marine environments. The analysis finds that governments “remain at the forefront” of activities to reduce marine litter and debris and tackle plastics in the ocean, although the role of civil society and foundations is growing. In comparison to 2017, there has been a greater emphasis in voluntary commitments on addressing marine plastics, including microbeads, at the source, through their removal from the supply chain, changing packaging and sourcing alternatives.

The report finds that, if the scale of commitments continues to rise in a similar manner to 2016-2018 and funding is secured, there will be a “positive trend towards reductions in marine litter by 2025 in some areas” in support of achieving SDG target 14. 1. Target 14.1 aims to, by 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution. The report recommends exploring ways to utilize and build on existing mechanisms, with a view to maximizing their synergies, impact and efficacy.

To better understand and measure progress, the report argues there is a need to define what a considerable reduction is and the level at which that reduction has occurred, including expected increase in plastic production for the next ten years. Additional recommendations include: conducting research on various types of technical solutions, including alternative materials, to better understand the impact of various types of plastic on marine ecosystems; providing greater guidance to civil society and small and medium-sized foundations and businesses to help them improve the effectiveness of their commitments; and increasing emphasis on centralized reporting on commitments and on monitoring changes in marine litter and microplastics, with the aim of directing future commitments and actions.