February 26, 2019

UNEP Shares Options for Continued Work on Marine Litter and Microplastics in Advance of UNEA-4

News Source: SDG Knowledge Hub

Author(s): Catherine Benson Wahlén

February 2019: The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has shared a progress report on the work of the Ad Hoc Open-Ended Expert Group on 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, ‘Progress in the Work of the Ad Hoc Open-Ended Expert Group on Marine Litter and Microplastics Established by Resolution 3/7’ (UNEP/EA.4/12), notes that the UNEP Secretariat convened two meetings of the Expert Group in 2018 to examine the barriers to and options for combating marine plastic litter and microplastics from all sources, especially land-based sources. The expert group also discussed: international, regional and national response options to marine litter and microplastics, including innovative approaches and actions and voluntary and legally binding governance strategies and approaches; environmental, social and economic costs and benefits of different responses options; and the feasibility and effectiveness of different response options. Experts agreed on the importance of reducing the impact of marine litter and microplastics on oceans, the marine and coastal environment and coastal communities, human health and economies, and recommended considering a full life-cycle approach to move towards more resource efficient and evidence-based management of plastic.

Experts stressed an “urgent need for action” if the world hopes to achieve SDG 14 (life below water) and SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production), observing that production and consumer demand for plastic jeopardizes achievement of these SDGs. They recommended increasing capacity to reuse, repair, remanufacture, refurbish, recover and recycle plastic waste and manage plastic waste streams. The expert group observed that an effective response would “require a new legally binding agreement.” The group prioritized prevention while also recognizing the need to address “legacy marine litter and microplastics” that are already in the environment.

On options for continued work, the expert group agreed on a need to improve understanding on the impacts of plastic litter on the marine environment, support evidence-based approaches, strengthen the science-policy interface, and promote global, regional, national and local global action to eliminate marine litter. The group stressed that overall approaches should be comprehensive, evidence-based, holistic and transparent and incorporate sea-based and land-based sources, the circular economy perspective and a life-cycle approach. Specific recommendations include:

  • Align responses to marine litter and microplastics with the SDGs;
  • Consider the feasibility and effectiveness of a potential international legally binding agreement on marine litter and microplastics;
  • Strengthen global coordination through the Global Partnership on Marine Litter and the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management and other existing partnerships and mechanisms;
  • Improve regional coordination, particularly with regional seas programmes, regional fisheries bodies and river basin committees;
  • Establish a scientific and technical advisory group on marine litter and microplastics, benefiting from the work of the Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection and other existing mechanisms;
  • Explore an inter-agency examination of health and environmental aspects in relation to marine litter and microplastics with a source-to-sea approach as well as costs and benefits related to job transition;
  • Prepare a compendium of relevant existing and planned industry initiatives to enhance transparency and promote partnership opportunities; and
  • Encourage new and enhance existing forms of financing, technical and capacity support to developing countries and small island developing States (SIDS).