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April 11, 2024
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UNEP resolves to curb ocean plastic waste

UN agencies at COP27 urge action to tackle impact of plastic on climate

More than 200 nations passed a resolution to eliminate plastic pollution in our seas at the United
Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi. Although it’s not a legally binding
treaty, this ground-breaking resolution could pave the way to one.

Global marine threat The treaty approved by 200 countries intends to turn the tide on
throwaway plastic packaging that is clogging our oceans and threatening marine ecosystems.
Expectations are high that the resolution passed United Nations Environment Assembly marks a turning point aimed at ending marine plastic pollution. At an advance session of the assembly, a UNEP marine ecosystems chief called marine plastic pollution a “planetary crisis,” and environmental groups hope for a “Paris-style” global treaty aimed at tackling it.

The Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015, lays the fundamental groundwork for the world to take action on climate change. Scientists calling for a binding international agreement said the impact of ocean plastics on biodiversity, ecosystem services, food security and human health make it “a global threat.” “Plastic is not constrained by national boundaries, because it migrates via water and air currents and settles in benthic sediments,” reads an excerpt in an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Enforceable agreement

“More than 50 percent of the ocean’s area sits beyond national jurisdiction, including the infamous ‘garbage patches’ in oceanic gyres where plastic accumulates.” The resolution signed this week is nonbinding. But Norwegian Environment Minister Vidar Helgesen said he hoped it would lead to a more enforceable agreement. “We now have an agreement to explore a legally binding instrument and other measures and that will be done at the international level over the next 18 months,” he told Reuters. This resolution reaffirms the commitment under the UN Sustainable Development Goals to “prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient
pollution.” It encourages member states to take action to prevent marine litter and microplastics, do
more to recycle, and quantify and clean up existing ocean pollution.   

Plastic waste pledge

The resolution is part of a declaration the UNEP said would promote fiscal incentives to reduce waste, strengthen laws against pollution, and promote “sustainable lifestyles based on a circular economy.” It encourages member states to take action to prevent marine litter and microplastics, do more to recycle, and quantify and clean up existing ocean pollution. Chile, Oman, Sri Lanka and South Africa joined the Clean Seas campaign during the UNEP Assembly. Sri Lanka announced it would ban single-use plastic products from the start of 2018, and step up efforts to recycle waste. “We have banned plastic bags and are now working to reduce the number of plastic bottles in the country,” said Sri Lankan Environment Minister Anura Dissanayake. “We want to be a green and blue beacon of hope in Asia, and do everything we can to keep the seas clean.” Several other countries have already banned disposable plastic bags.

The Clean Seas campaign also urges companies and individuals to take a pledge against plastic waste, for example promising to reuse plastic bags, choose products with less packaging and bring our own containers for takeout food. In addition, the “stop sucking” campaign to reduce the use of plastic drinking straws.

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