International Ministerial Conference to combat marine litter and plastic pollution ends with draft resolution

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Published on:
Sequence number: No. 219/21
Topic: Circular Economy
Publisher: Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety
Minister: Svenja Schulze
Term of office: 14.03.2018 - 08.12.2021
19th Leg. period: 14.03.2018 - 08.12.2021
Representatives from the governments of Germany, Ecuador, Ghana and Viet Nam hosted a first International Ministerial Conference on Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution in Geneva.

Germany, Ecuador, Ghana and Viet Nam campaign for a globally binding agreement

More and more countries are campaigning for a globally binding agreement to fight marine litter and plastic waste in the environment. Representatives from the governments of Germany, Ecuador, Ghana and Viet Nam hosted a first International Ministerial Conference on Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution in Geneva to make the case for an agreement of this kind. So far 30 countries have already voiced their commitment in a statement on the basic parameters of such an agreement. The goal is that plastic products worldwide should be produced, used and reused in accordance with the life cycle and circular economy approaches so that as little waste as possible is generated.

Peru and Rwanda also presented a first draft of a UN resolution to pave the way for a binding agreement on marine litter. This draft is intended to serve as the formal basis for the start of negotiations on a global agreement at UN level in February 2022.

The conference was held yesterday and today in Geneva, both on site and virtually. More than 1000 representatives from 140 countries and numerous non-governmental organisations took part.

According to the representatives of the four host countries Germany, Ecuador, Ghana and Viet Nam, plastic pollution, especially marine litter, is a global challenge that needs to be addressed at international level with an ambitious agreement, ideally a UN convention. Despite progress resulting from improved infrastructure and numerous bans and restrictions on the use of single-use plastics in more than one hundred countries, it is estimated that the amount of waste entering the world’s oceans could almost triple by 2040.

The global and pervasive problem of marine litter not only inflicts major damage on marine ecosystems, but also has a devastating impact on our planet, wildlife and human health. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) identifies plastic pollution as one of three planetary crises – along with climate change and biodiversity loss.

According to the government representatives of the four countries, a global agreement is needed to achieve coordinated action to address the threats posed by marine litter to the seas and oceans. The aim is to provide financial resources for measures to tackle marine litter and create a common framework for action at local, regional, national and international level. The activities are to focus on the entire life cycle of plastics, science-based approaches to monitoring the problem of marine litter and an evaluation of the measures taken.

The Ministerial Conference served to prepare for the second part of the 5th UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) next year, where discussions will be concluded on Peru’s and Rwanda’s draft resolution for a binding global agreement and stronger measures against marine litter and microplastics. This can pave the way for a binding agreement like a UN convention. Germany, Ghana, Ecuador, Vietnam and all EU countries support this draft resolution while other countries have already pledged their support.

This agreement could potentially be based on legislation in more than 120 countries that restrict or ban single-use plastics. In Africa, for example, 34 of 54 nations have introduced bans on single-use plastics. The European Union has also prohibited the use of single-use plastics and exports of unsorted plastic waste.

Twelve million tonnes of plastic waste end up in our oceans every year. Marine animals become entangled in the debris or ingest tiny pieces of plastic, causing injury or death. Specifically, 9 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced over the last 65 years, but of this amount, only 9 percent has been recycled and 12 percent incinerated, which can be an additional source of air pollution. Plastic waste also negatively impacts food safety and quality, human health and coastal tourism, and contributes to climate change.

Country initiatives to combat plastic pollution and marine litter

Germany is actively working to ensure that marine litter is given high priority in global forums and was successful in these efforts at the G7 in 2015 and at the G20 in 2017. At these meetings action plans to combat marine litter were also drawn up for the first time. Within the European Union, a ban on unnecessary single-use plastic items has also been in place in Germany since July 2021.

Ecuador adopted a law in November 2020 that regulates plastic reuse and recycling and bans single-use plastics in retail.

Ghana is one of the countries most dedicated to tackling marine and plastic litter worldwide; in 2019, it became the first African country to join the ambitious Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP). With the support of GPAP, Ghana’s National Plastics Action Partnership (NPAP) was launched to help build a circular economy as the primary tool for reducing plastic waste.

Viet Nam has formulated a development strategy to promote the maritime economy while simultaneously protecting the marine environment and marine ecosystems. It aims in particular to prevent, control and significantly reduce pollution in the marine environment. Viet Nam aspires to become a pioneer in reducing plastic pollution in the oceans.

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