Speech by Steffi Lemke at the opening of the German side event at the Our Oceans Conference.

Steffi Lemke spricht auf der Our Ocean Conference.
Federal Minister Steffi Lemke gives the opening speech of the German side event at the Our Oceans Conference.

– Check against delivery –

Ladies and gentlemen,

Islands of waste floating on the ocean, seabirds and fish tangled in plastic nets. This is global pollution. Everyone has seen these images. Pollution is one of the three great environmental crises of our time, alongside climate change and biodiversity loss. The international community adopted the Paris Agreement to combat the climate crisis. Last December, the UN Biodiversity Conference (CBD COP 15) in Montreal agreed a global framework to stop the loss of biodiversity. Now, the international community must tackle pollution.

As environment minister, I know that many people are very concerned about our oceans and marine wildlife. They want a binding global agreement on plastics to effectively stop pollution.

For this reason, it was a real breakthrough in 2021 when UNEA issued a mandate to negotiate this kind of plastics agreement. During Germany’s G7 Presidency and its G20 Presidencies in 2015 and 2017, we already put oceans and the plastics issue on the agenda. This helped pave the way for the G7’s adoption of an Ocean Deal last year. The plastics agreement is now the next important step. Germany is pushing for a strong, binding agreement as a member of the High Ambition Coalition.

Plastic pollution threatens the natural foundations of life and the food supply worldwide, puts human health at risk and endangers countless marine organisms and entire ecosystems. It cannot be stopped without a solid framework in international law. The agreement must focus on the areas where it can have the greatest impact, above all at the start of the value chain. Steadily rising production volumes must be curbed. To achieve this, industry has to be brought on board. Manufacturers must take on responsibility for the entire life cycle of packaging. They must also play a part in remedying past environmental damage. This is the starting point for effective circular economy.

Transboundary pollution demands resolute action from the international community. Official forums such as the G7 or UNEA play a key role. The Our Ocean Conference has now become a tradition. It brings policymakers, industry and environmental organisations together at one event and promotes informal exchange. Thank you for attending this side event to engage in detailed and practical discussion about solutions. How can plastic be reused or recycled? What are the alternatives? The more we tackle the plastics transition from all sides, the more successful it will be.

Last but not least, global crises require global solidarity. This is why we want to support developing countries in combating the flood of plastic waste. The German Environment Ministry has launched a Grant Programme Against Marine Litter. The total funding volume is now 168 million euros. The aim is to promote international knowledge and technology transfer. Funding goes to projects focused, for example, on enhancing waste disposal and circular economy, building needed institutional structures or promoting societal change.

All of these measures must be interlinked. Only then will we be able to collectively put a stop to marine pollution. Thank you all for your efforts. I wish you all fruitful discussions.

03.03.2023 | Speech Marine Conservation

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