UNEA resolutions on marine litter

The UN Environment Assembly (UNEA), the key global forum for discussing and agreeing on environmental issues, has passed four resolutions on marine litter since 2014. This site offers an overview of all four. 

At the first UNEA, the nations recognized the emerging global problem negatively impacting the marine environment and requested UNEP to provide a report on marine plastic and microplastic.

At UNEA 2, the parties asked UNEP to produce an assessment of the effectiveness of global and regional governance strategies for marine plastics, and to support developing countries in combatting marine litter. The resolution also noted the importance of product life-cycle approaches, the polluter pays principle, and reduction, reuse and recycling (the “three Rs”).

At UNEA 3, an assessment on the effectiveness of global and regional governance was launched during the assembly. It showed that there is no existing global framework effectively dealing with marine litter and microplastic. Therefore, an expert group was established to provide recommendations for global solutions. The countries also agreed on a long-term zero vision, meaning that no plastic litter or microplastic should enter the ocean.


At the fourth UNEA, the parties declared that more coordination and cooperation is needed, and that the expert group that had been established at UNEA 3 would continue its work. The resolution also asked UNEP to strengthen scientific and technological knowledge about the marine plastic problem, as well as gather more information on policies and action.

What has UNEA achieved so far?

At the first UNEA meeting in 2014 (UNEA 1), the assembly passed a resolution highlighting marine litter and microplastics as an emerging global environmental problem and noting the need for more research on the problem. The resolution called for a new study of the issue, which led to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) releasing a report in 2016 entitled “Marine Plastic debris and microplastics: Global lessons and research to inspire action and guide policy change.” This report played a crucial role in increasing the scientific knowledge on marine litter and microplastics.

During the UNEA 2 meeting in 2016, the member states agreed that they needed a better understanding of the current international governance of marine litter and microplastics. They passed a resolution calling for a comprehensive assessment of the effectiveness of international, regional and sub-regional governance strategies and approaches to combat marine plastic debris and microplastics, which was presented at UNEA 3.

At the UNEA 3 meeting in 2017, the member states adopted a global zero-emission vision, which aims to eliminate the discharge of litter and microplastics into the oceans over the long term. The resolution called for UNEP to play a stronger role in combatting marine litter and requested an overview of all voluntary commitments targeting marine plastics and microplastics. The resolution also established an Ad Hoc Open-Ended Expert Group to study and propose solutions to the marine plastics crisis. The group convened twice before UNEA 4 and provided recommendations.

During the UNEA 4 meeting in 2019, the parties decided to extend the mandate of the ad hoc group. Their resolution also called on UNEP to continue strengthening scientific and technological knowledge on marine plastics, and stressed the importance of coordination and collaboration.