UNEA 4

Strengthening Coordination And Knowledge

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.

Knowledge

Similar to previous resolutions, the UNEA 4 resolution noted that marine litter, increasing plastic marine litter and microplastics is a serious and global problem, with wide-spread effects. It also noted that microplastics – either added into products or generated during their lifecycle – represent a concern for the food chain, and human health and food safety.

Key principles & strategies

The resolution highlighted the immediate need for strengthened science-policy interface, global coordination and governance to implement previous relevant UNEA resolutions. Increased data and effective monitoring on land and sea is also mentioned. The resolution asked member states to work in collaboration with the private sector to foster innovation on product design and reduce discharge of plastics and microplastics into the marine environment.

The role of UNEP moving forward

UNEP was asked to  strengthening scientific and technological knowledge on marine plastic litter and microplastics. The resolution requested to specially focus on strengthening the coordination and cooperation through the establishment of a multi-stakeholder platform within UNEP.  The resolution asked UNEP to elaborate guidelines on plastics use and production, through the 10-Year Framework on Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns. It also extended the mandate of the Ad Hoc Open-Ended Expert Group on Marine Litter and microplastics, by identifying financial and technical resources or mechanism for supporting countries, encourage partnership and cooperation, and analyse the effectiveness of existing and potential response options and activities.

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Read the full UNEA 4 resolution

You can read the full UNEA 4 resolution on “Marine plastic debris and microsplastics” in PDF

The United Nations Environment Assembly Resolution

4/6. Marine plastic litter and microplastics

The United Nations Environment Assembly,

Noting with concern that the high and rapidly increasing levels of marine litter, including plastic litter and microplastics, represent a serious environmental problem at a global scale, negatively affecting marine biodiversity, ecosystems, animal well-being, societies, livelihoods, fisheries, maritime transport, recreation, tourism and economies,

Noting that microplastics added to products or generated during their life cycle are found along the food chain and that there is therefore concern about their potential to negatively affect human health, including food safety, and that those aspects thus require further examination,

Reiterating the importance of the long-term elimination of discharge of litter and microplastics into the oceans and of avoiding detriment to marine ecosystems and the human activities dependent on them from marine litter and microplastics, as stressed in Environment Assembly resolution 3/7 on marine litter and microplastics,

Stressing also the importance of the prevention and reduction of marine litter, including plastic litter and microplastics, from both land and sea-based sources, for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development1 and the Sustainable Development Goals,

Stressing further the importance of more sustainable management of plastics throughout their life cycle in order to increase sustainable consumption and production patterns, including but not limited to the circular economy and other sustainable economic models, and the importance of environmentally sound waste management, resource efficiency, the “three Rs” (reduce, reuse, recycle), sustainable materials management, innovation in related technologies, the environmentally sound clean-up of marine plastic litter, and international cooperation for effectively preventing pollution from marine litter, including plastic litter and microplastics,

Stressing the urgent need to strengthen the science-policy interface at all levels and to do more to support science-based approaches; improve understanding of the fate, distribution and impact of marine litter, including plastic litter and microplastics, on the marine environment; and promote local, national, regional and global action to prevent and eliminate the discharge of litter, including plastic litter and microplastics, into the marine environment,

  • (a) The recommendations of the Open-ended Working Group of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal to the Conference of the Parties to the Convention at its fourteenth meeting to consider further options under the Convention, including establishing a partnership on plastic waste;
  • (b) The adoption of an action plan by the International Maritime Organization Marine Environment Protection Committee, supported by the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter (1972) and the Protocol thereto, to reduce marine plastic litter from ships;

Underlining the urgent need to consider a strengthened science-policy interface and global coordination, cooperation and governance to more effectively implement its resolutions 1/6 on marine plastic debris and microplastics, 2/11 on marine plastic litter and microplastics and 3/7 on marine litter and microplastics,

Taking note of important developments with regard to exploring options within the mandates of relevant existing international agreements and organizations for addressing marine litter, in particular:

Recognizing the work of the regional seas conventions and programmes for the protection of the marine and coastal environment and reiterating its invitation to regional and international organizations and conventions to increase their action to prevent and reduce marine litter, including plastic litter and microplastics, and the harmful effects thereof and, where appropriate, coordinate such action to achieve that end,

Acknowledging the need for high-quality data and effective monitoring of land- and sea-based sources, and of quantities and the fate and impact of marine litter, including plastic litter and microplastics, and its potential impact on human health, through harmonized methodologies, to enable better and more effective action,

Noting the framework document for the Global Partnership on Marine Litter, agreed upon by its steering committee in October 2018, which outlined the purpose, function and organization of the Global Partnership as a platform for all stakeholders for bottom-up, voluntary cooperation on activities such as the sharing of experience and information and “matchmaking” for project cooperation,

Taking into account the outcome of the work of the open-ended ad hoc expert group on marine litter and microplastics, established by the Environment Assembly at its third session by its resolution 3/7, and in particular the need to increase coherence, coordination and synergies between existing mechanisms and to enhance cooperation and governance with a view to better addressing the challenges posed by marine litter and microplastics at the local, national, regional and global levels,

Mindful of the particular responsibility of the United Nations Environment Programme, pursuant to its mandate,2 to keep under review the world environmental situation in order to ensure that emerging environmental problems of wide international significance receive appropriate and adequate consideration by Governments,

  1. Calls upon Member States and other actors at the local, national, regional and international levels, including in the private sector, civil society and academia, to address the problem of marine litter and microplastics, prioritising a whole-life-cycle approach and resource efficiency, building on existing initiatives and instruments, and supported by and grounded in science, international cooperation and multi-stakeholder engagement;

  2. Requests the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, subject to the availability of resources and benefiting from the work of existing mechanisms, to immediately strengthen scientific and technological knowledge with regard to marine litter, including marine plastic litter and microplastics, through the following activities:
    • (a) Convening existing relevant science advisory initiatives with input from Member States, as appropriate, to provide input into the activities outlined in paragraphs 3 and 7 of the present resolution;
    • (b) Compiling available scientific and other relevant data and information to prepare an assessment on sources, pathways and hazards of litter, including plastic litter and microplastics pollution, and its presence in rivers and oceans; scientific knowledge about adverse effects on ecosystems and potential adverse effects on human health; and environmentally sound technological innovations;
    • (c) Recommending indicators to harmonise monitoring, reporting and assessment methodologies, taking into account key sources of marine litter, including plastic litter and microplastics, in cooperation with relevant international organisations;
    • (d) Gathering information with a view to informing policies and action regarding environmentally sound technological innovations, options and measures for reducing the risk of discharges of litter, including plastic litter and microplastics, into the marine environment, taking into account the whole life cycle of plastics, in support of local, national, regional and global action;
      • (a) Serving as a forum for enabling governments, industry, academia, civil society and other stakeholders to share experiences and coordinate action on a regular or ad hoc basis;
      • (b) Serving as a repository for assessments of the ways in which land- and sea-based sources of marine litter, including plastic litter and microplastics, are addressed at the national, regional and international levels; conceptual and practical guidance materials to help governments, organizations and private entities address aspects of marine litter; and current action plans, management practices and guidelines for enabling, enhancing and supporting action to prevent the discharge of litter, including plastic litter and microplastics, into the marine environment;
      • (c) Raising global awareness of the issue with a wide variety of audiences, including governments, policymakers, resource managers, educators, private-sector entities and the public;
      • (d) Establishing and maintaining a database of technical and scientific information related to marine litter, such as inventories of discharges into the marine environment, scientific studies and innovations to address marine litter;
      • (e) Promoting collaboration among relevant scientific mechanisms to facilitate access to scientific data and information in order to disseminate sound scientific practices, such as guidelines for the sampling and analysis of marine macroplastics and microplastics, and to improve the policy relevance of research;
      • (f) Promoting action in the framework of regional seas conventions and programmes, subject to the availability of resources, to address marine litter through action plans, protocols, partnerships and other activities;
        • (a) Reduce the discharge of microplastics into the marine environment, including, where possible, through the phasing out of products that contain microplastics;
        • (b) Foster innovation in product design to reduce secondary microplastics release from land- and sea-based sources and improve waste management where needed;
        • (c) Prevent losses of primary microplastics, in particular pre-production pellets (flakes and powders), to prevent spillage into the environment across the whole manufacturing and supply chain;

  3. Decides to strengthen coordination and cooperation by establishing, subject to the availability of resources and building on existing initiatives, a multi-stakeholder platform within the United Nations Environment Programme to take immediate action towards the long-term elimination, through a life-cycle approach, of discharges of litter and microplastics into the oceans. This may include the following functions:

  4. Recalls its resolution 2/11 on marine plastic litter and microplastics and invites Member States, in close collaboration with the private sector, to:

  5. Requests the Executive Director, through the United Nations Environment Programme’s 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns,3 to develop guidelines for the use and production of plastics in order to inform consumers, including about standards and labels; to incentivise businesses and retailers to commit themselves to using sustainable practices and products; and to support governments in promoting the use of information tools and incentives to foster sustainable consumption and production;

  6. Invites all Member States, relevant organisations in the United Nations system, other relevant regional and international organisations, the private sector, civil society, non-governmental organisations and individuals, on every appropriate occasion, including such opportunities as World Environment Day and World Oceans Day, to:
    • (a) Consider the contribution they can make to addressing marine litter, including plastic litter and microplastics; (a) Take stock of existing activities and action by governments, regional and global instruments, international organisations, the private sector, non-governmental organisations and other relevant contributors to reduce marine plastic litter and microplastics with the aim of the long-term elimination of discharge into the oceans;
    • (b) Identify technical and financial resources or mechanisms for supporting countries in addressing marine plastic litter and microplastics;
    • (c) Encourage partnerships that undertake activities such as the development of source inventories, the improvement of waste management, awareness-raising and the promotion of innovation in relation to the prevention of marine litter, including plastic litter and microplastics;
    • (d) Analyse the effectiveness of existing and potential response options and activities with regard to marine litter and microplastics at all levels to determine the contribution that they make to solving the global problem;
    • (e) Raise awareness of the importance of, and encourage, sustainable consumption and production, in line with Environment Assembly resolution 4/1 on innovative pathways to achieve sustainable consumption and production, with regard to products likely to generate marine litter, including plastic litter and microplastics;
    • (f) Promote environmentally sound waste management and marine plastic litter recovery in line with paragraph 4 (h) of Environment Assembly resolution 3/7;

  7. Decides to extend until its fifth session the mandate of the ad hoc open-ended expert group on marine litter and microplastics established by its resolution 3/7, and requests the expert group, building on its previous work, to:

  8. Invites the Environment Management Group to engage in and contribute to the work of the ad hoc open-ended expert group on marine litter and microplastics by providing, inter alia, mapping of all United Nations agencies, programmes, initiatives and other sources of expertise relating to marine litter, including plastic litter and microplastics;

  9. Requests the Executive Director to report to the United Nations Environment Assembly at its fifth session on the progress achieved in the implementation of the present resolution.
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