The first United Nations (UN) Ocean Conference ended last week with the adoption by consensus of a 14-point Call for Action where the participating heads of state and government and senior representatives affirmed a “strong commitment to conserve and sustainably use our oceans, seas and marine resources tor sustainable development.”
Topics that were discussed included plastic pollution in the oceans and seas to ocean acidification and illegal fishing.
“The bar has been raised on global consciousness and awareness of the problem in the oceans,” the President of the UN General Assembly, Peter Thomson, told journalists in New York.
The week-long conference, where some 6,000 people participated, was the first time that the UN brought everyone together to discuss the challenges facing the world's oceans.
There were eight plenary meetings and seven partnership dialogues as well as 150 side events and 41 exhibitions.
The main points from the political document and this week's discussions will be part of the UN High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development, the UN's central body for follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals adopted in September 2015. The HLPF is scheduled to meet next month in New York.
In addition to the political Call for Action, participants – who also included thousands of civil society representatives, academics, artists, financial institutions and other practitioners and activists – pledged actions to conserve and sustainable use the oceans, seas and marine resources. This is the goal of SDG14.
By Friday afternoon, more than 1,300 voluntary commitments had already been registered.
Last week, the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) announced a new marine litter task force in concert with the conference.
ISWA’s task force is a response to the SDG14 “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development” and a follow-up to some of the findings in the pioneering UNEP/ISWA Global Waste Management Outlook report.
ISWA aims to establish and exemplify the fundamentally positive role sound management of waste and resources can have in the medium and long term towards mitigating and eventually resolving plastic marine pollution.
"We need to understand the material flows, and combine them with material properties, exposures and risks: in short, we need to identify where the major leakages and hazards occur, and then prioritize fixing them, starting from the genuinely major ones," ISWA President Antonis Mavropoulos said in a statement. "Open dumping of solid waste in rivers and waterways is, most possibly, a major pathway”
In response to the conference, Steve Russell, American Chemistry Council vice president of plastics issued a statement:
Experts agree: to stem the tide of marine debris, we must prevent land-based trash from reaching our oceans in the first place. We must do so urgently, with an initial focus on parts of the world where such systems are lacking. This includes reducing waste, improved collection and sortation, matched with the latest recycling and recovery technologies.
While we congratulate the United Nations on its tremendous work this week to prioritize this important issue, we had hoped the outcomes would focus more on building political and financial support for improved waste management, or on deploying innovative recycling and energy recovery. Recommendations to instead ban or reduce the use of specific products may give the illusion of progress, but in fact don’t help us solve the bigger problem.
Nevertheless, our industry remains committed to delivering solutions. Plastics makers currently have more than 260 projects around the world either planned, underway or completed to combat marine litter. Our combined efforts, to research and prevent marine debris around the world under our “Declaration of the Global Plastics Industry for Solutions on Marine Litter,” have grown each year since 2011, when it was launched. Signed by 70 plastics associations in 35 countries, the declaration focuses on education, public policy, best practices, plastics recycling and recovery, plastic pellet containment, and research.
In addition, we are working with leaders in regions where ocean plastic inputs are the highest, to ensure that waste management systems are a priority, and to catalyze investment in those systems. And we are working with the UN to provide technical expertise and a range of commitments under the Global Partnership on Marine Litter.
People around the world rely on plastics in innumerable ways. Durable and lightweight, plastics are amazing materials that provide important societal benefits including energy and resource savings, preventing food waste, improved healthcare and consumer protection. But when plastics are improperly managed, their full sustainability benefits aren’t realized. Solutions require the cooperation of industry, civil society and other stakeholders to effect meaningful change.”