24 Aug 2021

Venue: Online | Webex

This Briefing focused on the preparations of the Ministerial Conference on Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution, convened by Ecuador, Germany, Ghana and Vietnam with the support of UNEP, in hybrid format, with a core presence in Geneva, on 1-2 September 2021.

About this Briefing

The Ministerial Conference on Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution – Informal consultations addressing the mandates of UNEA 3/7 and 4/6 towards the 5th UN Environmental Assembly (UNEA-5.2), jointly organized by Ecuador, Germany, Ghana and Vietnam, with technical and logistical support from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), will take place on 1-2 September 2021 in a hybrid format, with a core presence at the World Trade Organization premises in Geneva.

The briefing, organized within the framework of the Geneva Environment Network and the Geneva Beat Plastic Pollution Dialogues was held online, on Tuesday 24 August 2021, from 15.00 to 16.00 CEST. Primarily targeted at the Permanent Missions based in Geneva and the stakeholders involved in the  Conference, this session provided an update on the preparations and answer questions.



Opening Remarks (Co-Conveners)

  • Walter SCHULDT, Director, Environment and Sustainable Development, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility, Ecuador
  • Axel BORCHMANN, Deputy Head of Unit, Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, Germany
  • Oliver BOACHIE, Special Assistant to the Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, Ghana
  • Duc LUU, Deputy Director, Department of Science, Technology and International Cooperation, Administration of Seas and Islands, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Viet Nam

Update on the Preparations of the Ministerial Conference

  • Leticia CARVALHO, Head, Marine and Freshwater Branch, UNEP




Please address requests for Agenda Item5: High-level dialogue to the email address unep-gpmarinelitter@un.org

If you intend to participate online, please register here by 25 August. Virtual participants can choose between active online participation (max. three official delegates per country or one delegate per Major Stakeholder group) and following the streaming of the event without having the possibility to interact.

Opening Remarks

Walter SCHULDT | Director, Environment and Sustainable Development, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility, Ecuador

  • The Ministerial Conference is not a one-time event, but one that tries to build up upon past efforts done at different levels that aim to address the global problem of plastic pollution — from the Basel Convention, previous UNEA resolutions, and work of other expert groups. Within the context of COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to provide the space to address such a problem.
  • It was necessary to launch a process through the two preparatory meetings. Attended by 600-900 participants from over 100 countries, the first was held on 27-28 May and the second on 28-29 June 2021, where a discussion on what could be the components, scope and guiding principles of the global agreement. These included discussing the various approaches to addressing plastic pollution: from the entire life cycle approach, the means and implementation, the monitoring and reporting, to the finance of the implementation. The results of these meetings were certainly translated through the circulated draft of key messages to the draft ministerial declaration, which is hoped to be adopted at the end of the Ministerial Conference. The objective of this political push towards the adoption of the resolution at the UNEA-5.2 in February 2022 is to launch a formal process of negotiations of the global agreement.
  • The Ministerial Conference will also be complemented by side events, such as a discussion on the impact of plastic pollution on trade.

Axel BORCHMANN | Deputy Head of Unit, Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, Germany

  • There have been numerous initiatives that have been started during the last years, such as the G7 and G20. Each UNEA that has happened has also tackled the issue, and as a whole, have seen progress in defining the substance and fleshing out the urgency for action.
  • Different workstreams on the issue have also been accumulated over the years, that are supposed to complement each other. Having different formations and points of in Nairobi, New York, Geneva, and elsewhere, is a great asset overall in providing support.
  • Private sector initiatives have also provided huge support for the process, which are necessary to build on.
  • The co-conveners would like to remind participants that given the unusual circumstances (i.e., the pandemic) they have now a year to raise more support, elaborate on the different perspectives on how to handle the problem, provide a platform to those who want to raise their voices and concerns, and reach out to those who have yet to finalize their positions, in the hopes of joining the “chorus of countries” supportive of formalizing discussions at UNEA-5.2.
  • There is a wide array of possible approaches to the problem. As such, the co-conveners are convinced that there is a need for a robust framework in the form of a global agreement with ambitious approaches. This is not to preempt the discussion and negotiations at UNEA-5.2, but to give impetus, gather support to get into the formal processes, and gain momentum in the period between the two parts of UNEA-5.
  • Having the UN on board to give the opportunity to feed into the process, clarify and ask questions, and gather input has also been helpful.

Oliver BOACHIE | Special Assistant to the Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, Ghana

  • Since 2018, Ghana has taken bold steps to address the issue of plastic pollution and marine litter, which has allowed them to become the first African country to be a part of the World Economic Forum and of the Global Plastics Action Partnership.
  • The scope of plastic pollution and marine litter goes beyond the capabilities of one country. The transborder movement of plastics requires nations to come together to address the problem. Steps have been undertaken, and most nations are now in consensus to come together to deal with this issue. The message of the Conference is to get as many countries as possible to share the same views to have something that all nations will embrace. There are no hard rules; the co-conveners are open to contributions from all countries because if they don’t have the buy-in, none of these efforts will yield the results that we need.

“We are encouraging as many countries to join us during the Conference… So that when we go to UNEA-5.2, we have the backing and the momentum to get the mandate to start negotiations on this global agreement.”

– Oliver Boachie, Ghana

Duc LUU | Deputy Director, Department of Science, Technology and International Cooperation, Administration of Seas and Islands, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Viet Nam

  • We are all aware of the statistics on plastic pollution and marine litter. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the increase of single-use face masks and gloves, and thus a possible increase of plastic pollution. Scientists have also predicted that there could be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050, should there be no measures to pave the way towards integrating strategies and long-term goals in response to these challenges.
  • The plastic pollution is a global problem, and thus requires global actions. Solutions require coordination, shared responsibility, and a collective approach. The ongoing work towards a new legally binding global agreement to end plastic pollution is important to the future of our oceans. The proposal of these sessions is to provide and update the preparations, and answer questions from key stakeholders, governments, development partners, private sector, civil society and others, in the lead-up to the Ministerial Conference. The Conference will be a platform for high-level discussions and building momentum for decisive global actions to be taken at UNEA-5.2.
  • We welcome all questions relevant to the Conference as well.

Update on the Preparations of the Ministerial Conference

Leticia CARVALHO | Head, Marine and Freshwater Branch, UNEP

  • UNEP is pleased that there are parallel country-led informal processes related to the marine litter and plastic pollution discussions. UNEP is supporting this particular Ministerial Conference as well as its pre-meetings. But while they welcome the discussions, the decisions will be led by the member states. UNEP also believes that there is a need for a concerted, urgent worldwide efforts to alter the situation effectively. Having the World Trade Organization (WTO) host the conference also highlights the global challenges require multilateral solutions.

Logistical information and updates on the Ministerial Conference

  • Registration for in-person participation is closed. Registration for online participation is open until 25 August 2021.
  • Latest numbers on registration (as of 24 August):
    • TOTAL: 648 participants — 365 from governments / 383 from major stakeholders
      • IN-PERSON: 145 participants — 113 from governments, 32 from major stakeholders
      • REGIONAL OVERVIEW: Africa (35), Asia Pacific (18), Eastern Europe (9), Latin America and the Caribbean (25) , Western Europe and other states (27)
      • VIPs and MINISTERS: 56 participants — 40 ministers or vice-ministers, 16 ambassador
  • Through the event website, numerous communications material  on behalf of the co-conveners via the UNEP Secretariat of the Governing Bodies, that contain information on the Ministerial Conference have been made available. These include:
  • For online participants who have submitted their Letter of Accreditation, testing sessions on the platform are available from Wednesday, 25 August to Tuesday, 31 August. This is highly recommended to help familiarize with the platform.

Q&A / Additional Information

Statement by Switzerland

  • Multilateralism must not stopped. Environmental decline continues even under this global pandemic. We must not stop discussing, debating, and deciding on matters that will protect the environment. The action by the co-conveners are welcomed, with the aim of collectively bring everyone together.
  • Plastic pollution has become a global issue, even for a land-locked country like Switzerland. Our quantitative contribution to plastic to the world’s oceans is small, however our material footprint has crossed abroad, our demand for plastic is increasing as the country is integral to the international plastics economy and unsustainable consumption production patterns.
  • They are pleased to have many of the participants joining in the Ministerial Conference in Geneva, home of many stakeholders and actors with respect to this topic. They call for many to join through virtual means, to show up and take action on environmental policy making and debate. They recommend many to join events leading up to UNEA-5.2 through the Geneva Environment Network, namely the Beat Plastic Pollution Dialogues.

Statement by Norway

  • Norway is proud to co-organize the Geneva Beat Plastic Pollution Dialogues, together with Switzerland, the Geneva Environment Network, the BRS Secretariat, and other partners. The first part of the series, which took place earlier this year, clearly showed the global attention and willingness to address the issue. We are pleased that these important discussions now continue through this Part II of the dialogues.
  • The plastics crisis is largely due to the lack of good governance, and that the management of plastics across the whole life cycle has been underregulated. Since 2014, Norway has pushed for stronger global commitment to address marine plastic litter and plastic pollution. We think a new global agreement is the most efficient approach to this.
  • We are grateful for the leadership shown by Ecuador, Germany, Ghana, Vietnam and UNEP to convene next week’s Ministerial Conference on Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution. We hope and expect that this conference will advance the global discussions on what elements could be included in a new global agreement on marine plastic pollution and look forward to participating in the discussions. It is their ambition that UNEA will decide to start negotiations towards a new global agreement.

Q | Will there be interpretations available (particularly Arabic) during the Ministerial Conference?

  • Schuldt: During the Ministerial Conference, there will be interpretation available in the six official UN languages to facilitate the participation of both in-person and virtual participants.

Q | Will the Draft Declaration be translated to French (and other languages)?

  • Carvalho: It will not be translated into other languages. By the deadline on 27 August, the comments and inputs received and provided by participants and interested players will be taken into consideration. A revised version will be made available to all participants of the Conference. However, no translation of the Draft will be provided.

Q – Israel | Will there be a formal order?

  • Borchmann: There won’t be an official order as this is an informal process. There will be an open, informal discussion with no formal voting.
  • Schuldt: Regarding the vote, the expectation is to have the Ministerial Statement, alongside the Summary be agreed upon by consensus, and to become a resource for the meeting. Countries who are not ready to join or who were not able to participate in the Conference can still have the opportunity to do so afterwards, until around the end of September.

Q – France | Regarding the organization of the Ministerial Conference, should we want to make an intervention during the ministerial segment of the Conference, may we ask for more information on how it is managed (from having the links, system, and timing of the statement)?

  • Carvalho: You may send your requests to the email (unep-gpmarinelitter@un.org) to book the statement under Agenda item no. 5, the high-level dialogue.

Q – Yemen | Could you please give more information regards the High level General Debate session. How can delegations be granted a time slot? 

  • Borchmann: There is a possibility to attend in person, but due to time constraints, we have to be rather strict for delegations on taking the floor, particularly concerning Agenda item no. 3, during the reflections on the outcome of the statement.
  • Carvalho: This is an informal set-up, therefore the meeting is not running on official UN rules of procedures. However, we will try to stick to the UNEA rules as best as possible. No voting, however, is envisaged. The discussions and possible common understanding of the outcome has to be reached through an open conversation during the session.

Q – Chile | Will you confirm the exact time in which the delegations may take the floor during the high level section? We want to have the highest representation possible but the agenda of our authorities is tight.
Q – Belgium | When will the speaking slots on the high dialogue part for the ministers be released?

  • Borchmann: The timing for the high-level discussion will be based on the requests that are received. There will be a two-minute timeslot for each, and if there is a special time in mind, the high-level minister must be made available for it, particularly when it comes to their schedule.
  • Carvalho: Unfortunately, we are not able yet to provide precise timeslots as the choreography is being discussed and prepared. This is related to the fact that registration remains open until 25 August. As soon as the list is closed, the member states can reach out to coordinate better and more feasible time slots.

Q – Indonesia | From Leticia’s explanation, there will be 56 high level officials join the high level dialogue. Could you inform us, of these 56 high level officials, how many Ministers who have confirmed their participation in the high-level dialogue?

  • Borchmann: What we regard as high-level or VIPs are ministers, vice-ministers and ambassadors.
  • Carvalho: Out of the 56 VIPs, 40 are ministers or vice-ministers, and 16 are ambassadors.

Q – CIEL | Is there any possibility for NGOs attending the meeting in person to directly deliver interventions during the Ministerial Conferences and not only through Major Groups?

  • Boachie: All co-conveners are eager to have as many stakeholder groups to participate and make statements. Unfortunately, time will not allow to give the opportunity to every NGO. As of now, there are two or three global NGOs that have been penciled in to make formal statements during the conference. It is still encouraged, however, to participate. There are three or four sessions during the conference where participants are given the opportunity to ask questions and make statements. During this time, if the NGO has not been officially penciled in, this is a good opportunity to do so.

Q – CEA | Will biodegradable plastics be covered?

  • Borchmann: We will not be getting into the details of the discussion, but rather remain at the general level of discussing the challenges of plastics as a whole rather than specific solutions.

Closing (co-conveners)

What we are trying to create is a platform for all of us to get together, to address many steps we all agreed need a collective effort of all nations.

  • Thanks to the Geneva Environment Network and partners for convening this briefing and the efforts made through the process of the Geneva dialogues on plastic pollution. Thanks to UNEP for supporting our countries in the preparation of the Ministerial Conference and WTO for the hosting the conference next week, as well as Switzerland. Thanks to everybody that managed to join us today.
  • Colleagues from Permanent Missions and Ministries are invited to urge the capitals that have not yet registered for the Ministerial Conference to register.
  • For those already registered, note that the conveners are not preempting any position, but serving as facilitators of the different views and the common views that have been expressed during the whole preparatory process, where we have seen very clearly a real expectation and political will to move more concretely towards starting a negotiation for a global agreement.
  •  This is of course not the space to launch the process but yes to have more clarity among ourselves of what could be the components of that agreement, and to provide the political impulse that is necessary for the adoption of such mandate at UNEA-5.2.
  • Please join us in person in person or online, and make your voices heard. Looking forward to see you next week both online and in person on 1-2 September.