14 Feb 2019

Venue: Palais des Nations | Room XXIV

Organization: Geneva Environment Network

Marine plastic litter and microplastics is a serious and rapidly growing issue of global concern which requires an urgent and global response, involving all relevant actors at all levels.

The Ad Hoc Open-Ended Expert Group on Marine Litter and Microplastics, met in Nairobi from 29 to 31 May and in Geneva from 3 to 7 December 2018, in accordance with resolution UNEP/EA.3/Res.7, on marine litter and microplastics, adopted by the United Nations Environment Assembly at its third session, in December 2017. The options discussed at these meetings will be presented to the UN Environment Assembly at its fourth Session in March 2019.

Experts called for the need for stronger global action to combat marine litter. A number of initiatives and activities exist aiming at eliminating plastic litter entering the ocean and their potential should be explored within their respective mandates. Meanwhile, there was a growing recognition for a new governance model to be explored. Some delegations pointed to a new legally binding agreement as one possible effective response to be considered.

Strengthening waste management systems has been underlined by UNEA as key in solving this issue. Norway has put forward a proposal for a draft resolution on stronger global governance. Other countries have also put forward resolutions.

Regardless of the outcomes of the upcoming Assembly, the Expert Group acknowledged the need to continue progress on urgent national and regional activities in the near term to curb plastic litter entering into the ocean recognizing the options and priorities outlined by the second and third sessions of the UN Environment Assemblies.


Welcome and Introduction

H.E. Amb. Hans BRATTSKAR, Permanent Representative of Norway to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva

Edwige Koumby MISSAMBO, Chargé d’affaires a.i., Permanent Mission of the Gabonese Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva and other international organizations in Switzerland

François GAVE , Deputy Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Switzerland

Video: Preventing Our Oceans from Becoming Dumps

Towards a new global governance model

Christine HAFFNER-SIFAKIS, Strategic Policy & Programme Officer, UN Environment
Kei OHNO-WOODWALL, Programme Officer, Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions
Inger ANDERSEN, Director General, IUCN
Brendan EDGERTON, Director, Circular Economy, WBCSD
Moustapha Kamal GUEYE, Coordinator, Green Jobs Programme, International Labour Organization

(moderation Diana RIZZOLIO, Geneva Environment Network Coordinator, UN Environment)

Video: #CleanSeas Break-Up PSA: “It’s not me, it’s you.”


In recent years, the United Nations Environment Programme and the international community have been emphasizing their efforts to address the problem of plastics in our environment.

A Global Partnership on Marine Litter was launched at the Rio+20 Conference in 2012, and various resolutions have been adopted at the first, second and third United Nations Environment Assemblies, on the challenges posed by marine plastic debris and microplastics, asking to address such materials at source. Governments, businesses and civil society organizations have been encouraged to make bold commitments to beat plastic pollution.

Recently in Geneva,

  • In September 2018, a first high level event on marine plastic litter and microplastics took place during the 11th meeting of the Basel Convention’s Open-ended Working Group.
  • In preparation of the Ad Hoc Open-Ended Expert Group on Marine Litter and Microplastics in Geneva, a debate co-organized by the Permament Missions of Norway and New Zealand was also held at the Palais, in November last year.
  • The Ad Hoc Open-Ended Expert Group on Marine Litter and Microplastics met in Geneva in December 2018, and various side events took place, discussing options to be presented to the UN Environment Assembly at its fourth Session in March 2019.

Welcome and introduction

H.E. Amb. Hans BRATTSKAR, Permanent Representative of Norway to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva

  • Plastic litter travelling by ocean currents knows no borders, and is now found in the most remote places on the planet.
  • It is a truly global problem that calls for stronger international cooperation.
  • The world`s environmental ministers have met three times at the UN Environment Assembly since 2014. Each time they have agreed to comprehensive resolutions on marine litter and microplastics.
  • These resolutions have established a good basis for future work.
  • The resolutions demonstrate broad international consensus on the nature of the problem, and our collective ambition.
  • At UNEA-3 in 2017, the world agreed that the long-term goal must be to stop plastic waste from entering the oceans.
  • There is a broad agreement on the need for immediate action.
  • There is also a growing understanding for the need for stronger governance structures at the global level.
  • The resolutions further point to the need to exploit the potentials of relevant existing international agreements within their mandates, and the importance of cooperation between governments and other key stakeholders such as industry, NGOs, consumers and experts.
  • The UNEA-resolutions underline that preventive measures targeting land-based sources of microplastic pollution and plastic litter are most important for lasting improvement.
  • Among preventive measures, waste management is key.
  • At the fourth UN Environment Assembly in March, we need to take this agenda a significant step further.
  • That is why Norway has put forward a proposal on a resolution on marine litter and microplastics.
  • The proposal focuses on international governance.
  • It contains two main elements:
    • First, a proposal to start work under the auspices of UN Environment, on important “building blocks” for a stronger governance response. Proposing:
      • Improved scientific data collection and development of methodologies,
      • stronger technical and other support by UN Environment to enable governments to improve on their national policies and measures, and
      • the development of a mechanism that enables the international community to take stock of the sum of actions taken and to decide on further action.
    • The other main element of the Norway proposal is to establish a working group with the aim to prepare recommendations for a new dedicated global structure to combat marine litter, for consideration by UNEA-5 in 2021.
  • Norway proposes that the work plan for the group should include considerations on a legally binding treaty,
  • The main purpose of a stronger governance framework would be to support governments in their efforts to strengthen their national policies and measures to reduce land-based sources to releases of marine plastic litter and microplastics, and to conduct effective clean-up operations as needed.
  • A dedicated framework should mobilise and prioritise financial resources and capacity building.
  • A new framework must also clarify the division of roles and responsibilities between a new structure and existing instruments and organisations. This will be an important issue for the working group.
  • Norway is of the opinion that UN Environment must continue to take the lead in organising the international work towards a stronger governance structure in this area.
  • There is a proliferation of initiatives, actors and platforms emerging to combat marine litter. This is in itself good news. However, it also demonstrates a dire need for closer coordination.
  • UN Environment is mandated to “keep under review the world environmental situation in order to ensure that emerging environmental problems with international significance receive appropriate and adequate consideration by Governments”.
  • Further, UN Environment has universal membership and is therefore uniquely suited to be responsible for the further development of an international governance structure to combat marine litter.
  • Norway welcomes the support of member states and other stakeholders for their draft resolution

Edwige Koumby MISSAMBO, Chargé d’affaires ad interim, Permanent Mission of the Gabonese Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva and other international organizations in Switzerland

  • Very important discussion for Gabon, country with over 800km of coastline
  • We don’t consider the negative evolution of consumer habits, which generate a lot of waste, specifically plastic waste
  • Some actions are beginning to be implemented: the African Union encourages Member States to recycle 50% of the waste they generate by 2023
  • The government of Gabon envisages several actions to reach a better management of its plastic and general waste
  • As defenders of multilateralism, Gabon believes that a global responsibility for the solution to this problem will help countries coordinate better to understand the current and future issues at stake as well as to give responses according to the situation
  • Gabon is going to be involved more in the formulation of initiatives aimed at conserving the marine environment and the fight against marine litter
  • We confirm the engagement of the country in the fight for the protection of the environment thanks to the reduction of the impact of waste on the marine environment
  • We are convinced that we must act, and act quickly, because we produce waste more rapidly than the time needed for waste to degrade
  • We propose the establishment of an international standard related to waste management

François GAVE, Deputy Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Switzerland

  • Very important issue for France: fundamental environmental issue, waste that do not degrade rapidly and that derive from the most diverse usages, that affect the health of the marine ecosystem as well as human health (microplastics)
  • A problem that we can address
  • Implemented actions: ban on certain usages of plastic (single-use), fiscal incentives to encourage producers to put on the market eco-designed products, promotion of circular economy, measures of prevention and awareness-raising related to plastic pollution
  • Important that national-level initiatives be complemented with international conventions on plastic waste

Towards a new global governance model

Christine HAFFNER-SIFAKIS, Strategic Policy & Programme Officer, UN Environment

Christine introduced the outcomes of the recent negotiations and what is put in place to enhance the existing instruments for managing waste and its control and what should be discussed and decided at the next UN Environment Assembly. (Christine HAFFNER-SIFAKIS Presentation)

  • UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) Resolutions on Marine Litter and Microplastics: implementations as a base for future resolutions
  • Develop regional action plans, identify response options and costs (economic, social and environmental)
  • Very complex international legal framework: development of synergies around international framework (Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, SAICM)
  • Not so many options: no maintenance of the status quo, but strengthening existing framework and bringing businesses into the solution
  • Enhance coordination and governance: holistic, evidence-based approach that takes into account sea, land, circular economy and recycling
  • Building on existing global and regional governance frameworks (GPML, SAICM, RSC)
  • To overcome the lack of data, we must cooperate with academia and use scientific information for policies

Kei OHNO-WOODWALL, Programme Officer, Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions

  • Reducing environmental and health risks of plastics
  • What type of plastic waste is included in the definition under the Basel Convention?
  • Annex 9 mentions plastics to enable export and import for recycling purposes, but it is not clear whether that applies only to fully environmentally sound management
  • Norway proposed an amendment to annex 2, 8, 9 to the Convention, to clarify the scope of plastic waste covered under the Basel Convention
  • Partnership on Plastic Waste, proposed by Norway, to be negotiated at the next COP in May 2019
  • Partnership on Household Waste and Global Partnership on Marine Litter already under the Basel Convention
  • Important to work in synergy, not duplicate the work – cooperation with academia, lack of data to draft policy proposals

Inger ANDERSEN, Director General, IUCN

  • A brief story: Denmark, 1945. Inger’s mom was 19 and sitting in a café she heard people speaking in an American accent. They had some blocks of substances they said would change the world forever. It was plastic. They said it is a magnificent material that will last forever. She felt in the future, she saw opportunity, but she didn’t know the consequences that invention would bring about.
  • All the plastic is still here, unless we burn it
  • SDG12: circular economy – fundamental to reduce plastic usage, therefore reducing the amount dumped in our oceans
  • Many plastics take “a thousand years in a landfill” to break down, but they just become smaller and smaller particles
  • Microplastics is here, it is a new problem, but it is massive
  • Policy, production, prevention, policing
  • Conversation around governance – need new structures and new frameworks, but regional frameworks have a role
  • Rethink some elements
  • Unless we deal with the problem in a more comprehensive manner, with circular economy (how we produce and consume), with prevention and regulation, we are not going to get to a solution
  • Important to partner with the private sector
  • Science can help us and tell us where we are going – UNEA3 recognized that we lack a standard to measure plastic production and disposal
  • Progress tracking, international comparison and improvement on plastic management for countries will be easier
  • The problem does not start in the sea, but in the land – need for land-based actions (infrastructure, private sector, solid waste management)
  • The world has come together, disgusted by the problem of plastic by seeing the photos of pollution, to find a solution

Brendan EDGERTON, Director, Circular Economy, WBCSD

  • Plastic production is going to increase in all likelihood
  • We can already speak about the numbers of plastic pollution in the oceans: by 2050 there could be more plastic than fish, bad waste management leads to significant leaks (8MMT per year), …
  • Not just stop plastic from leaking into the oceans, but shift towards a circular economy, where there’s value in these materials as opposed to leaving them in a landfill or incinerating them
  • More value in reintroducing plastic waste in the economy as reusable materials
  • Companies have been working on the problem (plastic value chain) – not going to solve it alone, need governments and NGOs cooperation
  • Alliance to End Plastic Waste: 30 companies – 1.5$bl to end plastic waste in the environment
  • 4 pillars: infrastructure, innovation, education and awareness, clean up
  • Use the private sector as a resource, an ally, a partner

Moustapha Kamal GUEYE, Coordinator, Green Jobs Programme, International Labour Organization

  • Report on the Future on Work: important drivers are technology, demographic change and environmental change
  • Agenda in connection with environmental issues and sustainability
  • Governance mechanisms: time to have a more coherent system of governance – as a tripartite organization, ILO is used to normative processes that is consultative and based on cooperation between governments and social partners
  • Several sectorial conventions considering microplastics part of chemical pollution
  • Important effort to play for a more effective work on waste management
  • Strengthening waste management systems – global governance to breach the gaps and the social deficit
  • Just a 5% increase in recycling of plastic would create 6 million additional jobs, according to the World Employment and Social Outlook of 2018
  • Review of 31 countries on skills for green jobs: looked at a range of climate policies and matched them with human resources capacities
  • In many instances there are insufficient coordination of policies, however, there are some interesting experiences – Fédération Professionnelle des Entreprises du Recyclage (FEDEREC): France organization uniting recycling firms in the country, initiatives to build skills

Statement by the representative of the Swiss Confederation

  • One may ask why landlocked countries such as Switzerland are actually active in this kind of questions. We have concluded that it is important that we have a holistic approach. It has been mentioned a couple of times that efficient waste and chemicals management is an essential part of addressing this issue. Also, we are talking about a holistic approach, so the question of life cycle and of stand-alone consumption is of utmost importance. On top of that it is important to look at the evidence-based approach. That leads me to the most important point, that it is not all about the content, but also about how we go about it, what’s the process to solve this problem in terms of global governance: here we must mention the importance of the UNGA and the resolutions that will be discussed. We want to make the case for all countries to engage and take the important steps on that direction. Switzerland is happy that all the actors within UNEP are keen to take this problem on together. The last point we want to make is that it is not all about how we think of governance in terms of options, but also about the question of timing: it has been clear it is all about strengthening existent frameworks and mechanisms as well as developing new global mechanisms that will be complementary, but the latter will maybe require a phased approach.

Statement by the representative of CIEL (Center for International Environmental Law)

  • The first point we want to make, which unfortunately has not been discussed much, is that plastic production is currently rising very fast. We mentioned the 1.5$bl invested in plastic waste management, but that has to be put in perspective with the 202$bl that are currently been invested in plastic production. We can do everything we want to manage our waste better, but if we don’t do anything production-wise, in the next 5 year we will be producing 100 million extra tons of plastic every year.
  • The second point we want to make is that it is very important that we use the currently available instrument we have as best as we can: the Basel Convention, the Stockholm Convention, and others. However, we must remember that a very detailed assessment of instruments available has been made before UNEA3, that was two years ago, that demonstrated that, even if we push those instruments to their limit, we will still have a number of gaps in addressing plastic pollution.
  • The third point we want to make is that academics and researchers specialized in plastic pollution policies have looked into different scenarios related to the efficiency of different actions: the results were that if we implement a strict ban on single-use plastic and invest heavily in waste management, at best, the outcome will be a stabilization of the amount of plastic that goes into the oceans.
  • Our options are relatively simple: we can decide to put in place a new global governance mechanism of cap&trade or we can come back here in 5 years or 10 years and look at how worst the situation actually is. However, we are not starting from scratch: we have done this before with the Montréal Protocol and we have a UNEA system that is actually in place that allows us to move forward. In three weeks, we will have the choice either to address the issue of plastic pollution or to come back here next year and look at how much the system has worsened.

Statement by the representative of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka

  • The concepts that have been expressed today are very much the concepts that Sri Lanka has been expressing. Sri Lanka proposed to join the Global UN Environment Initiative in 2017, while in domestic policies, Sri Lanka worked to find sustainable solutions to reduce oceans’ pollution and increase solid waste management efficiency. The country has also embarked in an ambitious project of planting 200.000 new hectares of green cover. Sri Lanka is part of the United Kingdom “One Water” Initiative. We will be very much working with you all to act together to save the oceans.

Statement by the representative of the Republic of Benin

  • We are facing a social problem and it’s important to mobilize to support global governance on the problem of plastic in our contemporary societies. We just want to underline some other aspects of the problem: firstly, it is a public health problem, as the IHO has already established that we to work to complete ideas and reach a solution; secondly, it is very important to define the role of municipalities and to continue to engage them in the solution to the problem with the rest of civil society more in general; thirdly, we do not have only to think about bans on plastic, but also to solutions of substitution, engaging the private sector; lastly, we have to raise awareness in the public in general with a constant campaign on televisions, among others, to show the scourge of this problem on our daily life.



The event was live on Facebook. (part 1part 2)