Global Plastics Challenge in the Spotlight at UN Environment Assembly

Environment Ministers, along with development and environmental practitioners, from around the world recently gathered in Nairobi, Kenya for the fourth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-4). This is the world’s highest-level decision-making body for international environmental challenges. The theme this year was ‘Innovative Solutions to Environmental Challenges and Sustainable Consumption and Production’ and plastics was a key issue on the agenda.

The overall aim of UNEA-4, which took place from 11 to 15 March, was to create a framework to help shift global economic systems towards a more sustainable path for resource efficiency, energy, chemicals and waste management. It also provided an opportunity for participants to discuss the need to adopt life-cycle approaches and invest in innovative business solutions, to reduce plastic leakage into the environment.

As a member of UNEA and active on many fronts to address the plastics crisis through its global Close the Plastic Tap’ programme, IUCN was in Nairobi to play a key role in the discussions. IUCN’s current efforts include the MARPLASTICCs project in South Africa, Mozambique, Kenya, Thailand and Viet Nam, the Plastic Waste-Fee Islands project in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and Oceania, and the Plastic Leak Project (PLP) which aims to help business address the plastic pollution crisis. IUCN is also collaborating with UN Environment to develop a plastics hotspot calculator to help governments and business tackle the plastics challenge.

Since marine plastic pollution begins on land, IUCN showcased its MARPLASTICCS project which promotes an integrated life-cycle approach that supports a global transition from a linear take-make-dispose model to a circular plastics economy.

IUCN also shared preliminary findings from its upcoming ‘Plastics Footprint Inventory’ publication, including the need for cooperation on common definitions, standards and methodologies. The inventory provides a useful overview of the methodologies whose scope account for data on plastic waste management, pathway models for macro and microplastics, environmental fate models, and impact assessment accounting for negative impacts.

IUCN presented preliminary results including its footprint inventory Photo: IUCN

At the event, IUCN expressed that it was particularly open to exploring partnerships that focus on developing and implementing legislation and other measures which reduce plastic pollution.

As part of the MARPLASTICCs project, we are currently investigating ways to support the establishment of effective Extended Producer Responsibilities (EPR) regulations and mechanisms,” said Peter Manyara, Regional Project Coordinator, Marine Plastics and Coastal Communities (MARPLASTICCS) Initiative, IUCN ESARO.

With the adoption of a Ministerial Declaration to significantly reduce single-use plastic products by 2030, 26 resolutions and three key decisions which address global environmental issues such as marine litter, microplastics and single-use plastics, it is clear from UNEA-4 that significant progress towards tackling plastic pollution has been made.  


IUCN is an accredited member of the United Nations Environment Assembly of UN Environment

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