PML scientists supporting international agreement on plastic pollution
4 March 2022
Professor Nicola Beaumont and Dr James Clark among the contributing authors of a brief issued by the North Atlantic Microplastic Centre (NAMC) to support talks at the UN Environment Assembly.The growing issue of plastic pollution was under the spotlight this week at the resumed fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2) - which took place in Nairobi (28 February – 2 March 2022).
Heads of State, Ministers of environment and other representatives from 175 nations, including the UK, endorsed a resolution to end plastic pollution and forge an international legally-binding agreement by 2024; a move described by Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP as the “most significant environmental multilateral deal since the Paris accord”.
The resolution, based on three initial draft resolutions from various nations, establishes an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC), which will begin its work in 2022, with the ambition of completing a draft global legally binding agreement by the end of 2024.
It is expected to present a legally binding instrument, which would reflect diverse alternatives to address the full lifecycle of plastics, the design of reusable and recyclable products and materials, and the need for enhanced international collaboration to facilitate access to technology, capacity building and scientific and technical cooperation.*
Ahead of the Assembly, the North Atlantic Microplastic Centre (NAMC) was asked by the Norwegian Minister of Climate and Environment and president of UNEA, Espen Barth Eide, to provide a science-based response on its societal and regulatory aspects.
PML’s Head of Science (Sea and Society) Professor Nicola Beaumont and Marine Ecosystem Modeller Dr James Clark were among the contributing authors to the NAMC document, which addresses the plastic pollution issue and solutions from a holistic perspective including socio-economic impacts and the need for scientifically-grounded regulatory frameworks.
The main response from NAMC is summarised as follows:
- The social, economic and financial benefits of the agreement will outweigh any immediate costs.
- For the agreement to be successful there must be clear, agreed and standardised definitions of plastics, or at least a combined understanding of the uncertainty embedded within the terms.
- The agreement would benefit from rooting in the existing international frameworks, especially to reflect the specificity of different regions and challenges therein. It will require strong and efficient implementation and compliance mechanisms, involving the private and industry stakeholders.
- Researching past experiences of global pollutants can better frame our approaches for the future.
- Account should be taken of the variable distribution of the financial gains and losses across the identified countries.
- Connect to the Science-Policy Panel to Support Action on Chemicals, Waste and Pollution.
Professor Nicola Beaumont, who is part of NAMC’s Centre Leadership team, and who led and co-ordinated the brief said: “Plastic pollution in the marine environment is a complex and multi-dimensional challenge, involving multiple stakeholders - from Governments, regulatory bodies and industry through to communities and individuals. With the devastating impact it is having on the marine environment - and consequently the ocean resources which support society and economies - there is a clear and urgent need for a coordinated and robustly-managed approach at global level, supported by agreed standards and definitions.”
NAMC - North Atlantic Microplastic Centre, led by NORCE Norwegian Research Centre, aims to engage leading researchers nationally and internationally in a joint effort to understand and quantify how much microplastics is in the environment, the risks related to microplastic pollution in our surroundings, and the best ways to manage the challenge.