The ability we need in this era — insights from the UNEP think piece on marine plastic litter

2021 / 8 / 26 | Author: enw_editor

The Osaka Blue Ocean Vision was proposed at the G20 Osaka Summit in 2019, which aims to reduce additional pollution by marine plastic litter to zero by 2050. This vision is shared among 87 countries and regions (as of May 2021; Ministry of the Environment, in Japanese). In July 2021, Policy Options to Eliminate Additional Marine Plastic Litter was published to provide possible policy options to achieve this vision. The G20 commissioned the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to produce this “think piece.”

In this report, the following three potential pathways caught my attention:

  • Without meaningful actions, by 2040 municipal solid plastic waste is set to double, plastic leakage to the ocean is set to nearly triple and plastic stock in the ocean is set to quadruple.
  • Current governments and industry commitments add up to mere 7% reduction in plastic pollution to the ocean by 2040 compared to business-as-usual (BAU) scenario.
  • Leakage volumes of plastics could be reduced by 82% compared to BAU scenario if system interventions are implemented concurrently, ambitiously, globally and beginning immediately, to various life cycle stages of plastics, from production to consumption and disposal.

The basis of the above is the report Breaking the Plastic Wave published in 2020. This report points out that the inability to address plastic pollution is not because of the lack of technical solutions but is rather due to inadequate regulatory frameworks, business models and funding mechanisms. It also notes that upstream (pre-consumer) and downstream (post-consumer) solutions should be deployed together in order to significantly reduce plastic pollution.

Many governments, companies and societies are intricately involved with each other in the plastic life cycle (system). Trying to solve individual issues in isolation will limit the effectiveness of any solutions. The report provides insight on one of the keys to make the system as a whole function more effectively; we need to have a bird’s-eye view of the whole system, identify points and methods of improvement, and take actions “concurrently, ambitiously and immediately.”

This view can be applied not only for plastic problems but also for other issues. We must grasp things with a wider perspective and be creative in ways to make the system as a whole function effectively. It is not easy, but I believe we are living in an era that requires us more than ever to have such ability, both as an individual and as a society.

Yukiko Mizuno (Author), Translation by EcoNetworks
Photo by Naja Bertolt Jensen on Unsplash