Global Action to Protect the Marine Environment from Land-Based Pollution

Millions of people are dependent on the marine environment and the resources they provide for their survival and well-being. However, over the years, population growth and economic development have resulted in an increasing number of anthropogenic activities on land and an increase in pollution globally which has contributed to degrading the environment and the related ecosystem services. Overall, it is estimated that 80% of the pollution loads in oceans and coastal waters originate from land-based activities.

Why take a Source-to-Sea approach?

Land-based pollution originates from different sources, including municipal, industrial and agricultural waste, wastewater and nutrient run-off, and from power generation, heavy industry, automobiles, and others. They are then transported through run-off, via rivers or the atmosphere to the marine environment. Some may originate far away from the sea which is why it is necessary to look, not only at near coast sources but also from a “ridge to reef” or a “source to sea” approach, hence linking terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems. The pollutants released from these sources largely affect the most productive areas of the marine environment, including estuaries and wetlands. This contributes not only to the decline of coastal ecosystems but has major repercussions on the economic goods and services that these provide to communities dependent on coastal and marine resources. Three major pollution streams that are affecting the marine environment are marine litter, nutrient and wastewater pollution.

The project

To counter these challenges, the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities (GPA) together with UN Environment Programme’s Science and Law Divisions has developed a new project titled “Protecting the Marine Environment from Land-Based Pollution through Strengthened Coordination of Global Action.” The project, launched in January 2019 with a duration of five years, aims to strengthen responses to land-based pollution, enhance co-operation and foster action to tackle the issues related to wastewater pollution, nutrient management, and marine litter also through the key role of global partnerships, including the Global Partnership on Marine Litter (GPML), the Global Partnership on Nutrient Management (GPNM), and the Global Wastewater Initiative (GW²I) for which the GPA acts as a Secretariat.

The project is organized into five components and aims to provide technical and policy support to strengthen intergovernmental processes for a global, coordinated response against land-based pollution. A brief description is presented below:  

Component A: Technical and policy support to strengthen intergovernmental processes for a global coordinated response (Component A)

An improved oversight mechanism will be put in place to enhance direct inputs from countries and lead UN family agencies to the global-level governance of the GPA. This process will establish a clear functional and synergistic relationship to the UN Environment Programme Assembly (UNEA) in terms of setting strategic directives, monitoring, and reporting.

Component B: Policy support, technical assistance, demonstration sites in support of the governance framework to address marine litter and microplastics

This will substantially contribute to the implementation of the UNEA mandates in terms of reporting and advancing the global governance arrangements to address the issue. It will be supported by assisting countries to monitor and assess marine litter and riverine input with respect to SDG14.1 target reporting. The component will also support the demonstration of good practices.

Component C: Tools, approaches, frameworks, and demonstration sites for enhanced sustainable nutrient management

This component will focus on raising the visibility of the nutrient challenge related to impacts in the marine environment, contribute to additional cost-benefit assessment methodologies in geographic regions and contribute to a better-defined policy arena for a global coordinated response to the issue. Investments will be made in assisting countries to monitor coastal nutrient pollution based on the SDG14.1 target and contribute to capacity building through the application of tools and best field practices.

Component D: Technical assistance, guidance, demonstration sites, and knowledge to support enhanced sustainable wastewater management.

This component will focus on the replication of tools and methodologies for strengthened capacity to apply innovative approaches for sustainable wastewater management. The component will also focus on catalyzing private sector investments in and partnerships for sustainable wastewater management, as well as strengthening the Global Wastewater Initiative (GW²I). The project will also focus on monitoring the SDG 6.3 linked to the 14.1 indicators, connected to nutrient and microplastics, as well as on emerging pollutants, including endocrine disruptors and pharmaceuticals in wastewater.

Component E: Monitoring and assessment tools and methodologies to enhance national and regional capacities

At the higher programme level, the project will harmonize assessment efforts within the SDG target framework (under the thematic areas) in close coordination with and through the Regional Seas Programmes to enhance capacities of countries’ monitoring and reporting on land-based pollution. This will include cooperation internally with the Science Division and the Freshwater Unit; and externally with relevant partners.

Component F: Knowledge hub established, tools disseminated, awareness and capacity to change behavior and drive action

The project will contribute to enhancing the reach of knowledge outputs to stakeholders to inform decision-making and action through the range of available media, tools and learning methods. The component will include the establishment of a source-to-sea academy to consolidate capacity-building resources and provide avenues for growing the knowledge base and for dissemination. 

For more information about the project, please contact Mr. Habib El-Habr, GPA Coordinator at [email protected] and Ms. Birguy Lamizana, Project Manager, at [email protected].

For specific technical questions on the source categories please contact Mr. Mahesh Pradhan (Nutrient management) at [email protected], Ms. Heidi Savelli Soderberg (Marine litter and microplastics) at [email protected], and Ms. Birguy Lamizana (Wastewater) at [email protected].