On a sunny morning, 1,200 school children, aged between 8 and 14, headed to the beach to undertake the biggest climate action event ever seen in the historic Belgian coastal city of Ostend.
Around 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the ocean every year, endangering both marine species and human health. “With a projected 40 per cent increase in plastic production within the next decade, urgent action is needed to turn the tide on plastic pollution,” Veronika Hunt Safrankova, Head of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Office in Brussels, said at the start of the clean-up.
After a morning spent collecting litter from the city’s shore, the children enthusiastically welcomed Emma Plasschaert, a Belgian World Sailing Champion, and a personification of Neptune, Greek god of freshwater and the sea. Together, Emma and Neptune delivered a speech about the plastic pollution they have witnessed in the seas, and encouraged the children to choose smart alternatives, such as reusable water bottles and textile bags, to avoid single-use plastics ending in the seas. The two were later joined on stage by the Smurfs—iconic cartoon characters and ambassadors of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals—as well as representatives from the European Commission, the United Nations and regional and local governments.
The Ostend beach clean-up action marked the Belgian start of the joint United Nations-European Union public information campaign for clean oceans and clean beaches, which will raise awareness on marine litter—one of the greatest environmental challenges of our time. As part of the #EUBeachCleanUp campaign, the United Nations, the European Union and the Smurfs invite citizens to join them to clean shores across the world. The campaign culminates around 21 September, International Coastal Clean-up Day.
The initiative in Ostend was made possible by a collective of 26 catholic schools, whose teachers said to be committed to providing their pupils with the tools and knowledge to help them live in a world where the environment is taken good care of.
A representative of the Flemish Minister of the Environment, Koen van den Heuvel, announced their ‘Oceans of tomorrow’ project, which is developed by the catholic school community and the University of Antwerp. Over the course of a year, 8,000 children will learn about the importance of clean seas, respect for the environment, and the Global Goals.
“Youth play a lead role in the fight for our planet, they are the true catalysts for change,” said Marian Blondeel, from the United Nations Regional Information Centre, during the press conference in Ostend. “By joining their forces, youth, ministers, the European Union, the United Nations, the Smurfs and the sports sector can speak with a stronger, unified voice,” Blondeel noted.
“Initiatives such as the European Union beach clean-up in Ostende showcase the importance of local action for contributing to raising awareness and promoting concrete action for global environmental challenges,” Hunt Safrankova said. The Head of UNEP’s office in Brussels highlighted some positive signs that suggest we are moving in the right direction. For example, more than 60 countries have joined UNEP’s Clean Seas campaign to fight marine plastic and more than 100,000 people worldwide have taken the Clean Seas pledge, promising to reduce their own plastic footprints. Some 127 countries have adopted legislation regulating plastic bags. Meanwhile, in the Belgian Flanders region, “regional authorities have set a target of reducing the leakage of litter to the marine environment by 75 per cent by 2025,” Hunt Safrankova told journalists. The children’s actions “should also be a source of inspiration for businesses and companies to minimize plastic packaging,” she added.
The annual #EUBeachCleanup campaign aims at raising public awareness about marine litter via representation offices in the European Union and European Union delegations worldwide. For the 2019 edition, the European Union, the United Nations and the Smurfs are teaming up to further raise awareness about marine litter in all corners of our blue planet by inviting citizens everywhere to take part. European Union embassies and United Nation Information Centers across the world as well as the eepresentations of the European Commission throughout the European Union will organize beach clean-up events together with local organizations, schools and citizens. 21 September 2019 saw the celebration of the International Coastal Clean-up Day and the kick-start of the campaign.
UNEP launched the Clean Seas campaign in February 2017, engaging governments, the general public and the private sector in the fight against marine plastic pollution. Over five years, the campaign addresses the root-cause of marine litter by targeting the production and consumption of non-recoverable and single-use plastics. To do this effectively, citizens need to be aware, engaged and active in addressing the problem in their daily lives and beyond.
Anatomy of Action is a social media toolkit developed with expertise from across UNEP, in partnership with Champion of the Earth, Leyla Acaroglu and the UnSchool, as a contribution to the One Planet Network’s Sustainable Lifestyles and Education Programme. It takes evidence and merges it into simple lifestyle swaps we can make to live more sustainably, and helps identify the kinds of information and action we can ask of companies and governments. Made up of videos, social media assets and facts, it engages people who increasingly get their information from social media. From 15–30 September everyone is invited to take the 15 days action challenge.