07 Jan 2019 Story Oceans & seas

We have to protect our oceans

Photo credit: Bjørn H. Stuedal

An interview with Mr. Ola Elvestuen, Minister of Climate and Environment of Norway

UN Environment has been a megaphone for marine litter and microplastics. Norway is particularly proud to have partnered with UN Environment to put this issue on the global environmental agenda. Now we need to take it to the next level.

Marine litter and microplastics are one of the fastest growing environmental challenges of our time. Litter ending up in our oceans is a serious threat to the health of our oceans. And to human activities that are dependent on clean seas.

Campaigns such as the Clean Seas Campaign put the issue on the map. Thanks to internet and social media, people in almost every corner of the globe are now taking action.

Marine litter and microplastics are a global problem. Marine litter crosses borders and requires collective action from ALL - government, industry, consumers, civil society and academia. UN Environment is well placed to bring us all together to find solutions.

We do not know everything, but we know more than enough to act. And it's urgent!

In December 2017, the United Nations Environment Assembly took a bold step and adopted a vision of eliminating all discharge of plastic litter into the ocean. Now, we leaders for the environment must follow up on that ambition.

The current response is not enough. Action is being taken in many different places, by many different actors. But there are huge gaps. We must prioritize our efforts where it matters the most. And not replace one environmental problem with another.

We need a comprehensive and integrated approach to combat marine litter on a global level.

This issue is simple and complex at the same time. It is not about banning plastic. But improvements in waste management are urgently needed and are a key priority. Yet, marine litter is a multi-faceted problem and requires stronger coordination, cooperation and coherence across the entire value chain.

We need to be better equipped to deal with the environmental consequences of plastic pollution.

UN Environment is a key partner in the Norwegian development programme to combat marine litter and microplastics. The programme amounts to 30 million euros in 2018. Together, Norway and UN Environment will channel the funds towards regions that are most affected by marine litter and plastic pollution, to prevent waste ending up in our oceans and improve waste management systems. With funding from Norway, UN Environment has already assisted many countries in developing polices and strategies to combat marine litter.

Marine litter is also a waste of resources. An effective, circular economy will contribute to combatting marine litter. This means making products better suited for re-use and recycling, and to actually re-use and recycle them. We need a market for secondary plastics—and this will create new business opportunities.

The challenge is immense. We cannot do this without business and industry. But we, as ministers, must take the decisions to provide a predictable context for the private sector to come up with innovative solutions for environmental challenges.

So what are we missing? We need a framework for action. We have agreed to the long-term vision of eliminating all discharge of marine plastic litter and microplastics into the oceans. Now we must take the next step. Join me and UN Environment to take action at the Fourth UN Environment Assembly in March 2019 and beyond.

Together we need to step up our action to protect our oceans and the marine environment from the "true junk food of the ocean"—marine litter.