Nairobi, Kenya

02 March 2022

Deputy Secretary-General's remarks at United Nations Environment Assembly Flagship Side Event on Marine Litter [as delivered]

Excellencies, Distinguished delegates,

I’m delighted to be here with you today to speak about this ubiquitous global challenge.

The challenge of plastic pollution affects us all. From the bottom of the seabed to the highest mountains, our world is swamped by harmful plastic.

We all have a role to play in the solution.

Leadership at the global level has the potential to truly accelerate action to tackle this global scourge.

Here, at UNEA, Member States were given a profound opportunity.

And I would like to thank negotiators for their extraordinary work and achievements.

This is a truly historic outcome.

I cannot overstate the importance of the progress made here today on a legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment.

Of course, I can’t think of a more appropriate venue to make headway in fighting this crisis than here in Nairobi.

Kenya has demonstrated that it is willing to make bold decisions to tackle plastic pollution, including

  • its ban on plastic bags…
  • and restrictions on single-use plastic products—such as bottles and straws—in national parks and protected areas.  

Yesterday, I visited an inspiring community led project that is making a real difference to restore and protect local freshwater ecosystems.

As I toured this river restoration project, I was struck by how plastic is both an icon of human ingenuity and a flag bearer of unsustainable production and consumption.

Plastic has long been valued as it is affordable, convenient, versatile and durable.

  • In 1950, the world produced two million tonnes plastic.
  • By 2017, this number had soared to 438 million tonnes. And that number is expected to double by 2050.

Today, no corner of the planet is left untouched by plastic pollution.

Due to the lack of efficient waste management systems, a large share of this plastic ends up in our oceans - eleven million tonnes every year at current estimates.

With no action, this is projected to nearly triple by 2040, a dramatic increase in land and marine pollution.

Less than 10 per cent of the total amount plastic that has ever been produced—has been recycled.

Seventy-six per cent has been discarded into landfills, dumps, or the environment.

This linear approach—from production, to use, to landfill—stands in contrast to circular approaches that are essential to a sustainable future.

We need to action a full life-cycle approach.

A comprehensive circular economy approach could:

  • reduce the volume of plastics entering our ocean by over 80 per cent by 2040.
  • open up lucrative opportunities for business
  • create 700,000 additional jobs by 2040—especially in the Global South, and
  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions from plastic production by 25 per cent

You understood that without urgent action—and if this trend were to continue—the GHG emissions from plastics would reach fifteen per cent of the global carbon budget by 2050.

While we have learned to recycle plastic, we need a far more robust approach to tackle this enormous problem, and ensure systemic change that includes strong action upstream and downstream.

We must be ambitious and move fast if we are to win this battle. This will require collaboration and shared vision.

Today, I thank Member States for recognising that the world urgently needs to act, and identifying areas of convergence…

For finding your shared priorities.

And for navigating a path toward a new global instrument on plastic pollution, including marine litter and microplastics.

This outcome will be critical to developing an effective strategy for the upcoming meetings of an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee.

The problem of plastic pollution is too large for any one Member State or entity to tackle alone.

UNEA has demonstrated the value of coming together in the spirit of multilateralism to find joint solutions.

Effective systemic solutions to the plastic challenge require collaboration and accountability.

Every individual, every business, and every government needs to play their part.

From retailers to consumers.

From policymakers to those in industry.

From petrochemical producers to waste management operators.

We all have a role to play.

Thank you.