2023 05 17

From 29 May to 2 June 2023, UNESCO will host the Second Session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution led by UNEP and France. You will find below our Organization's key initiatives to combat plastic pollution in the ocean and freshwater. A press briefing with our experts will be held on Wednesday 24 May, to provide key figures and discuss solutions to address this global issue.


UNESCO mandate

As the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO has developed a multidisciplinary expertise on plastic pollution. The Organization has been central to advancing knowledge, promoting research, developing innovative solutions, and raising the global alarm on the risks posed by plastics and microplastics in marine and freshwater ecosystems and biodiversity. 

UNESCO has helped to produce some of the most comprehensive and authoritative research into the topic of global marine plastic pollution. One such publication, the UNESCO-IOC/GESAMP Report looking into the ‘Sources, Fate and Effects of plastics and micro-plastics in the marine environment’, remains among the most well-cited resources on marine plastics, and serves as a reference point for many academics in this field.

The work carried out by experts in UNESCO-IOC-led Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection also contributed in 2022 to the adoption of a UN Resolution entitled “End plastic pollution: Towards an international legally binding instrument”.

Microplastics: tackling a growing global threat

Microplastics have been found in rivers, lakes, groundwater, oceans and even in our drinking water, bottled water and beer. While scientific information remains limited on the extent, health risks, and environmental impact of these small particles, UNESCO-IHP has provided a preliminary assessment of microplastics in freshwater environments and identified the knowledge gaps to be filled. 

UNESCO-IHP is leading research promotion and knowledge generation on reducing freshwater microplastic pollution. It has notably supported a research project which has produced new scientific evidence that fish and aquatic organisms mistakenly ingest microplastics instead of microorganisms (planktons), resulting in their reduced growth and reproduction. This issue impacts the entire food chain, which may result in less and smaller fish for human consumption. Microplastics also act as vectors for other pollutants and chemicals to enter species, since their hard surface adsorbs pollutants to stick to them. 

Rivers are one of main pathways through which microplastics are transported to the ocean from land-based human activities. In developing regions 90% of microplastics in the ocean arrive there through riverways. UNESCO is partnering in an innovative new global program ‘Healthy Rivers, Healthy Oceans’ that will generate knowledge and solutions to address oceanic plastic pollution at its source.

Assessing Plastic Pollution in the Arctic Ocean

Plastic waste is found even in the most remote arctic regions, often carried by ocean currents from more populated areas. The Arctic Ocean has become a dead end for floating plastic debris, due to the limited number of unfrozen waterways through which this plastic can escape. 

UNESCO-IOC has made arctic plastic a priority by partnered with scientists and decision-makers in the International Symposium on Plastics in the Arctic and Sub-Arctic Region. This process is designed to study how this waste arrives in the Arctic, develop mitigation methods, and measure the impact on local communities who base their livelihoods on ocean-based activities.

Testing-grounds for a plastic-free world

The 738 UNESCO Biosphere Reserves and the 257 UNESCO natural and mixed World Heritage sites represent veritable Petri dishes of sustainable living for the millions of people who live there: these communities learn to develop economically without sacrificing their natural environment. 

Taking the lead on researching and reducing marine plastics, and cleaning up existing marine debris are just some of the ways these areas chart a new course for humans to live in harmony with nature. 

Monitoring scientific publications on plastic pollution

As the United Nations’ leading scientific agency, UNESCO monitors, compiles and analyses publications from all major academic journals through its UNESCO Science Reports, allowing it to measure the progress of research on plastic pollution in the most recent edition.

On the topic of eco-friendly alternatives to plastic, global scientific output on more than doubled during the last decade (2011–2019). Lower middle-income economies’ contributions to this topic surged from just 7.2% to 18.2%, and Indonesian scientists lead the way by publishing at 5 times the global average proportion during this period.

On the topic of floating plastic in the oceans, global scientific output grew twentyfold over the past decade from a low starting point, with the USA, UK and China leading in total number of published articles, while output surged in several developing countries, including Brazil and Indonesia. 

While research on marine plastic pollution is well advanced, research on freshwater microplastic pollution is in its early stage. 





Source, UNESCO Newsroom


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