FROM THE FIELD: Plastic pollution choking world’s oceans
The world must unite to “beat plastic pollution” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in his message for World Environment Day on Tuesday, noting that microplastic particles in the ocean, “now outnumber stars in our galaxy”.
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‘We face a global emergency’ over oceans: UN chief sounds the alarm at G7 Summit event
“The facts are clear. Our oceans are a mess,” said António Guterres at an outreach event, that was part of the Group of Seven – or G7 – Summit of industrialized nations, taking place over two days, in Charlevoix, Canada.
The G7 group of advanced economies, consists of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.
“Plastic waste is now found in the most remote areas of the planet. It kills marine life and is doing major harm to communities that depend on fishing and tourism,” he added.
Pointing out that one mass of plastic in the Pacific is now bigger than France, Mr. Guterres welcomed the G7 Plastics Charter, agreed on Saturday, which is being seen by some observers as a Paris-style watershed moment for cleaning up ocean garbage, referencing the 2015 Agreement on climate change.
“But we all need to do so much more,” Mr. Guterres underscored, “not just on plastic waste but on all ocean issues.”
“Make no mistake, we are in a battle. And we are losing on every front,” he stressed.
The UN chief painted a picture of fish stocks being crippled by overfishing, vast coastal dead zones from pollution and untreated waste being discharged into the sea.
“And, to compound these issues, we have the growing impacts of climate change,” he asserted.
Ocean acidification is disrupting the marine food chain and record-level ocean temperatures are killing coral reefs and creating fiercer, more frequent storms.
Moreover, 40 per cent of the world’s population lives within 100 kilometres of a coast – leaving them vulnerable to storms, sea level rise and coastal erosion.
Low-lying island nations and many coastal cities are in jeopardy of inundation, the Secretary-General spelled out.
“Thankfully,” continued Mr. Guterres “we have a battle plan.”
“Our guide is the Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs], and especially Goal 14 with its 10 targets from addressing marine pollution and acidification, to ending overfishing and protecting ecosystems,” he elaborated.
“Our legal framework is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea – the world’s ‘constitution for the oceans,’” he added.
Mr. Guterres noted that while last year’s Ocean Conference at UN Headquarters registered more than 1,300 commitments and partnerships, none of the initiatives and declarations are worth anything “unless we accept that we face a global emergency.”
“And that is why I am here today. To sound the alarm. To inject a sense of real urgency in your deliberations and decision-making,” he said.
“Your leadership is needed now, more than ever – on combatting land-based pollution; on creating marine protected areas; on reviving fisheries; on building the resilience of coastal ecosystems and communities, and, especially, on climate change,” he added.
He flagged that if our seas and oceans are not protected, and we lose the battle against climate change, all the assumptions on which our policy-making has been based “will be worthless”.
“Take seriously these threats to our global environment and understand that our collective future and security is at stake,” he concluded.
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World must unite against ‘preventable tragedy’ of ocean pollution: UN chief
Marking the day on Friday, the UN chief reminded everyone of the major role the oceans have in everyday life, as the lungs of the planet, providing most of the oxygen that we breathe.
“The oceans make our blue planet unique in our solar system – and not just visually,” he said adding that they help regulate “the global climate and are the ultimate source of the water that sustains all life on Earth, from coral reefs to snow-covered mountains, from tropical rain forests to mighty rivers, and even deserts.”
“However,” he continued “the ability of the oceans to provide their essential services is being threatened by climate change, pollution and unsustainable use.”
Plastic pollution alone is reeking tremendous havoc on the marine resources of the world, he said, highlighting the problem of plastic pollution in particular.
Eighty per cent of all pollution in the sea comes from land, including some eight million tons of plastic waste each year, that have cost the lives of one million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals. Moreover, it causes $8 billion in damage annually to marine ecosystems.
Pollution, said Mr. Guterres, “chokes waterways, harms communities that depend on fishing and tourism, kills turtles and birds, whales and dolphins, and finds its way to the most remote areas of the planet and throughout the food chain on which we ultimately rely.”
“Unless we change course, plastic waste could soon outweigh all the fish in the oceans,” Mr. Guterres added.
The UN chief urged everyone to work individually and collectively to “stop this preventable tragedy” and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds.
“Action starts at home, and speaks louder than words,” he said. “The United Nations aims to lead by example, and more than 30 of our agencies have now begun working to end the use of single-use plastic.”
But everyone needs to play a part by taking simple actions like carrying your own water bottle, coffee cup and shopping bags; recycling plastic, said Mr. Guterres; avoiding products that contain microplastics; and volunteering for a local clean-ups.
“If we all do a little, our combined actions can be massive,” he added.
“On this World Oceans Day, I urge governments, communities and individuals alike to celebrate our oceans by helping clear them of pollution and ensure they remain vibrant for generations to come,” concluded the Secretary-General.
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