The PLASTIC Initiative
There is no ‘Easy Fix’ to improve the situation. School clean up campaigns are not enough. We need to mobilise youth, raise awareness, enhance environmental education, and take to action. We need to involve Government authorities to adjust policies and practices, and the private sector to support professional actions to clean up the mess. Within 152 UNESCO Biosphere Reserves we will test best waste-management practices and behavioural change and implement the most effective strategies in local communities.
Beat plastic pollution What this initiative is all about
Plastic pollution has become one of the most pressing global environmental issues adversely affecting terrestrial, coastal and marine man-made and natural ecosystems. Not only are plastic ingestion and ghost-nets serious biodiversity threats to numerous mammals, reptiles, birds and fish, but micro-plastic has also begun to enter the human food-supply-system via the consumption of marine vertebrates and invertebrates.
Moreover, unattractive garbage accumulation along beaches of scenic beauty causes significant economic costs and losses to the tourism industry.
The 2018 theme of World Environment Day 2018 was ‘Beat the plastic pollution’. At UNESCO, and in particular with a view to nature conservation in reconciliation with sustainable development and human living, we are taking this issue very seriously.
The Bangkok Post reported about the death of a short-finned-pilot-whale, on 3rd of June 2018, killed by swallowing 80 plastic bags. According to the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung (23.6.2018) 13 million tons of plastic waste enters the world’s oceans annually. It is estimated that 12 billion tons will have accumulated in our oceans until 2050. The National Geographic June 2018 edition dedicated a comprehensive 38 pages article to plastic: We invented it – we need it – we are drowning in it. The article offers highly valuable statistical data. Accordingly plastic production has reached an annual total amount of 407 million tons in 2015, compared to 100 million in 1980. Plastic enters the marine systems via major rivers. Asia is especially contributing to the problem with 15 of the 20 most plastic-polluted rivers located in Asia, including the Amur, Hai, Ganges, Indus, Pearl, Yangtze, and Yellow. Other parts of the world also contribute large amounts of plastic-waste, for example through the waters of the Niger and the Nile rivers. This is an ongoing global and highly complex issue, and there is no ‘Easy-Fix’ to improve the situation. We are all responsible.
Areas of massive plastic pollution include extensive marine surface areas in the north-eastern as well as southern Pacific Ocean, the northern and the southern Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean, as well as the Mediterranean Sea, and elsewhere. The north Pacific and the Indian Ocean are believed to be the two most plastic polluted marine areas, both in terms of plastic weight and particles.
The situation is quite dangerous and the problem is getting out of hand. There is no easy fix, as a lot of good individual activities have shown – the situation is rapidly worsening – a comprehensive inter-disciplinary approach is absolutely essential in order to generate meaningful, measurable and widespread impact. The issue is not new, and awareness raising and school-class clean-up-campaigns are no longer enough. We need to mobilise the youth, raise awareness, enhance environmental education, and turn to action. We need to involve Government authorities to adjust policies and practices, and the private sector to support professional actions to clean up the mess.
UNESCO, with its World Network of Biosphere Reserves (BRs), as well as its capacities in the Natural Sciences, Education and Youth Mobilization (MaB Youth Forum 2017), is capable of playing a substantial role in reducing the problem, and it has a clear mandate in particular in the Major Programme II. (Natural Sciences), as well as I. (Education, with a view to DESD). We therefore propose a comprehensive regional approach throughout Asia/Pacific, minimizing plastic pollution via the mobilization of the youth in UNESCO Biosphere Reserves. BRs are ideal places to systematically try and test existing and innovative ideas to clean up ecosystems and to keep them clean, with the involvement of Government authorities, the private sector and young people.
Think globally – act locally, as suggested during the Rio + 20 Conference, has become a very useful approach for numerous local contributions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals of the Agenda 2030 (SDGs), and that includes the SDGs of relevance for this proposal, above all SDG 12, 14, and 15. The proposal will aim at numerous and geographically widespread grass-root-activities, with a massive cumulative multiplier effect.
Initially a Youth Conference is needed, together with a new fund that allows to finance the implementation of solutions and actions. The overall aim is to start a process that should go beyond the financial limits of this specific proposal. The BRs will function as incubators of change (via testing of many grass-root-level activities, primarily inside 152 UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, in cities and communities, as well as along water-fronts in Asia/Pacific), including best waste-management practices and behavioural change. The activities will be replicable and inspire multiplication activities beyond the borders of the testing sites.
Governments and the responsible private sector will be invited by UNESCO to provide annual funding, in order to mobilize the required resources for the successful and scientifically documented implementation of a new Biosphere Reserve related initiative: The Plastic Initiative. Clean up – Keep Clean.