The theme of the World Environment Day on June 5 this year is “beat plastic pollution”, underscoring the severity of the challenge. Evidence is plenty about the harms of plastic waste to human beings, other creatures, and our environment and climate. The marine environment is a key venue where such damages occur, as 8 to 10 million metric tons of plastic waste end up in the oceans.
Action to address the challenge gained momentum in recent years. Reducing “floating plastic debris density” is a target under the 14th Sustainable Development Goal of “Life Below Water” adopted in 2015. The World Oceans Day in 2018 was dedicated to cleaning up marine plastics.
Nevertheless, the COVID-19 pandemic derailed the course. Global pandemic responses worsened the issue, due to the surge in the use of medical protective equipment and plastic packaging. Without decisive action, marine plastic debris is predicted to quadruple by 2050.
The aforementioned negotiations represent the trend that countries are emerging from the disruption of COVID-19 and hopefully back on track in the combat against plastic debris. Having to reconcile stark differences between countries, the negotiations will definitely be difficult. And ll in question how much force will be granted to the final deal by the member states. However, the treaty will at least provide a legal basis for international cooperation and action.
As Southeast Asia hosts top emitters of marine plastic waste, progress in the region’s action has critical bearing on the global campaign. In recognition of the threat of marine plastic waste to the region, the region has seen action at regional and country levels to address the issues from different perspectives.
In 2019, ASEAN member states adopted the Bangkok Declaration on Combating Marine Debris in the ASEAN Region and the ASEAN Framework of Action on Marine Debris at the 34th ASEAN Summit. These were followed by the ASEAN Regional Action Plan for Combating Marine Debris (2021-2025) released in 2021, which put forward a phased implementation plan to address the cross-sectoral issue.
Beyond making regional policies, ASEAN has collaborated with international partners to find practical solutions. In 2018, ASEAN Plus Three (China, Japan and Republic of Ko-rea) Marine Plastic Debris Cooperative Action Initiative was adopted. In 2019, Norway provided US$3 million of funding to support capacity-building in this area in ASEAN. In 2022, the World Bank provided US$20 million grant to support ASEAN, in collaboration with the UN Office for Project Ser-vices, to implement the aforementioned Regional Action Plan. As this year marks the midpoint of the first cycle of the Regional Action Plan, it will be useful for ASEAN to carry out and publish a review of the implementation, so as to track progress and gaps.
Several Southeast Asian countries, including those suffering from serious plastic pollution in their territorial waters have released their respective national action plan or roadmap, such as Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam, which align with the region’s overall commitment to tackling the problem. Although some people view these moves insufficient and call for more urgency, such progress which reflects increased awareness and commitment should be encouraged.