Today marks a year since global audiences were moved by the plight of mammals in our oceans, due to plastic pollution. Sir David Attenborough issued a call to action for Ocean Conservation asking that our relationship with plastic change and reminding us of the value of the ocean to economies, ecosystems and communities.
The call to action around plastics in particular, has been heard and announcements are almost ubiquitous. The last year has seen many companies, multilateral organisations, NGOs, civil society organisations and individuals announce commitments, targets and personal crusades to tackle the plastics problem, encourage more responsible recycling and generally support the sustainable development of the ocean and future ocean conservation. From straw bans, to blue bonds to the Commonwealth Blue Charter, what, if any has been the impact?
The Economist Group’s World Ocean Initiative (WOI), in its capacity as a convener of discussions between governments, business and civil society on the greatest challenges facing the seas, has gathered the thoughts of those who have responded to last year’s Ocean Conservation call to action.
The circular economy is here:
An area of key interest has been how to stop plastics going into oceans in the first place highlighting the concept of the circular economy and the infrastructure behind recycling. “Businesses and governments around the world are increasingly recognising the need to tackle the root causes of plastic pollution, not just the symptoms. In October we saw more than 250 organisations, representing over 20% of the plastic packaging market, sign up to the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment and its circular economy vision, in which we eliminate the plastic we don’t need and innovate so all plastic we do need stays in the economy and out of the ocean:” Dame Ellen MacArthur, founder and chair of trustees, Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
It is not just about single-use plastics:
This year, the issue of ‘ghost gear’ – fishing gear that has been abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded, and is the most harmful form of marine debris – has also gained profile. “To date, the issue of ocean plastics has traditionally been dominated by conversations surrounding single-use plastics, like straws and water bottles. But recently, new research has also amplified the far-reaching ghost gear problem, with estimates that ghost gear makes up as much as 46 – 70% of all macro plastics in the oceans by weight. Over the last year, the Global Ghost Gear Initiative has seen an enormous influx of members wanting to become part of the alliance; more desire than ever from governments and corporates to invest in scaling up and replicating solutions; and United Nations bodies wanting to support training and awareness raising to prevent more gear from being lost.” Ingrid Giskes, global head of sea change campaign at World Animal Protection and Chair of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative.
Everyone from consumers to large corporates is engaged in Ocean Conservation:
“We’re reshaping how we shop, cook and eat as we become increasingly mindful of the effect on the planet. Our research in this year’s Food & Drink Report has shown that nearly nine in 10 people (88%) who saw that episode of BBC’s Blue Planet II about the effect of plastics on our oceans have changed their behaviour since. Sixty percent of us now choose a refillable water bottle and coffee cup more than we did, and Waitrose has seen an 800% increase in questions about plastics from customers. This is why we’ve recently brought forward our target to make all our own-brand packaging widely-recycled, reusable or home compostable from 2025 to 2023. We know there is still more to do, but we are making progress and are determined to maintain our momentum.” Tor Harris, head of CSR, health & agriculture, Waitrose & Partners.
“In this divisive time, it is encouraging to me that people around the world are putting aside their differences and recognising that we need to work together in new ways if we want to keep our oceans and our coastal communities healthy. Not just for us, but for the next generation. We have a responsibility to ensure that all the world’s children can have the opportunity to experience all the wonders of the ocean through a mask and a snorkel, and not just through the glass of an Aquarium or via video. I am humbled to be part of a growing global movement working below the water to demonstrate it’s possible to restore a coral reef and enable the communities and businesses which depend on them for their livelihoods to be an active part of it.” Frank Mars, Mars Incorporated
This is a global issue that requires global cooperation:
“In many Commonwealth countries – and more widely, BBC’s Blue Planet II helped raise awareness of the detrimental impact being made by human activity on the ocean and how this affects the livelihoods, welfare and sustainability of many communities. We share the ocean and we all rely on it, so in working towards a common future we must act now to restore its balance and use its bounty sustainably. In April of this year, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, leaders of all 53 Commonwealth countries unanimously adopted the Commonwealth Blue Charter. Through it, they each committed to principled, cooperative action to redress the threats facing ocean ecosystems and coastal communities.” Patricia Scotland, secretary-general, The Commonwealth.
The conclusion drawing from the ocean conservation community including businesses, NGOs and multilateral organisations is that the year has certainly seen increased awareness and engagement. The next stage, however, is how this is translated into action. “There’s has been huge amount of awareness on the impact of plastic pollution. But it’s now a race against time to halt the catastrophe. I am still not seeing the necessary action being taken. There is too much talk and not enough rolling up of sleeves.” Lewis Pugh, ocean advocate.
The World Ocean Summit which is to be held in Abu Dhabi in March 2019 will provide a forum for discussion of Ocean Conservation issues and guide decisions to facilitate actions to be taken and their future impacts. To find out more, please visit www.woi.economist.com.
Editor of @GC_MAG Australia, Currently living by the mantra life is too short for bad coffee