ASEAN eyes solutions for marine plastic pollution

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Ekkaphab Phanthavong, deputy secretary-general of the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community. SUPPLIED

Amid growing concerns about marine plastic debris, the ASEAN Secretariat has pledged to continue collaboration with all member states and partners to accelerate operations.

At the same time, the World Bank has also approved a $20 million grant to support ASEAN member states’ efforts to reduce marine plastic pollution.

The South Korean Mission to ASEAN on June 23 also hosted an online forum on the issue, and suggested a pathway to an international legally binding agreement, in collaboration with the Regional Knowledge Centre for Marine Plastic Debris and the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia, both co-organisers of the forum.

The event aimed to raise awareness of the alarming situation and the urgent need to address the issue internationally. It also assessed prevention and mitigation efforts undertaken by different stakeholders and received recommendations from them, and formulated policy recommendations to advance the UN Environment Assembly’s resolution which called for a legally binding treaty.

Ekkaphab Phanthavong, deputy secretary-general of the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community, said at the event that the forum provided a platform for knowledge exchange and partnerships in line with the priority areas identified in the regional action plan laid out by member states.

“The ASEAN secretariat is working collaboratively with member states and partners to speed up operations. It is time for us to join hands and turn our policies and plans into action,” he said.

The forum also offered an opportunity to exchange insights related to green recovery efforts and the rebuilding of the region’s economy, he added.

South Korean ambassador to ASEAN Kwon Hee-seog said that what is needed at this critical juncture is a more coherent and streamlined policy which can integrate existing efforts at the national, regional and global level, while taking into account the full lifecycle of plastics.

“As we are living in a world where plastics are ubiquitous, our efforts to tackle the issue should be practical and effective,” he said.

The World Bank said in a statement that Southeast Asia has emerged as a hot spot for plastic pollution because of rapid urbanisation and a rising middle class. The economic costs were significant, with the damage to key blue economy sectors in ASEAN member states alone estimated at $2.1 billion in 2015.

The statement said the World Bank will work with the ASEAN Secretariat and its partners to strengthen policies and regulatory frameworks governing the production and use of plastics in Southeast Asia.

The project aims to reduce plastic consumption, increase recycling, and minimise leakages to prevent land- and sea-based marine plastic pollution. It will also support coastal and blue economies, which are particularly affected by marine litter and its effects on several key sectors – fisheries, tourism and shipping.

“We are pleased to help the ASEAN bloc work together to reduce marine plastics pollution and address the negative effect plastics can have,” said Manuela Ferro, World Bank vice-president for East Asia and the Pacific.