The Honolulu Commitment

A key outcome of the conference, which was co-organised by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and held in Honolulu, Hawaii from 20 to 25 March 2011, the Honolulu Commitment marks a new, cross-sectoral approach to help reduce the occurrence of marine debris, as well as the extensive damage it causes to marine habitats, the global economy, biodiversity and the risks posed to human health.


New international co-operation to tackle marine debris

© Fabiano Prado Barretto/Global Garbage

Honolulu (USA) / Nairobi, 25 March 2011 - Government representatives, major industries and leading marine researchers have come together to make a new set of commitments to tackle the widespread problem of debris in the world’s seas and oceans.

Despite decades of efforts to prevent and reduce marine debris, such as discarded plastic, abandoned fishing nets and industrial waste, there is evidence that the problem continues to grow. A lack of co-ordination between global and regional programmes, deficiencies in the enforcement of existing regulations and unsustainable consumption and production patterns have aggravated the problem.

By bringing together experts from some 35 countries, governments, research bodies, corporations including the Coca-Cola Company, and trade associations such as Plastics Europe, the Fifth International Marine Debris Conference resulted in new commitments and partnerships to address the issue of marine debris at global, national and local levels.

A key outcome of the conference, which was co-organised by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and held in Honolulu, Hawaii from 20 to 25 March 2011, the Honolulu Commitment marks a new, cross-sectoral approach to help reduce the occurrence of marine debris, as well as the extensive damage it causes to marine habitats, the global economy, biodiversity and the risks posed to human health.

The Commitment encourages sharing of technical, legal and market-based solutions to reduce marine debris, improving local and regional understanding of the scale and impact of the problem and advocating the improvement of waste management worldwide.

“Marine debris – trash in our oceans – is a symptom of our throw-away society and our approach to how we use our natural resources. It affects every country and every ocean, and shows us in highly visible terms the urgency of shifting towards a low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy as nations prepare for Rio+20 in 2012,” said United Nations Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner in a message to conference delegates. “The impact of marine debris today on flora and fauna in the oceans is one that we must now address with greater speed,” added Mr. Steiner

“However, one community or one country acting in isolation will not be the answer. We need to address marine debris collectively across national boundaries and with the private sector, which has a critical role to play both in reducing the kinds of wastes that can end up in the world’s oceans, and through research into new materials. It is by bringing all these players together that we can truly make a difference,” said Mr. Steiner.

The Commitment marks the first step in the development of a comprehensive global platform for the prevention, reduction and management of marine debris, to be known as the Honolulu Strategy.

This document – currently being developed by conference delegates, UNEP, NOAA and international marine debris experts – will aim to provide a strategic framework for co-ordinated action plans to prevent, reduce and manage sources of marine debris. The Strategy will be finalised following the conference.

“This conference comes at a critical time for our world” said Monica Medina, NOAA’s Principal Deputy Undersecretary for Oceans and Atmosphere. “The oceans and coasts are facing a multitude of stressors, including marine debris, that lead to consequences that have both ecosystem and economic impacts. It is vitally important to bring together people committed to these issues to share ideas, develop partnerships and move us all a step closer to the changes that are badly needed for our oceans and coasts.”

Marine debris: risks to livelihoods, wildlife and human health

The impacts of marine debris are far-reaching, with serious consequences for marine habitats, biodiversity, human health and the global economy.

  • At least 267 marine species worldwide are affected by entanglement in or ingestion of marine debris, including 86 percent of all sea turtles species, 44 percent of all seabird species and 43 percent of all marine mammal species.
  • There is growing concern over the potential impact on human health of toxic substances released by plastic waste in the ocean. Small particles (known as ‘microplastics’) made up of disintegrating plastic items or lost plastic pellets used by industry, may accumulate contaminants linked to cancer, reproductive problems and other health risks. Scientists are studying whether these contaminants can enter the food chain when microplastics are ingested by marine animals.
  • Accumulated debris on beaches and shorelines can have a serious economic impact on communities that are dependent on tourism.
  • Marine debris may house communities of invasive species which can disrupt marine habitats and ecosystems. Heavy items of marine debris can damage habitats such as coral reefs and affect the foraging and feeding habits of marine animals.

Surfing for Solutions in Hawaii

One of the key themes to emerge from the Fifth International Marine Debris Conference was the need to improve global waste management.

The Honolulu Strategy will outline several approaches for the reduction of marine debris, including prevention at land- and sea-based sources, and the need to see waste as a resource to be managed. It will also call for public awareness campaigns on the negative impacts of improper waste disposal on our seas and oceans – targeting street litter, illegal dumping of rubbish and poorly-managed waste dumps.

Improving national waste management programmes not only helps reduce the volume of waste in the world’s seas and oceans and subsequent damage to the marine environment, but can also bring real economic benefits.

In the Republic of Korea, for example, a policy of Extended Producer Responsibility has been enforced on packaging (paper, glass, iron, aluminium and plastic) and specific products (batteries, tyres, lubricating oil) since 2003. This initiative has resulted in the recycling of 6 million metric tonnes of waste between 2003 and 2007, increasing the country’s recycling rate by 14 percent and creating economic benefits equivalent to US$1.6 billion.

Waste management is one of ten economic sectors highlighted in UNEP’s Green Economy Report, launched in February 2011. The report highlights enormous opportunities for turning land-based waste – the major contributor to marine debris – into a more economically valuable resource. The value of the waste-to-energy market, for example, which was estimated at US$20 billion in 2008 is projected to grow by 30 percent by 2014.

The scaling-up of a transition to a low carbon, more resource-efficient Green Economy is one of two key pillars of the United Nations Sustainable Development conference to be held in Brazil next year. Also known as Rio+20, the conference aims to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development and address new and emerging challenges – twenty years after the landmark Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

The Honolulu Commitment

© Antonello

Participants attending the 5th International Marine Debris Conference held in Honolulu, Hawaii, 20-25 March 2011:

Considered marine debris to include any anthropogenic, manufactured or processed solid material, irrespective of its size, discarded, disposed of or abandoned in the environment, including all materials discarded into the sea, on the shore, or brought indirectly to the sea by rivers, sewage, storm water or winds;

Expressed concern at the growing presence of plastic debris in the marine environment and acknowledged the plastic associations’ Global Declaration on Marine Litter, while recognising other materials also constitute marine debris;

Welcomed the ongoing work of scientists, research organisations and other citizens to better and more accurately understand the sources, nature and extent of marine debris, including the effects of micro-plastics, heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants, endocrine disruptors and other chemicals on marine biodiversity and public health;

Expressed concern at the continued threat and economic costs from marine debris to human health and safety; biodiversity and ecosystem services; sustainable livelihoods; and the boating, shipping, tourism and fishing sectors;

Noted that these issues are compounded by accelerating pressures associated with pollution and climate change, as well as human uses of oceans and coasts, such as fisheries, urban and industrial development, tourism and shipping;

Acknowledged the importance of international mechanisms, such as MARPOL, the Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans and other regional mechanisms, in preventing and reducing marine debris;

Recognised the opportunities for addressing marine debris through linkages to sustainable development goals that promote resource efficiency and the principles of a green economy, such as improved life-cycle design and sustainable packaging; extended producer responsibility; safe and efficient fishing and maritime transport practices; and the development of integrated waste management infrastructure that supports recycling and energy recovery programmes and zero-waste strategies;

Recognised the roles of governments, international organisations, industry and civil society in sharing best practices and facilitating the transfer of knowledge;

Recognised the need to address the special requirements of developing countries, in particular the Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States, and their need for financial and technical assistance, technology transfer, training and scientific cooperation to enhance their ability to prevent, reduce and manage marine debris as well as to implement this commitment and the Honolulu Strategy;

Emphasised the importance of collaborative partnerships, including industry and grass-roots initiatives, and acknowledged the recent creation of the Global Partnership on Waste Management;

Celebrated the increasing level of public interest in finding solutions to the marine debris challenge;

Welcomed the opportunity to contribute to the development of the Honolulu Strategy – a global platform for the prevention, reduction and management of marine debris; and

Hereby invite international organizations, governments at national and sub-national levels, industry, non-governmental organizations, citizens and other stakeholders, to commit to:

1. Make choices that reduce waste in order to halt and reverse the occurrence of marine debris.

2. Encourage all citizens, industry and governments to take responsibility for their contribution and solutions to the marine debris problem;

3. Share openly and freely technical, legal, policy, community-based and economic / market-based solutions that will help prevent, reduce and marine debris;

4. Advocate mechanisms that emphasise the prevention or minimisation of waste;

5. Facilitate initiatives that turn waste into a resource in an environmentally sustainable manner;

6. Develop global, regional, national and local targets to reduce marine debris;

7. Improve global knowledge, understanding and monitoring of the scale, nature, source and impact of marine debris, and raise awareness of its impact on public health, biodiversity and economic development;

8. Collaborate with global, regional and sub-regional organisations, to enhance the effectiveness of multi-lateral initiatives aimed at preventing, reducing and managing marine debris;

9. Encourage financial support for global, regional, national and local actions that contribute to the implementation of the Honolulu Strategy;

10. Encourage relevant intergovernmental fora, including those at global and regional scales, to express support for the Honolulu Commitment and encourage governments to take action consistent with the objectives and strategic activities outlined in the Honolulu Strategy; and

11. Participate in a global network of stakeholders committed to understanding, preventing, reducing and managing marine debris in an environmentally sustainable manner;

12. Contribute to the development and successful implementation of the Honolulu Strategy – a global platform for the prevention, reduction and management of marine debris – and its periodic review.

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