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Accelerate the regional multistakeholder engagement – “Cost of Inaction and Action for Plastic Pollution”

01 Feb 2024
AIT webmaster

1 February 2024: The Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) jointly organized the workshop “Cost of Inaction and Action for Plastic Pollution” to increase awareness of the costs of inaction and promoting action against plastic pollution, and to accelerate support for decision-making and implementation from policymakers and stakeholders. The hybrid workshop was organized on 1 February 2024, attended by over 70 participants from countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Japan across sectors including governments, academia, private sector, NGOs, and UN. 

This is part of a project generously supported by the Government of Japan to strengthen plastic pollution management in Asia and the Pacific.

During the intensive one-day workshop, the participants gained the opportunity to deepen their understanding of current research centered on the costs of action and inaction: extensive impacts of plastic pollution across economic, social, and environmental spheres; effective and sustainable strategies to reduce plastic pollution; and robust framework for data collection, analysis, and reporting on plastic pollution.

In the opening session, Prof. Kazuo Yamamoto, President of AIT, remarked that this workshop is a platform to foster a comprehensive understanding of current research and evaluation of plastic pollution to contribute to sustainable decision-making and policy development. 

Prof. Kazuo Yamamoto
Prof. Kazuo Yamamoto
Mr. Wijarn Simachaya
Mr. Wijarn Simachaya

Mr. Wijarn Simachaya, President, Thailand Environment Institute reiterated that plastic was invented to make our lives convenient, however, overconsumption and mismanagement of plastics and single-use are causing environmental problems. Thailand has been developing a roadmap and action plan for plastic pollution management to prevent single-use plastic. He called for urgent action to tackle plastic pollution.

Ms. Tomoe Kotani, Deputy Director, Division of Global Environment, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan emphasized that actions and incorporation need to happen at all levels of government and every section in the region. She continued that the Government of Japan is committed to acting in collaboration with UNEP supporting initiatives from local, national, regional, and multi-cooperative action to reduce plastic pollution.

Ms. Tomoe Kotani
Ms. Tomoe Kotani
Dr. Mushtaq Memon
Dr. Mushtaq Memon

Dr. Mushtaq Memon, Regional Coordinator for Chemicals and Pollution Action at UNEP, emphasized the significance of careful consideration of required actions, looking at impacts on various groups of communities and sectors. He addressed that equity should be addressed during the consideration of actions by looking at all the levels of impacts on vulnerable groups and different stakeholders with lenses of genders, children and youth, and poverty. He also reminded us that the fundamental of reducing plastic pollution is to reduce production upstream and control the mismanagement of plastics downstream. 

Discussion

The discussions in the workshop highlighted key areas of improvement in the aim of reducing plastic pollution: consideration of full lifecycle Extended Producer Responsibility, involvement of informal sectors, advocacy and behavioral change communications especially for youth and children and key leaders in communities, institutionalized data collection and analysis, proactive engagement for regulations by the national government and policymakers, and policy evaluation based on unified approaches. 

Group photo of the workshop

Background  

Plastic pollution has emerged as a formidable threat to global health, ecosystems, and economies, necessitating immediate and decisive action. The surge in plastic production, from a mere 2 million tonnes in 1950 to a staggering 460 million tonnes in 2019, has led to an overwhelming accumulation of waste, particularly in marine environments. Approximately 7 billion tons of the 9.5 billion tons produced in this period have been discarded, with single-use plastics constituting up to half of the annual production. The oceans bear the brunt of this crisis, currently holding between 75 and 199 million tons of plastic waste, with an additional 33 billion pounds added each year. This situation is exacerbated by the lifecycle of plastics, encompassing extraction, design, consumption, and disposal practices, all contributing to the broader triple planetary crisis of climate disruption, biodiversity loss, and pollution. 

Addressing this crisis requires a nuanced understanding of the costs associated with both action and inaction in the report “The Cost of Inaction” by UNEP. The report aligns with the vision of the 2012 United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability, advocating for a transparent evaluation of the economic, social, and environmental implications of sustainable development initiatives. The urgency of the situation is underscored by the UN Secretary-General’s call for ambitious action to tackle the triple planetary crisis. Despite ongoing research and advancements in understanding the impacts of plastic pollution, including the pervasive issue of microplastics, many effects remain unquantified and disproportionately affect vulnerable populations. The complexity of impact assessment, coupled with the urgency of the situation, necessitates immediate decision-making based on the best available data, recognizing that the full extent of plastic pollution’s consequences may never be fully quantified.