Engaging with unep on ocean plastics, environmental justice and human rights

On Worlds Ocean Day, 8th June 2022, the UN Environment Programme released a new e-learning course co-developed with the One Ocean Hub on multilateral environmental agreements and ocean plastic (SDG 14.1), which integrates international human rights law. The course titled “Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution: Legal Frameworks” is available on UNEP InforMEA platform (the UN Information Portal on Multilateral Environmental Agreements) upon registration: https://www.informea.org/en

During the UN Ocean Conference (27th June 2022), UNEP also launched another new e-learning course co-developed with the One Ocean Hub on multilateral environmental agreements related to each target of SDG 14, which integrates international human rights law considerations in relation to marine conservation, small-scale fishers, fisheries subsidies, and technology transfer. The course titled “Introductory Course on SDG 14 and Ocean Governance” is also available on UNEP InforMEA platform.

In addition, the Hub has published online 5 draft information-sheets on the environmental justice and human rights dimensions of ocean plastics (see here, here, here, here and here), including on children’s human rights, that show alignment between insights from the Global South about global and local equity issues and international human rights law. We welcome feedback on these draft information-sheets (please email elisa.morgera(at)strath.ac.uk). All these tools will build on the Hub research on human rights and the protection of the marine environment, with insights from different disciplines, countries and regions. We expect that they can support the negotiations of a new treaty on plastics, as well as work at the national level.

Hub Director Elisa Morgera discussed the key points captured in the info-sheets at the Winter-Summer School on Human Rights and the Environment organized by the Global Network of Human Rights and the Environment and UNEP, during a webinar on “Ocean Plastic and Ocean Waste” organized by UNEP on 23 June 2022, and at a workshop on 24th June organized by NERC-NRF South East Asia Marine Plastics programme of the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council and the National Research Foundation, Singapore.

The key messages from Hub research shared at the events were:

  • An environmental justice perspective serves to clarify that no one-size approach can be taken to address ocean plastics, but rather a plurality of contextual responses to be co-developed with affected communities, and indigenous and local knowledge holders;
  • Caution is necessary against transposing understandings and approaches arising from the Global North, due to documented risks of being ineffective in the Global South and producing further injustices;
  • Human rights can respond to the insights arising from environmental justice research, supporting system thinking and transformative change in the context of ocean plastics;
  • Procedural human rights are relevant also in the context of international cooperation, so States need to provide for the “participation of human rights holders” as part of more generic “stakeholder engagement” in the development of the new plastic treaty and other international legal and policy responses;
  • Human rights and environmental justice need to be integrated in assessments of the effectiveness of proposed solutions and current measures to tackle ocean plastics;
  • Knowledge gaps need to be identified and prioritized on the basis of human rights and environmental justice, supporting the application of precaution in decision making, and giving direction to ocean research finance.

UNEP and the One Ocean Hub are currently working on additional information sheets on:

  • Women’s human rights and ocean plastics
  • Waste picker’s human rights and ocean plastics
  • Key research and policy gaps.

Thanks to Durban University of Technology, one of the research partners under the One Ocean Hub, the information sheet on waste pickers will benefit from collaboration also with GAIA (the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives).