Partnering with UNEP on SDG 14, marine litter and environmental justice

By Elisa Morgera

The One Ocean Hub is co-developing with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) an e-learning course on SDG 14 (Life Below Water) and a series of tools on marine litter, including  the environmental justice dimensions of ocean plastics. 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. They will be developed by autumn 2021 and be integrated into UNEP e-learning platform InforMEA (the UN Information Portal on Multilateral Environmental Agreements) and the Law and Environment Assistance Platform. These tools are also going to feed into the Hub’s international work on human rights of the child to a healthy environment, with a view to ensuring sufficient attention to the dependence on a healthy ocean of children’s rights.

SDG 14 Course

This course will survey the full range of SDG 14 targets with a view to clarifying how multilateral environmental agreements and international human rights law contribute to their achievement, including marine pollution, marine ecosystem management, ocean acidification, fishing, marine protected areas, fishing subsidies, and the sustainable use of marine resources, research and technology transfer, and small-scale fisheries. The course will also feature units introducing oceans governance and reflecting on the connection between SDG 14 and other SDGs. The content of the course will be validated by the relevant UN Secretariats. It was developed by legal scholars and early-career researchers from Strathclyde University, UK and Nelson Mandela University, South Africa.

Marine Litter Toolkit

This activity builds on a consultancy carried out by Hub PhD researcher Tallash Kantai and PhD researcher Naomi Kenney from the Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and Governance in 2020-2021 drafting an interactive, step-by-step guide for legislators to develop laws to better manage single-use plastic waste. The regulatory approaches illustrated in the guide included restricting the production, distribution and used of certain single-use plastics, labelling plastics to ensure their correct disposal, producer responsibility, and taxing certain plastic products to dissuade their use.

After trawling through almost 500 pieces of individual legislation, identifying the country examples and correlating them to the various regulatory approaches, the researchers found that there is hardly any legislation relating to marine plastic pollution at a national level and rather, countries deal with plastic waste through a combination of regulatory approaches. They also indicated that expanding the analysis to the local level might reveal that legislation may more likely be targeted at plastic pollution in the marine environment.

This guide will now be complemented by an inter-disciplinary team of Hub researchers with a toolkit specifically focused on marine litter, including examples of case-studies from Hub countries to inform stakeholders of best practices and approaches.

Marine Litter E-learning Course

Building on the insights arising from the development of the marine litter toolkit, Hub researchers will also develop an in-depth e-learning course on marine litter, with a strong focus on plastic pollution from an international legal and policy framework combining environmental and human rights instruments and approaches. This will build on the Hub’s contributions to the international debate on a new treaty on plastics, the relevance of the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and toxics, and the relevance for the human right to health.

Environmental Justice and Marine Litter

After contributing to online discussions and peer-review of UNEP’s seminal report  “NEGLECTED: Environmental Justice Impacts of Plastic Pollution” launched in April 2021, the One Ocean Hub will co-develop with UNEP a series of awareness-raising materials on the interlinkages between environmental justice and marine litter to highlight how plastic pollution hinders the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and how the entire lifecycle of plastics —from source extraction to waste— disproportionately affects marginalized communities around the world.

The Hub will support engagement with global scholarship on environmental justice, provide case studies from its focus countries, as well as analysis of the current international law developments at the intersection of human rights and the safe management of plastics, including business responsibility to respect human rights and children’s human right to a healthy environment.

Children’s rights to a healthy environment

The Hub is also looking forward to collaborating with UNEP and other members of the international Children’s Environmental Rights’ Initiative on ensuring proper attention to a healthy ocean in the context of the: