Global collective action vs marine pollution sought at Manila wildlife meet

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Environment ministers and representatives from governments, international organizations, business sector and civil society on Sunday called for a global unified action to combat marine pollution and reduce its impact on migratory animals, and humans in general.Environment ministers and representatives from governments, international organizations, business sector and civil society on Sunday called for a global unified action to combat marine pollution and reduce its impact on migratory animals, and humans in general.

The call was made during the Leaders’ Breakfast Meeting held at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay City, the venue of the 12th Conference of Parties to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, or CMS-COP12.

CMS-COP12 is dubbed as the world’s largest wildlife conference in 2017 and it is happening for the first time in Asia, with the Philippines as the host country. Adopted by over 120 nations, the CMS is the only global intergovernmental treaty established exclusively for the conservation and management of terrestrial, marine and avian migratory species throughout their range.

Philippine Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu, who welcomed the delegates, described marine pollution as a “decades-long global, persistent and growing concern.” 

According to Cimatu, marine debris impacts more than 800 wildlife species and this number may still go up as complex issues, including microplastics, still need to be investigated.

Cimatu noted that current efforts to solve the marine debris problem in the Philippines include incorporating integrated coastal management strategies into resource use and development plans of local government units (LGUs). 

He said that several bills have been filed in Congress to ban, phase out, tax, or regulate the use of plastic bags in the country. While these are pending, some LGUs and other sectors have already initiated the use of commercially viable and environment-friendly plastic alternatives.

The Philippines also continues to actively participate in the International Coastal Cleanup, where engaging people often leads to positive behavioral change, he said. 

United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Deputy Executive Director Ibrahim Thiaw warned that plastics on land that make it into the oceans break down into microplastics and eventually end up in food humans eat when digested by marine animals.

CMS Executive Secretary Bradnee Chambers pointed to marine debris, lead ammunition, and pesticides as the biggest contributors to marine pollution.

Through the course of the meeting, the participants agreed that while “there is an avalanche of data” on marine pollution, there is a need to translate such data into relevant policies.

These policies, however, could only be implemented with strong political will and after being communicated well to all stakeholders.

Thiaw said there was also a need for “a bigger coalition” that would bring together all relevant parties and partners to address the issue of pollution, citing the Minama Convention on Mercury as an example.

Thiaw said that while he could see the level of commitment, ongoing actions to help address the issue of marine pollution were “not adding up.”

“We need a change in the course of action. Governments alone cannot address pollution,” he stressed.

It was also highlighted that banning plastics was not really the issue, as plastics also bring benefits such as reducing the need to cut wood. The bigger issue was in disposing plastic products.

The need to recycle more in order to reduce plastic pollution was highlighted further when Peter Nitschke of Canada-based The Plastic Bank cited the case of Metro Manila, where “a third of the waste is recyclable but only 10 percent of the waste is actually being recycled.”

The Plastic Bank is an organization that aims to address the plastic pollution problem and convert it as “currency” for the underprivileged in poor communities. 

In Ecuador, which hosted the CMS-COP11 in 2014, abandoned fishing gears constitute the biggest type of marine debris in its waters. 

The Conference of Parties is the convention's main decision-making body, and meets every three years to adopt policies and laws and propose new species under the framework.# 

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