Representing the European Union at the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) this week is a huge honour. An even bigger honour is to be part of this global effort to beat pollution.
Here in Kenya, you understand that to turn wishes into action requires cooperation. This means constant communication. Plastic waste is one area where Kenya is going far because it is going together.
What encourages me is that the boldness of the actions is being driven by a sense of urgency. Plastic waste is becoming an ever present in our lives - and not just on land. The ocean itself becoming a plastic soup of our making. The UN Environment Assembly is a call to countries and regions to step up the fight against pollution.
Be it air, water, soil, the impact of pollution is being felt by us all. But what are those lucky enough to take decisions actually doing to improve the situation?
In the European Union we are working towards a radical strategy for plastics. Our aim is to set us on a path to a more circular production of plastics.
Namely, recycling and reusing. This is what we call the circular economy. And if we make the economy more circular, we can tackle marine litter.
If we change our manufacturing and remove substances of concern, then we can also protect human health.
Our new strategy for plastics, which I want to be exemplary, will hopefully be an inspiration for the economies around the world. There are two very basic aims.
The first is to put this linear approach behind us. We must make it not just desirable, but normal and financially advantageous to recycle plastics.
We can do that by improving the economics and the quality of plastic recycling – being more careful about what goes into plastics in the first place, and by ensuring that there are real incentives to use plastic recyclate.
The second aim is to cut plastic waste and littering. If you want a strategy to be effective, you need to ensure you are acting in the right areas, with the right instruments.
That will mean some legislative measures, some economic instruments, support and enabling measures, and voluntary commitments as well.
Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has set the bar quite high already, with a promise that all of Europe’s plastic packaging will be reusable or recyclable by 2030.
There will also be a special focus on microplastics. One possibility is legislative action on microplastics that are deliberately added to products.
That’s only part of the story of course, so we are also looking at more focused actions for other areas, such as tyres and textiles, where the release to the environment is a side effect of use.
Microplastics are also very important for the second strand of the strategy, our efforts to contain marine litter.
It’s a global problem as we all share the same ocean, and it requires a coordinated response. That’s why we are working very closely with all our international partners to implement the UNEA resolutions.
And we are backing up this commitment with solid financial guarantees. A few months ago, I hosted the ‘Our Ocean’ conference in Malta, where the commission announced initiatives worth more than €500 million to tackle global ocean challenges, many of them involving marine litter. That should show the world that we are taking this matter very seriously, indeed.
During the UNEA this week, we will, I am sure, make some serious progress - tackling plastic waste, air and water pollution.
Mr Vella is the European Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. [email protected]