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Group of nations take on plastic in oceans

The U.N. General Assembly launched a new group dedicated to tackling marine plastic pollution by building support for a new global agreement.

UNITED NATIONS (AN) — The U.N. General Assembly launched a new group on Monday dedicated to tackling marine plastic pollution by building political momentum and support for a new global agreement.

The launch of the new Group of Friends to Combat Marine Plastic Pollution, co-chaired by Norway, the Maldives, and Antigua and Barbuda, coincided with the United Nations' World Oceans Day, which is meant to remind people that oceans are the planet's lungs.

"Notably, the overuse of single-use plastics has contributed to a global, environmental catastrophe," the group said in a concept paper. "This crisis requires a comprehensive response that considers the entire lifecycle of plastics at the local, national and global levels."

Nigerian diplomat Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, president of the 193-nation General Assembly based in New York, said at the launch that more than 800 marine and coastal species are threatened by waste in the oceans.

"Ingestion and entanglement threaten fish stocks which are vital to global food security. Marine plastic pollution kills up to one million seabirds a year. Plastic systemically poisons, wounds and infects our coral reefs. These underwater forests are home to more than 25% of all marine life," he told diplomats in his speech.

Each year about 8 million metric tons of plastic — equivalent to one garbage truck emptied every minute — is dumped into the oceans, according to a 2016 World Economic Forum study.

Muhammad-Bande said international cooperation and cross-sector partnerships that span generations and cultures are the only way to address the problem.

"Coral reefs produce oxygen, provide food and livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people, and protect communities and coastlines from natural disaster," he said. "Today marks a turning point for urgent action to stop this free flow of plastic waste which threatens to overwhelm our oceans."

Marine plastic pollution costs fisheries, aquaculture, recreation and tourism up to US$2.5 trillion a year, according to Norway's U.N. Mission in New York. Among the goals of the Group of Friends, or GoF, it said, are more marine protected areas, increased awareness of the need to reduce pollution and a new global accord to accomplish that. Those would help to accomplish the U.N.'s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.

Details of what might be covered in such a treaty were vague. "These efforts would be directed towards strengthening political momentum for an effective, coherent and coordinated action and solutions to address plastic pollution," the group said.