Southeast Asian heads of state vow to tackle scourge of plastic pollution

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plastic pollution
An unidentified waterway clogged with plastic waste. File photograph.

The leaders of Southeast Asian nations have vowed to fight the scourge of plastic pollution in the oceans with a joint declaration.

The Bangkok Declaration on Combating Marine Debris in the ASEAN Region was adopted by leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which includes four of the world’s top polluters.

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The Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand — along with China — are responsible for more than half of the eight million tonnes of plastic waste that end up in oceans every year, according to a 2017 Ocean Conservancy report. The Philippines alone is the third biggest contributor to the problem.

Announcing the joint declaration today (Saturday, June 22), Thai government spokesman Werachon Sukondhapatipak said: “All countries value and emphasise environmental protection and support Thailand in including the agenda on safeguarding of the environment and combating marine debris, which matches a global agenda.”

The declaration has been commended by environmentalists as a positive step forward for the region. However,  Tara Buakamsri of Greenpeace in Thailand said: “If we are not reducing single-use plastic at the production process, this ‘Bangkok Declaration’ will not succeed.”

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There are also concerns that the agreement contains no penalties for the worst offending companies or countries, and fails to lay out concrete measures to tackle the problem.

Some cynical observers have also pointed out that the summit was held in giant air-conditioned hotels and featured hundreds of plastic bottles of water for delegates.

What has been agreed is to “strengthen actions at the national level as well as through collaborative actions to prevent and significantly reduce marine debris.”

The ASEAN nations will also “strengthen national laws and regulations as well as enhance regional and international cooperation including on relevant policy dialogue and information sharing”.

The declaration comes ahead of the G20 summit of leading nations in Japan next week, during which marine plastic pollution will again be on the agenda.

Alarming images of polluted waterways in the Philippines as well as dead whales found with plastic in their stomachs have made the issue impossible for governments to ignore.

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