CARICOM Secretary-General says world needs to ‘break-up with plastics’

CARICOM Secretary-General, Dr. Carla Barnett

Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is essential to address marine debris and plastics plaguing earth’s oceans, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretary-General, Dr. Carla Barnett said Tuesday 5 April, calling for the world to “break-up with plastics”.

Delivering the feature address at the first in a series of regional conferences organised by World Maritime University (WMU), the Secretary-General said,

“We have grown comfortable in a reality where plastic packaging is discarded mere minutes after purchase, but persists in the environment for hundreds of years.” 

She also bemoaned the inundation of the markets with “cheap gadgets with no longevity, modularity or repairability,” pointing out that it contributes to the amassing of waste in the marine environment.

Commending current global actions to highlight and address the crisis of plastic pollution, she said transition away from plastics requires a “complete cultural shift.”

A man sorting a sea of plastic bottles at one of the Wecycler hubs in Lagos, Nigeria. Most plastic litter from cities ends up in oceans. (Photo via Panos)

“The result of streamlined production and circular economy is that fewer plastics will enter waste management systems, and escape into drains and waterways flowing into our already vulnerable coastlines,” Secretary-General Barnett stated.

Even as she noted that ideal, she pointed out the inherent vulnerabilities of Small Island and Low-lying Coastal Developing States (SIDs) limit their capacity to advance that model of waste management.

Dr. Barnett added that limited physical space, isolated geographies, limited to no economies of scale for waste as a resource, and limited fiscal and technical capacity for comprehensive waste management investment, prevent SIDs from undertaking comprehensive waste management in ways that close the circle on production and waste generation.

She highlighted the need for an inclusive approach to MSP involving communities and giving voices to the marginalised in ways that build stewardship and solidify “the pathway between science and policy.”

The topic of the conference was Science and Technology, under the broader theme: Closing the Circle, Marine Debris, Sargassum and Marine Spatial Planning Research and Capacity-Building Programme. It was anchored in Dominica and digitally broadcast to the Region.

Secretary-General Barnett commended the WMU for coordinating the forum and for the relations it has been developing with the Region over the years. She also lauded the Nippon Foundation which she said has been a source of major capacity-building for ocean management in CARICOM to the benefit of young professionals and government agencies involved in ocean affairs.

She said though the COVID-19 pandemic diverted attention away from other regional and international crisis, the issues impacting the ocean space continue.

“Sea-surface temperature rise continues to harm coastal ecosystems and exacerbate storm conditions; plastics and other pollutants continue accumulating pressure on our oceans’ regenerative capacity; storms and other natural hazards like Sargassum influxes continue to worsen impacts on coastal communities and low-lying areas,” Secretary-General Barnett stated.

Commending the opportunity to exchange knowledge and craft solutions to those challenges, she suggested that the long term recovery of SIDs from COVID-19 should be a “green recovery” maximising the tremendous potential of the ocean.

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