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Speeches & Transcripts April 4, 2019

Opening Remarks by Agata E. Pawlowska at the Marine Plastics Conference in the Philippines

His Excellency Bjørn Jahnsen, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Norway;

His Excellency Michel Goffin, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Belgium;

His Excellency Lyquoc Tuan, Ambassador of Vietnam;

Mr. Joel Palma, Chief Executive Officer of the World Wildlife Fund;

Mr. Titon Mitra, Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme;

Mr. Jose Antonio Goitia, Executive Director of the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission;

Development partners, representatives from the government, private sector, civil society and media;            

Ladies and Gentlemen

Magandang Umaga! Good morning to everybody!

I am very happy to be here today on behalf of the World Bank Group to address this eminent group and underline the importance of the Philippines in addressing the crisis of marine plastics.

We all know the shocking statistics about marine plastic pollution. Current studies suggest that 8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year, the equivalent of one garbage truck full of plastic dumped into the ocean each minute. Five of the top 10 global polluting countries are ASEAN members.

The Philippines is estimated to have the 3rd highest rate of mismanaged plastic waste worldwide. The Pasig River and Manila Bay have been identified among the water-bodies around the world that need rehabilitation most urgently.

Interestingly, less than 20% of leakage originates from ocean-based sources like fisheries and fishing vessels. This means over 80% of ocean plastic comes from land-based sources. Once plastic is discarded, it is not well managed, and thus leaks into the ocean.

The impacts of marine plastic pollution are manifold, and include food security, economic, water safety, ecosystem to mention a just few.  Take for instance, the Metro Manila area, which is severely affected by increased flooding risks in part due to dumping of waste in drainage and waterways, and clogging them.

Another example of devastating impact that plastic has is on fisheries, aquaculture, and tourism, especially in coastal communities where many poor people live. These are of particular importance to the Philippines.

However, the magnitude of plastic waste is not comprehensively known. There is a lack of statistics on the amount of plastic in the Philippine waters. What is known is that the amount of mismanaged plastic waste is continuously increasing, and that the plastic crisis requires urgent action.

So where to do we start to fix this problem?

This forum is a great first step.

The purpose of this forum is to bring together key stakeholders in the Philippines, the government, development partners, and civil society, to enhance knowledge and share information on marine plastic pollution in the Philippines.

Specifically, we want to learn more about the scope and impacts of plastic waste pollution in the Philippines; plastic waste management policies and activities in the country; priorities and actions of development partners; and ongoing regional initiatives to address the issue.

We all know that solutions to this global challenge are multiple and require consideration of a systemic approach to the various sources generating the pollution, both land- and sea-based contributors, and a combination of intervention in different sectors and at different levels.

That’s why all of us – the public sector, private sector, civil society, people’s organizations – need to work together and coordinate our efforts to address this challenge.

In this regard, allow me to commend the Philippine Government for starting the important initiatives in the fight against plastic pollution. The government has begun drafting a National Strategy on Marine Litter, which shall provide the basis for a subsequent Master Plan on Marine Plastics Management.

The Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission has recently emerged victorious in an international competition which recognizes the successful efforts to revitalize waterways.

Most recently, the Manila Bay Clean-up has begun and is beginning to address the pollution of Manila Bay.

To reduce clogging of drains, the government has included a component to minimize leakage of plastic waste into waterways in the Metro Manila Flood Management Project that the World Bank is supporting jointly with AIIB.

How could development partners help?

Each of us can do more to support the country’s effort to address the challenges posed by plastics pollution. Let me share with you what we have been doing so far in the World Bank. 

The World Bank has already mobilized teams to assist our Client countries at the global, regional as well as national levels through different financing modalities and investments.

In 2018, the World Bank launched PROBLUE, a new global Multi-Donor Trust Fund focusing strongly on marine litter. Some of the early commitments will be for East Asia, as one of the first movers.

In East Asia, our regional leadership team has established marine plastics as a priority for World Bank Group support and we have developed a Regional Marine Plastics Framework and Action plan to align our engagements across sectors and countries.

The World Bank will support ASEAN 2019 and 2020 in developing and implementing the ASEAN Framework of Action on Marine Debris.

At the national level, we are already working with several national governments and the private sector in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines, to support the development and implementation of policies and regulations, to increase knowledge on the quantities of plastic waste and pollution hotspots, to develop plastic policies and roadmaps, and to finance critical investments.

This is the beginning, and we at the World Bank are committed to do more. 

Finally, in addition to all these institutional efforts, each of us individually also has a role to play. Every time we use a plastic bag, or a cup or a straw, let us think whether we can avoid it. Every time we go to the beach or diving or island hopping, we should leave the place as beautiful and pristine as we found it. Every time we see somebody throwing trash, we should respectfully educate.

Let me end my short remarks with two key takeaways.

Remember the statistics I quoted at the beginning – that currently, 8 million tons of plastics leak into the ocean each year – equivalent to dumping the contents of one garbage truck into the ocean per minute. If no action is taken, this will increase to two garbage trucks per minute by 2030 and four by 2050.  

If current trends continue, by 2050 there may be more plastic than fish in the ocean, by weight.  The problem of plastics has been created in our lifetime. Half the volume of the plastic ever manufactured was made only in the last 15 years. So, this is my first takeaway. The costs of inaction are rising – and jointly, we can roll out urgent and concrete actions.

My second takeaway relates to our youth, the younger generations today are aware of the gravity of the problem and determined to act. I have a 13-year old daughter, Kasia, avid reader and diver. Since she was 8 years old, she wanted to be a marine biologist. Just a few days ago, she showed me two pictures of dead whales that washed ashore, their stomachs full of plastics. We had a long conversation on how she and other children her age could contribute to solving this complex problem of making this world a better place for themselves and the next generation. I have high hopes that we all – no matter what our age - could rise, work together and beat this challenge.

Thank you very much for your attention, for coming here today, and I wish all of us a very fruitful discussion.

Salamat and have a great afternoon.

Last Updated: Apr 04, 2019