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Marine pollution from land-based sources is addressed in the voluntary/soft law Global Programme of Action (GPA) for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities. The programme is designed to be a source of conceptual and practical guidance to prevent, reduce, control or eliminate marine degradation from land-based activities. Effective implementation is an essential step forward to the objectives and goals of sustainable development. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and their specific target 14.1, in particular, was adopted in the post-2015 development UN agenda (2015) to address the causes of marine degradation originating from land-based activities, including marine litter as a part of the GPA Pollutant Source Categories.

In the Mediterranean, the major objective of the GPA is to support and facilitate the implementation of the UN Environment Regional Seas Convention and Action Programmes and the core areas of the Global Partnership on marine litter (GPML) while promoting the implementation of the Honolulu Strategy. It also aims at developing knowledge management, resource efficiency and economic development and awareness and to assess emerging issues related to the future and potential impacts of marine litter and microplastics.

In February 2017, UN Environment launched the #CleanSeas campaigns with the aim of engaging governments, the general public, civil society and the private sector to transform habits, practices, standards and policies around the globe in the fight against marine plastic litter. Over the next five years, the root-cause of marine litter will be addressed by targeting the production and consumption of non-recoverable and single-use plastic, involving citizens to do this effectively, and giving a platform to hundreds of local organizations who are already doing important work on marine litters. As part of the #CleanSeas campaign, UN Environment’s Global Partnership on Marine Litter regularly launches Massive Open Online Courses on marine plastic pollution (MOOC).

The United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) is a product of the GPA. Its previous sessions highlighted marine plastic debris and microplastics amongst the issues of global importance. After the UNEA-3 related assessment on the effectiveness of relevant international, regional and sub-regional instruments, a new approach that engages all sectors, including the plastics industry, appears as more effective at a global level. The new approach requires a mandate for governments to progress and an overarching international mechanism with a multi-layered governance approach. Consequently, the last session of the United Nations Environment Assembly moved to act towards the negotiation of a new international legally binding instrument.