Let oceans breathe and people live a better life

The nexus between cleaning up the oceans and reducing inequalities

Over 3 billion people depend on marine and coastal resources for their livelihoods, with an estimated market value of EUR 2 600 billion per year. Oceans are threatened. An estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic waste and microplastics are discharged annually, threatening ecosystems, people and communities. Clean oceans are crucial for sustainable development and to address economic inequalities by increasing people’s income and improving health. Oceans absorb about 30 % of carbon dioxide, buffering the impacts of global warming. Rivers carry plastic to the oceans. Just 10 rivers are responsible for 90 % of this pollution. They are mainly located in Africa and Asia, which have limited access to regular waste collection and controlled waste disposal. Only when oceans breathe can people prosper.


Key points

  • Marine pollution is an urgent problem.
  • International financial institutions have a key role to play in providing necessary funding.
  • Local solutions need to be scaled up and applied globally.
  • Funding for innovation to find new solutions is essential.


With 40 % of the global population living within 100 kilometres of the coast, the state of the world's oceans is intrinsically linked to development goals. Often fishers and their families are some of the most vulnerable communities. The threat to ocean health and to people's livelihoods from plastic pollution is well known and the urgent need for solutions is clear. Around 200 million tonnes of plastic are produced every year and each square kilometre of ocean is estimated to contain 46,000 pieces of plastic. Fortunately, there is high-level political commitment to addressing the problem. At the Ocean Summit in Bali last year countries pledged to work together to improve the state of the seas and tackle the problem of marine pollution. International lenders such as the European Investment Bank and Germany's Kreditanstalt fuer Wiederaufbau need to provide funding for new solutions as well as the programmes designed to tackle marine pollutions such as the Clean Oceans Initiative and the Blue Ocean Fund. As most of the pollution comes from the land, sewage and wastewater treatment projects continue to help reduce the quantity of contaminants entering the world's seas. Although strategies for tackling marine pollution should be worked out and coordinated at global level, the implementation of effective action involves local authorities as they are generally in charge of waste water treatment and refuse. Funding is vital for innovative companies as they stand the best chance of developing new technological solutions to the problems facing the world's oceans. It is important to learn from small-scale and community-based projects worldwide that have been effective in reducing marine pollution. The lessons from these schemes should scaled-up and shared globally. The private sector must also be involved in tackling the problem. Reducing pollution at source is a worthwhile goal and consumers themselves must be involved in making informed decisions to reduce the amount of single-use plastics. Consumers, businesses and governments continue to throw their waste into the sea free of charge. They need to accept that money should be spent on collecting, recycling and reusing plastics as part of effective solutions to the problem. People should get used to the idea that when you take a fish from the ocean you should pay towards protecting the marine environment. The need for action is urgent. Every year without decisive action means hundreds of thousands of tonnes of plastic waste enter the world's oceans. Even if there is effective action to tackle marine pollution in the short term, a huge clean-up job will still have to be done


Each square kilometre of ocean contains 46,000 pieces of plastic, and the world produces 200 million tonnes of plastic a year.

Organised by


Francoise Jacob
Representative to the EU institutions
United Nations Office for Project Services
Richard Amor
Head of Unit
European Investment Bank (EIB)
Gilles Kleitz
Director / agriculture, water. biodiversity
Agence Française de Développement
Klaus Gihr
Head of Division
Tatjana Hema
Deputy Coordinator Mediterranean Action Plan-Barcelona Convention Secretariat
United Nations Environment Programme