Every year the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development meets to advance the UN System’s agenda on sustainable development. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is leading the discussion on urgent environmental issues through five side-events. This article is part of our coverage of the forum’s 2020 edition.

In every marine and coastal environment on earth, plastic litter threatens the environment, human health, and business. The threat has been exacerbated by a spike in the use of single-use plastics due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the High-Level Political Forum this week, UNEP within its Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land Based Activities/Global Partnership on Marine Litter (GPA/GPML) convened key global actors – from government and the private sector – working on combatting marine litter through a crucial front: Engaging industry.

To date, involvement by industry has been a mixed bag. While some industrial actors are seen as historic culprits of ocean pollution, others are innovating on modes of production and consumption, waste management and digital approaches.

UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen acknowledged that, “Industry has a real opportunity to step up, lean in, and take responsibility.”

Simon Bennett, whose China Navigation Company and Swire Pacific Offshore Operations are leaders in the field of waste management through the Moana Taka Partnership, echoed her: “We need business to make this our day job.”

Nicholas Holmes of IBM talked of SAM, an “AI human who lives on the internet” and can spend his time providing guidance to people about how to prevent marine litter. SAM is part of a larger digital toolkit being developed by UNEP, GPML, Science-Policy-Business Forum, and the Citizen Science Global Partnership. It involves data integration tools and multi-sector collaboration platforms to share information on marine litter.