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NERC appoints Agenda-Setting Fellow to inform the future of plastic pollution research and innovation

Revolution Plastics Institute

5 min read Partner content

Steve Fletcher, Professor of Ocean Policy and Economy and Director of Revolution Plastics at the University of Portsmouth, has been appointed by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), working closely with Innovate UK, to develop a transformative

Steve Fletcher, Professor of Ocean Policy and Economy and Director of Revolution Plastics at the University of Portsmouth, has been appointed by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), working closely with Innovate UK, to develop a transformative plastic pollution research framework.

The aim of the Agenda-Setting Fellowship is to develop a research and innovation agenda that complements and supports the objectives of the UN Treaty to end plastic pollution and aligns with UKRI’s portfolio of plastic pollution research – in particular, building on the research and innovation funded through UK Research & Innovation’s £60 million Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging (SSPP) Challenge, delivered by Innovate UK. 

The impacts of plastic production and pollution on human health, greenhouse gas emissions, and marine, coastal and terrestrial ecosystems are now widely recognised. The UN Environment Assembly Resolution 5/14 (End plastic pollution: towards an international legally binding instrument) notes that “…the high and rapidly increasing levels of plastic pollution represent a serious environmental problem at a global scale, negatively impacting the environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainable development”. 

"It is vital that our research is accessible to policymakers, and this fellowship provides a timely opportunity to align to the UN Treaty to end plastic pollution as part of a systems approach to tackling plastic pollution. I welcome the appointment of Professor Fletcher in supporting that transfer of knowledge between academia, industry and policy makers to strengthen our understanding of future priority areas and collaborations for plastics research across UKRI, the UK and internationally."

– Susan Waldron, NERC Director for research and skills

UKRI has a significant portfolio of research into plastics, covering sustainable production and reuse, behaviour change, business models and supply chains and environmental monitoring among other topics. However, this research is not currently aligned to a specific Treaty or Framework and understanding how to tackle plastic pollution without causing worse environmental, social or economic outcomes through unintended consequences is a complex interdisciplinary area of research and innovation. 

Working with the SSPP Challenge, other relevant teams across UKRI, and Defra, the lead UK government department in the treaty negotiation process, Steve will be taking a systems approach to this complex landscape and will be responsible for producing an overview and roadmap for future plastic pollution research. The work will provide stakeholders – including academia, industry, policy makers and research technology organisations – with a clear picture of the required research and innovation, detailing the evidence gaps, opportunities and priority areas for plastics research across UKRI, the UK and internationally. 

As well as strengthening the science-to-policy interface to support informed decision making, the roadmap will also identify other funding organisations for potential future collaborations with UKRI in the field of plastic pollution research.

"I am delighted to welcome Professor Steve Fletcher as the NERC-Innovate UK Plastic Pollution Agenda Setting Fellow. Plastic pollution is a highly complex environmental challenge, and especially pertinent as we work towards agreement of a new global UN Treaty to end plastic pollution."

– Professor Gideon Henderson, Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Professor Fletcher is an interdisciplinary scientist with extensive expertise in the global plastic pollution crisis. In his current role at the University of Portsmouth, he has led several key projects in support of the global plastics treaty and is a founding director of the cross-university Revolution Plastics Institute, which is working globally to end plastic pollution through inclusive, evidence-based and solutions-focused research and innovation. 

He has extensive experience with the global plastics community, including working with the United Nations Environment Programme, the World Bank, World Economic Forum, governments, and NGOs. Before joining the University of Portsmouth, he was Head of the Marine Programme and later Chief Strategy Officer at the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) in Cambridge. 

The appointment will embed high-quality scientific expertise and advice into NERC’s work and support potential future research opportunities. The Agenda-Setting Fellows aim to:

  • build knowledge and intelligence within NERC in areas of strategic importance;
  • develop robust evidence to underpin NERC’s current and future activities and thinking; and
  • deepen relationships with the community (including researchers and wider stakeholders) by embedding expertise within NERC activities. 

Susan Waldron, NERC Director for research and skills said: “It is vital that our research is accessible to policymakers, and this fellowship provides a timely opportunity to align to the UN Treaty to end plastic pollution as part of a systems approach to tackling plastic pollution. I welcome the appointment of Professor Fletcher in supporting that transfer of knowledge between academia, industry and policy makers to strengthen our understanding of future priority areas and collaborations for plastics research across UKRI, the UK and internationally”.

“We are delighted to be supporting this important Fellowship and to have Steve’s considerable knowledge and experience brought to bear on shaping the research agenda to tackle the plastic pollution crisis,” said Dr Paul Davidson, Director of the Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Challenge. “This complex global problem requires a multi-disciplinary, multi-stakeholder approach and the roadmap that he will be developing will provide much needed clarity on the research and innovations priorities and opportunities to support effective action.”

Professor Gideon Henderson, Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: “I am delighted to welcome Professor Steve Fletcher as the NERC-Innovate UK Plastic Pollution Agenda Setting Fellow. Plastic pollution is a highly complex environmental challenge, and especially pertinent as we work towards agreement of a new global UN Treaty to end plastic pollution. It is essential that we are informed by the best possible evidence to ensure the treaty is effective, so we can protect the environment from the impact of plastic pollution for generations to come.”

"This complex global problem requires a multi-disciplinary, multi-stakeholder approach and the roadmap that he will be developing will provide much needed clarity on the research and innovations priorities and opportunities to support effective action."

– Dr Paul Davidson, Director of the Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Challenge

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