Sounding Alarm about ‘Ocean Emergency’, Secretary-General Outlines Crucial Actions to Protect World’s Seas, Ensure Healthy Planet, as Lisbon Conference Begins

Upset by Underfunding of Sustainable Development Goal 14, Speakers Call for Multilateral Cooperation to Conserve, Responsibly Use Marine Resources. The ocean must become a model on how to manage the global commons, world leaders heard today as they converged in Lisbon, where the Tagus River and the Atlantic meet, to take stock of multilateral efforts and looming challenges in the protection of the seas of the world.

“We cannot have a healthy planet without a healthy ocean,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres underscored at the start of the 2022 United Nations Conference to Support the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14: Conserve and Sustainably Use the Oceans, Seas and Marine Resources for Sustainable Development. The second worldwide ocean conference brings together representatives of Government as well as civil society in a range of conversations, from a high-level plenary to multi-stakeholder dialogues, over the course of five days.

Spotlighting the role of science and innovation in a new chapter of global ocean action, Mr. Guterres called on all stakeholders to invest in sustainable ocean economies for food, renewable energy and livelihoods. Sounding caution about the “ocean emergency”, he pointed to record-high ocean temperatures, frequent storms, rising sea levels and degraded coastal ecosystems. While many low-lying island nations and major coastal cities face inundation, he pointed out, one mass of plastic in the Pacific is bigger than France.

Highlighting multilateral progress in responding to these crises, he pointed to the new treaty being negotiated to address the global plastics crisis, the recently concluded World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement on ending harmful fishery subsidies and the gathering momentum on a legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. “But let’s have no illusions,” he cautioned, pointing out that Sustainable Development Goal 14 receives the least funding of any of the Goals.

Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Kenya, one of the two co-hosts of the Conference, expressed concern that this goal is the most under-funded even though the oceans are central to human existence. Oceans cover 70 per cent of the global surface, are home to about 80 per cent of life in the world and facilitate the trade of 90 per cent of global goods, he pointed out, calling on the international community to “shift gear from proposals to action”.

Marcelo Nuno Duarte Rebelo De Sousa, President of Portugal, the other conference co-host, reminded delegates that “politicians go, but the oceans stay… for millions of years.” Rejecting unilateralism, war and confrontation, he stressed the importance of saving the world’s oceans through multilateralism and global cooperation.

Echoing that sentiment, Abdulla Shahid (Maldives), President of the General Assembly, called on delegates to leave the Conference with “one hand up to reach for success”, and “the other hand down to pull others along with us”. The ocean is in his blood, he said, noting that all humanity relies upon the ocean “for half of the oxygen we intake”. Sounding hopeful about a future where circular economies thrive and sustainable ocean tourism drives economies without doing harm, he stressed the need to lean into human ingenuity.

Collen Vixen Kelapile, President of the Economic and Social Council, called for science-based solutions as he urged the international community to seize the current moment to decisively address the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, who also serves as the Secretary-General of the Oceans Conference, highlighted the focus on science and innovation in the action-oriented outcome document that will be adopted at the closing of the Conference.

At the beginning of the meeting, Carlos Moedas, Mayor of Lisbon, also addressed delegates, pointing to the crucial role played by the city in maritime history. As he emphasized the role of cities in translating global commitments to local action, he stressed that the Lisbon Conference must become a watershed moment for the protection of the oceans.

In the ensuing discussion, delegate after delegate shared ambitious policies and actions from their countries but also stressed the need for collaborative solutions, as they pointed to the gargantuan challenges facing their corner of the Atlantic, the Arctic or Pacific Oceans.

Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji, who spoke for the Pacific Islands Forum, declared “we cannot leave Lisbon” without increasing pledges for funding. He drew attention to the impact of nuclear testing on the Pacific islands and called for an end to dumping nuclear waste into the ocean. While Fiji adopted a measure to ban deep-sea mining by 2030 and has expanded its maritime protected areas by 8 per cent, solo efforts are insufficient, he said, urging other countries to follow its lead.

Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Prime Minister of Iceland, said people in her country can see the effects of climate change first-hand in the receding glaciers. Temperatures are rising much faster than global average in the Artic, she said, stressing the need to protect marine ecosystems, ensure sustainable use of marine resources and empower coastal communities and indigenous peoples. In particular, she underscored the potential of small-scale fishing and agriculture, which can directly improve the health and well-being of local communities.

There will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050, Surangel Whipps, President of Palau, speaking for the Pacific Small Island Developing States, warned, also pointing to how ocean acidification is destroying entire reef systems. His country has invested in high-value ecotourism and is designing a conservation framework for valuable fish stocks, he said, adding that his decisions are rooted in a father’s hope to pass a productive ocean to his daughter.

President Iván Duque Márquez of Colombia, the only country in South America that has coastlines along two oceans, expressed his determination to fulfil Goal 14 through bold but achievable action. Spotlighting a unanimously approved climate action law that will increase protected areas to 30 per cent, he noted that this makes Colombia the first country in the West to commit to this percentage. This goal will soon become a reality, covering 16 million hectares of marine area, he said, noting that this is a historical achievement.

João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço, President of Angola, speaking on behalf of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries, drew attention to the Namibe Declaration, which established a cooperation platform for the Community to promote sustainable fishing and combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Another partnership he highlighted was with the European Union’s “Africa RISE” programme which addresses worsening marine pollution, of which plastic is the biggest problem. He also called for strengthening maritime defence against pirates, highlighting problems in the Gulf of Guinea and Horn of Africa.

Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, President of Equatorial Guinea, also pointed to the interlinkage between ocean protection and maritime security. Highlighting the transnational crime of piracy, he said that prosperous blue economies require harmonization of international legislation on piracy and collaboration on protocols for maritime security.

Also speaking were the Heads of State and Government of Libya, Guinea-Bissau, Ghana, the United Republic of Tanzania and Portugal.

The Ocean Conference will reconvene in plenary at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 28 June, to continue its general debate.

Source: United Nations

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