UN Ocean Conference opens with call for urgent steps to reverse ocean’s decline

UN Ocean Conference opens with call for urgent steps to reverse ocean’s decline

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 27 (APP): With climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution exacting a devastating toll on the world’s ocean — critical to food security, economic growth and the environment — the 2022 UN Ocean Conference opened in Lisbon, Portugal, Monday with a call for action driven by science, technology and innovation.

“Sadly, we have taken the ocean for granted, and today we face what I would call an ‘Ocean Emergency’,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told delegates at the opening of the Conference.

“We must turn the tide. A healthy and productive ocean is vital to our shared future.”

Co-hosted by Portugal and Kenya, the event will be a platform to address the challenges that the world’s oceans, seas and marine resources face.

The theme of the Conference, “Scaling up ocean action based on science and innovation for the implementation of Goal 14: stocktaking, partnerships and solutions,” in line with the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, stresses the critical need for scientific knowledge and marine technology to build ocean resilience.

Human activities are placing the health of the ocean in peril, according to the World Meteorological Organization’s State of the Global Climate in 2021 report. Sea level rise, ocean heat, ocean acidification and greenhouse gas concentrations set new records in 2021, it said, adding marine pollution is increasing at an alarming rate, and if current trends continue, more than half of the world’s marine species may be all but extinct by 2100.

In his remarks, the UN chief outlined four recommendations to ensure that the tide is reversed.

Among them, he underscored the urgent need to invest sustainably in economies that depend on the sea.

Quoting Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, Guterres, said that his hopes were that the Conference represented a moment of unity for all Member-States.

Highlighting that the “ocean connects us all”, the Secretary-General said that, ‘because we have taken the ocean for granted, today, we face an ‘Ocean Emergency’ and that the tide must be turned.”

“Our failure to care for the ocean will have ripple effects across the entire 2030 Agenda.”

At the last UN Ocean Conference five years ago in New York, delegates called to reverse the decline in ocean health.

Since then, some progress has been made, the UN chief maintained, with new treaties being negotiated to address the global plastic waste crisis that is choking the oceans, and advances in science, in line with the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030).

“But let’s have no illusions. Much more needs to be done by all of us together”, Guterres stressed, before outlining four key recommendations:

Guterres urged stakeholders to invest in sustainable ocean economies for food, renewable energy, and livelihoods, through long-term funding, reminding them that out of all the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Goal number 14 had received the least support of any of the SDGs.

“Sustainable ocean management could help the ocean produce as much as six times more food and generate 40 times more renewable energy than it currently does,” the UN Secretary-General said.

Second, he said, “the ocean must become a model on how we can manage the global commons for our greater good; and this means preventing and reducing marine pollution of all kinds, both from land and sea-based sources”.

This would entail scaling-up effective area-based conservation measures and integrated coastal zone management, it was pointed out.

The UN chief also called for more protection of the oceans and of the people whose lives and livelihoods depend on them, by addressing climate change and investing in climate-resilient coastal infrastructure.

“The shipping sector should commit to net zero emissions by 2050, and present credible plans to implement these commitments. And we should invest more in restoring and conserving coastal ecosystems, such as mangroves, wetlands, and coral reefs,”Guterres stressed.

Inviting all Member States to joint the initiative recently launched to achieve the goal of full early warning system coverage in the next five years, Mr. Guterres said that this would help to reach coastal communities and those whose livelihoods depend on early warning protection measures at sea.

Lastly, Guterres underlined the need for more science and innovation to propel us into what he called a “new chapter of global ocean action”.

“I invite all to join the goal of mapping 80 per cent of the seabed by 2030. I encourage the private sector to join partnerships that support ocean research and sustainable management. And I urge governments to raise their level of ambition for the recovery of ocean health”.

Concluding with a Swahili proverb: “Bahari itatufikisha popote”, which means “the ocean leads us anywhere”, Guterres called on all people to pledge on ocean action.

Addressing the audience in Lisbon, President of the UN General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, said that the ocean connects us all, and that the Conference would be the place to demonstrate the global commitments.

As a Maldivian, the President said, “I am a child of the Ocean (…) but beyond those of us who look to the blue horizon each day, the entirety of humanity relies upon the ocean for half of the oxygen we take. That’s why we are here this week, to stand for a resource that has carried us through our entire existence”.

The declaration entitled “Our ocean, our future: call for action” is expected to be adopted on Friday.

Presiding over the Conference, which runs until 1 July, are Kenyan President Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta and Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.

“We expect to leave Lisbon with a clear understanding of financing options and pathways. The Ocean is the most under-appreciated resource in our planet,” said President Kenyatta, stressing that youth need to be in the front row seat of the discussion, and that they were a part of the solution.

Addressing the plenary, President Rebelo de Sousa said that Lisbon was the right place for the Ocean Conference because the ocean had been essential in transforming Portugal to what it was today.

Movie star and ocean activist Jason Momoa was designated the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Advocate for Life Below Water on Monday, at the UN Ocean Conference.

The Aquaman actor, who has worked with Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii and rePurpose Global, described how humbled he felt to be entrusted with the responsibility to promote ocean health: “With this designation, I hope to continue my own journey to protect and conserve the ocean and all living things on our beautiful blue planet, for our generation and the generations to come.”

Momoa made remarks ahead of the Youth and Innovation Forum, where he received the “Nature Baton” from the UN Special Envoy for the Ocean, Peter Thomson. The Aquaman star then handed the baton to youth representatives before they, in turn, passed it to the UN Secretary-General.