UN Sec-Gen calls for businesses to operate in harmony with marine life

Following is UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ opening remarks to the United Nations Ocean Conference, in Lisbon June 27:

Allow me, in my own city and my own country to say a few introductory words in my own language:  É com especial gosto e indisfarçável satisfação que regresso ao “Parque das Nações”, em Lisboa, para um evento da maior relevância sobre os Oceanos.  E a todos os presentes dirijo uma especial saudação de boas-vindas à Conferência dos Oceanos das Nações Unidas de 2022.

Agradeço aos Governos de Portugal e do Quénia — dois países com longa tradição marítima, unidos pelo mar e pela história — a organização desta Conferência e toda a dedicação, empenho e recursos colocados na sua preparação.

Partilho com os meus concidadãos portugueses uma especial afinidade com o mar.  O poeta Fernando Pessoa deixou-nos a mensagem de que, e cito:  “Deus quis que a terra fosse toda uma, Que o mar unisse, já não separasse.”

Faço, pois, votos para que esta Conferência represente um momento de unidade e aproximação entre todos os Estados-membros, em torno dos assuntos do mar e da proteção e preservação dos Oceanos.

When we see the Earth from space, we truly appreciate that we live on a blue planet.  The ocean connects us all.  Sadly, we have taken the ocean for granted, and today we face what I would call an “Ocean Emergency”.

We must turn the tide.  Global heating is pushing ocean temperatures to record levels, creating fiercer and more frequent storms.  Sea levels are rising.  Low-lying island nations face inundation, as do many major coastal cities in the world.

The climate crisis is also making the ocean more acidic, which is disrupting the marine food chain.  Ever more coral reefs are bleaching and dying.  Coastal ecosystems, such as mangroves, seagrasses and wetlands, are being degraded.  Pollution from land is creating vast coastal dead zones.

Nearly 80 per cent of wastewater is discharged into the sea without treatment.  And some 8 million tons of plastic waste enter the oceans ever year.  Without drastic action, this plastic could outweigh all the fish in the oceans by 2050.

Plastic waste is now found in the most remote areas and deepest ocean trenches.  It kills marine life and is doing major harm to communities that depend on fishing and tourism.  One mass of plastic in the Pacific is bigger than France.

Unsustainable fishing practices are also rampant.  Overfishing is crippling fish stocks.  So, excellencies, we cannot have a healthy planet without a healthy ocean.  Our failure to care for the ocean will have ripple effects across the entire 2030 Agenda (for Sustainable Development).

The ocean produces more than half of the oxygen we breathe.  It is the main source of sustenance for more than 1 billion people.  And industries relating to the ocean employ some 40 million people.  And, a healthy and productive ocean is vital to our shared future.

Five years ago, at the last United Nations Ocean Conference, we issued a Call for Action to reverse the decline in ocean health and to restore its productivity, resilience and ecological integrity.  And since then, many communities have come together to protect the marine resources they depend on.  International partnerships have been working to create marine protected areas for the recovery of fisheries and biodiversity.  And where sound management has been undertaken, fisheries have rebounded.

The legal framework for ocean issues is well-established in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which celebrates the fortieth anniversary of its adoption this year.  And I am pleased to say that there has been significant progress on a legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. A new treaty is being negotiated to address the global plastics crisis that is choking our oceans.

And just a week ago we saw multilateralism in action with a World Trade Organization agreement on ending harmful fishery subsidies.  It is also now well understood that by protecting and restoring the ocean, we are acting to address the climate crisis.

Following the twenty-sixth conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26), the ocean’s role in addressing climate change is now integrated into the work of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the organization that, as you know, is extremely relevant in relation to fighting climate change.  Organizing the different conferences of the States’ parties that have been taken very important decisions, starting with the Paris Agreement [on climate change].

And we have also seen advances in ocean science and its ability to inform policy.  And we have seen science and traditional knowledge combine for improved ocean management.  All these efforts stand to be improved and scaled up during the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, launched last year.

All this is true.  But let’s have no illusions.  Much more needs to be done by all of us, together.  And today, I would like to leave four recommendations.  First, I urge all stakeholders to invest in sustainable ocean economies for food, renewable energy and livelihoods.  And that entails new levels of long-term funding. Sustainable Development Goal 14 receives the least of any of the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).

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.  We need sustainable business models for ocean economies to operate in harmony with the marine environment, and to guarantee a sustainable seafood industry.

Second, the ocean must become a model on how we can manage the global commons for our greater good.  That means preventing and reducing marine pollution of all kinds, both from land and sea-based sources.  And it means scaling up effective area-based conservation measures and integrated coastal zone management.

Third, we must protect the oceans, and the people whose lives and livelihoods depend on them, from the impacts of climate change.  All new coastal infrastructure investments from cities and villages to port installations, should be climate-resilient.  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.

These are instrumental in capturing carbon and enhancing people’s resilience and livelihoods.  Finally, I invite all to join the initiative I recently launched to achieve the goal of full early warning system coverage in the next five years.  We will target efforts to reach coastal communities and those whose livelihoods depend on early warning at sea.

Fourth, we need more science and innovation to propel us into a new chapter of global ocean action.  I invite all to join the goal of mapping 80 per cent of the seabed by 2030.  And 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.  I commend those who have registered voluntary commitments.  And each one matters.  And I hope to see more pledges on ocean action this week and beyond.

I began with a Portuguese quote.  In honor of our other co-host, let me conclude, trying to say what is a very wise Swahili proverb, which teaches us:  “Bahari itatufikisha popote.”  “The ocean leads us anywhere.”

It can help open new horizons and lead us to a more just and sustainable future for all.  Together, let us do our part to make a difference for the ocean and for ourselves.  Thank you.

Photo credit: iStock/ John Natoli

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