It’s time to stop the decline in ocean health – Universities
New York ●
Wed 18 May 2022
With every breath we take, we are connected to the ocean. The ocean gives us oxygen, provides us with food and sustenance. It stabilizes our climate by absorbing most of the heat trapped in the Earth system. Billions of humans, animals and plants depend on a healthy ocean. But the health of the ocean is in danger.
Rising carbon emissions are making the ocean more acidic, weakening its ability to sustain life underwater and on land. Plastic waste is choking the ocean. And if we continue on our current path, more than half of the world’s marine species could be on the brink of extinction by 2100. Solutions exist to restore the health of the ocean, but they will require action from all components of society, from world leaders to each of us.
There can be no healthy planet without a healthy ocean, and ocean health is measurably declining. That said, I want to stress that 2022 can be the year we stop the decline.
To illustrate this statement, 2022 is the International Year of Small-Scale Fisheries and Aquaculture, and aquaculture and small-scale fisheries are at the heart of our quest for sustainability. Importantly, the past year also saw the launch of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development and the United Nations Decade of Ecosystem Restoration to support and advance the achievement of United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
In addition, we have the decision of 26and Conference of the Parties (COP26) on climate change in Glasgow that ocean considerations need to be integrated into the ongoing work of the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC), giving hope that solid progress will be made to solve problems such as ocean warming and acidification. These will in turn improve the health of the ocean and ensure its unique ability to sequester carbon.
But on top of these positives, and all the other affirmative action meetings for the oceans taking place this year, there are six international gatherings that, taken together, can truly halt the decline. One such meeting has already taken place – the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA5) which, in the early days of March in Nairobi, agreed by consensus to begin negotiations for a treaty global binding to end plastic pollution.
We currently dump 11 million metric tons of plastic into the ocean every year and we expect to double that figure by 2030, tripling it by 2050. But we can stop this outrageous pollution trend with the proposed treaty.
Second, the World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference is being held in mid-June in Geneva, where, after two decades of negotiations, the WTO has the ability to ban harmful fisheries subsidies. Between US$20 billion and US$30 billion of public funds are spent annually on these subsidies, mostly for the enjoyment of industrial fishing fleets, in an exercise described by many as the single most harmful thing we do to ocean ecosystems. Do the right thing in Geneva, and the health of the ocean will regain a new lease of life.
Third, this year’s resuming of the Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity beyond Areas of National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) offers the opportunity to conclude a robust and operational treaty for the governance of the high seas, thereby safeguarding one of the most critical global commons on the planet. If only Member States can reach a consensus, we will complete the work of the BBNJ in 2022.
Fourth, the COP15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity, to be held later this year in Kunming, promises the adoption of a new goal to protect 30% of the planet by 2030. Such a decision at the COP this year would be a major challenge. -changer for marine protected areas and therefore the health of the ocean.
Fifth, we have the United Nations Ocean Conference, co-hosted by the governments of Kenya and Portugal, in Lisbon from June 27 to July 1, where we will launch a large fleet of innovative science-based solutions. These solutions will be implemented through well-funded partnerships, representing effective implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14 to conserve and sustainably use ocean resources.
And finally, at the UNFCCC’s COP27 in Sharm-el-Sheikh in November, we all need to show ambition and political will for climate change adaptation and the financing needed to tip the curve towards safety, equity and sustainability.
If we are to stop the decline in the health of the oceans this year, we must do the right thing at these six meetings, and while ‘we’ primarily refers to Member States, it also refers to all of us . We must not squander the unprecedented opportunities presented by the confluence of 2022 moments for decisive ocean action.
Let us all commit to restoring our relationship with nature to one of respect and balance. Let’s do this for our children and grandchildren so they can live the good life we want them to.
The author is the UN Secretary General’s special envoy for the ocean.