In June 2022 I was fortunate to take part in my first United Nations gathering. I was one of over 6,000 participants from over 150 countries who took part in the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal.
The aim of this conference was to come up with concrete solutions on how to save our ocean and coastal ecosystems. Here are the 5 main takeaways I took back from this conference
1) It is about mutual survival
So far, the rhetoric had been about why we need to save the ocean. But at this conference, it was clear that we need our ocean to save ourselves. More than 3 billion people, almost half the world’s population, rely on the ocean for their livelihoods. Most of them are in fragile developing countries. In many of those, ocean-based industries such as tourism and fisheries are key sources of income and jobs. So, unless we save our ocean, half the world’s population will face peril.
2) Climate Change is real
Climate change is seriously impacting our ocean. As temperatures rise globally, it is making our ocean hotter, promoting acidification, and making it harder to breathe in them by reducing dissolved oxygen levels. The warmer waters are leading to coral bleaching which is reducing the food supply for millions of fish. Reducing carbon dioxide in the air, which results in higher temperatures, was highlighted as one of the key solutions that need to take place.
3) Blue Carbon to the rescue
I was impressed by the coverage given to Blue Carbon. There were several side events hosted by IUCN, Conservation International, World Ocean Council, and Mission Blue, which all focused on how to restore coastal blue carbon ecosystems, notably mangroves, as a way of not only improving the fishing habitat in those areas but also as a way of capturing carbon. Mangroves can sequester 5-10 times more carbon than terrestrial trees and this point was highlighted several times during the conference, which is great!
To support this movement, Blue Forest signed a blue carbon partnership agreement with IUCN designed to accelerate coastal ecosystem conservation and regenerative economic development in the Western Indian Ocean, with works beginning in Mozambique.
4) Civil society steps up
Today, only 2% of our global ocean is included in protected marine parks. Scientists estimate we may need to protect 30% of the ocean to provide for the future of ocean wildlife. It was therefore refreshing to see civil society groups commit $1 billion to help protect 30% of the ocean by 2030. Under the umbrella of Protecting Our Planet Challenge, charities such as Bezos Earth Fund and Bloomberg Philanthropies will support the creation, expansion, and management of locally governed marine protected areas (MPAs). More than 100 nations have now pledged to protect 30% of their ocean by 2030 by joining the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People. This is a major step in the right direction.
5) Sustainable fishing gets a boost
As populations grow, there are more mouths to feed. And the vast ocean presents the option to catch endless ‘free’ fish. This has resulted in a huge surge in overfishing and a drop in fish stocks. “Fish should not be free. They have a value, and that value needs to be recognized,” said Sylvia Earle, one of the world’s eminent ocean conservation experts and a huge role model of mine.
Luckily, some nations are starting to take action. Thailand said it would stop issuing commercial fishing licenses to bottom trawlers. A coalition of NGOs unveiled a new atlas to track illegal trawling in protected regions of the Mediterranean. And Norway announced it would become the first European country to share its vessel-tracking data with Global Fishing Watch, a transparency platform.
Given the vastness of our ocean and the myriad of challenges it is facing, the journey ahead will involve choppy waters. But given the considerable attendance at UNOC from around the world, it’s clear that this issue is on everyone’s radar.
All eyes now turn to New York where the UN members will convene in August 2022 to negotiate the highly anticipated high seas treaty. This agreement would provide a legal framework for protecting 30% of international waters. At the last meeting, in March 2022, negotiators failed to reach an agreement. Let’s hope the tide turn in August and a deal can be achieved. The outcome will not only determine the survival of our ocean but also the survival of humankind.