Speakers Underline Urgency of Expanding Protected Coastal Areas, Tackling Sea Acidification, as United Nations Ocean Conference Continues

SEA/2051
6 June 2017
Ocean Conference, AM & PM Meetings

Speakers Underline Urgency of Expanding Protected Coastal Areas, Tackling Sea Acidification, as United Nations Ocean Conference Continues

Speakers emphasized the urgency of expanding protected coastal and marine areas — one of the targets of Goal 14 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development — as well as tackling the problem of ocean acidification during partnership dialogues on the second day of the United Nations Ocean Conference.

Tommy Remengesau, President of Palau and co-chair of a morning discussion on the theme “Managing, protecting, conserving and restoring marine and coastal ecosystems”, said “we should increase our ambition” and protect at least 30 per cent of coastal and marine areas by 2030 — compared with the 10 per cent set out in the Sustainable Development Goals.

He said that for his Pacific island country, the best option was to set aside 80 per cent of its waters — 190 square miles of ocean — as a marine sanctuary, with the remaining 20 per cent available for domestic fishing.

Within that setting, however, Palau still had to deal with management, monitoring, protection and restoration issues, he noted, adding that multi-country and multi-stakeholder partnerships were needed in order to tackle illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, human and drug trafficking and harmful fisheries subsidies.

Silvia Velo, Under-Secretary of State in the Ministry of Environment, Land and Sea of Italy, co-chairing the same meeting, said that while marine protected area coverage had grown over the decade, their geographic distribution was uneven, with more needed in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, South-East Asia and in small island developing States.

Cristiana Paşca Palmer, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, said during a panel discussion that the world was well on the way to achieving the 10 per cent target, noting that since the agreement came into force in 1993, such areas had increased 10 fold to 5.7 per cent today.  Much remained to be done, however, to improve the management of those areas and ensure that they were representative of many ocean ecosystems, she added.

In an ensuing interactive debate, participants from States and civil society touched upon a broad range of measures for creating and sustaining protected areas, with the Prime Minister of Palau announcing that, upon his return home, its Parliament would set aside 16 per cent of its exclusive economic zone as a marine protected area in which no industrial activity would be permitted.

From Latin America and the Caribbean, the representative of Grenada told how conservation was being mainstreamed into its wider economic strategy, with the private sector playing a key role as demonstrated by an underwater sculpture park described by National Geographic as a wonder of the world.

France’s delegate — a sailor who said she felt responsible for the rubbish she encountered on every one of her sea voyages — said the good health of the oceans depended on implementation of the Paris Agreement, given their acknowledged role in regulating climate.

From civil society, the representative of the Drammeh Institute advocated enshrining the eco-theological beliefs of more than 200 million people in Haiti, Cameroon, the United States and Ghana into marine management issues.

The afternoon featured a partnership dialogue on minimizing and addressing ocean acidification — a phenomenon with a potential for considerable ecological and socioeconomic consequences running alongside other climate-driven changes such as ocean warming, sea-level rise and deoxygenation.

Prince Albert II of Monaco, who co-chaired the session alongside Agostinho Mondlane, Minister of the Sea, Inland Waters and Fisheries, Mozambique, said acidification, while not a well-known phenomenon, had severe consequences.  Noting that his country was home to the Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre, he said understanding acidification required global and local approaches to decision-making.  He added that limiting greenhouse gas emissions towards a carbon-free economy should be a common goal, as the effects of such efforts on acidification would be a slow process.  Indeed, climate change and acidification must be fought holistically, he emphasized.

Mr. Mondlane, noting that Mozambique had one of the world’s longest coastlines, said increased acidification, with its adverse impacts on marine resources, had brought about a huge awakening, as it affected people’s survival.  “The solutions must come from us,” he said, adding that the phenomenon risked undermining his country’s efforts to develop mussels, bivalves and prawns as a means of alternative livelihoods for its people.

The Conference — officially titled the 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 — will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 7 June.

Partnership Dialogue I

In the morning, the Ocean Conference held a partnership dialogue on the topic “Managing, protecting, conserving and restoring marine and coastal ecosystems”.  Moderated by Martha Rojas-Urrego, Secretary General, Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, and co-chaired by Tommy Esang Remengesau Jr., President of Palau, and Cristiana Paşca Palmer, Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Environment, Land and Sea, Italy, it featured a panel discussion by Lin Shanqing, Deputy Administrator, State Oceanic Administration, China; Cristiana Paşca Palmer, Executive Secretary, Convention on Biological Diversity; Jake Rice, Chief Scientist Emeritus, Fisheries and Oceans Canada; and Cyrie Sendashonga, Global Director, Program and Policy Group, International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Opening the discussion, Mr. REMENGESAU said Governments were faced with the “monumental” task of developing a new model of ocean governance to replace a failed one that had allowed unlimited human activity to damage marine ecosystems.  There was now the forum and the obligation to develop a sustainable approach to the management, protection, conservation and restoration of marine and coastal ecosystems.  He encouraged delegates to keep an open mind and maintain transparency in implementing the sometimes contradictory — but necessary — objectives.  For Palau, the best option was to create a large marine protected area, setting aside 80 per cent of its waters — 190 square miles of ocean — as a marine sanctuary, with the remaining 20 per cent available for domestic fishing.  Within that setting, Palau still had to deal with management, monitoring, protection and restoration.  In line with the Convention on Biological Diversity, stakeholders must work together to establish by 2020 an effectively managed set of marine protected areas, beyond areas of national jurisdiction, covering 10 per cent of marine and coastal areas.

“We should increase our ambition” and protect at least 30 per cent of such areas by 2030, he said, noting that States must also consider sustainable development and create opportunities for food security initiatives by enhancing small-scale and artisanal fisheries, as well as building tourism and aquaculture.  Multi-country and multi-stakeholder partnerships must tackle illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, human and drug trafficking and harmful fisheries subsidies.  He urged all States to ratify the Port State Measures Agreement, stressing that connections must be made to funding mechanisms — such as the Green Climate Fund, Global Environmental Facility, World Bank and Asian Development Bank — with new and unique funding mechanisms focused solely on oceans identified.  He objected to funding mechanisms that were impossible for least developed countries and small island developing States to access, based on a perceived lack of capacity.

Ms. VELO said that Italy in 2010 had introduced measures for the management of marine protected areas, a multi-stakeholder model that mapped habitats and protected space.  Italy had adopted a methodology for the allocation of financial resources, based on objective criteria and performance indicators, with assessments conducted in areas such as conservation and human-impact free management.  Italy could count 29 marine protected areas within a European Union network, which overall accounted for the protection of nearly 20 per cent of its territorial waters.

At the global level, she said that while marine protected area coverage had grown over the decade, the geographic distribution was uneven, with more needed in Africa, Latin American and the Caribbean, South-East Asia and in small island developing States, which depended more heavily on protected marine systems.  Noting that Italy was chair of the Ocean Sanctuary Alliance, along with Kenya, Bahamas, Palau and Poland, she said the group was working to mobilize efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 14.5 and identify globally significant areas as candidates for additional marine protected area development.  Italy also had increased its engagement with small island developing States, focusing on capacity-building and the establishment and maintenance of marine protected areas.  It also had partnered with Palau on the implementation of marine sanctuaries, and more broadly, was ready to support its partners in moving towards more sustainable ocean-based economies.

Ms. ROJAS-URREGO said the topic under discussion went to the heart of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.  Conservation management and restoring marine ecosystems were prerequisite for achieving Sustainable Development Goal 14 as well as other Goals.  Many communities, especially in developing countries, depended on marine ecosystems for food and water.  Such ecosystems also played a critical role in the context of climate change by mitigating disasters and serving as carbon sinks, she said.  However, marine ecosystems were being lost at an unprecedented rate, she added, noting for example that 90 per cent of coral reefs had suffered damage.  Measures were being taken by States and stakeholders, but there was still a long way to go, she said, adding that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was an opportunity to put the preservation of marine ecosystems at the heart of development.

Mr. LIN said the Government of China paid great attention to environmental protection, with the marine space being a critical part of its overall environmental plan.  Since the turn of the century, China had promulgated and amended ocean-related laws and regulation, creating a comprehensive legal system for marine protection.  It also sought to move towards a payment system through which the State regulated royalties, with revenue going towards conservation efforts.  The percentage of marine protected areas and reserves was being increased, he said, adding that China was also introducing an ecological monitoring system that went beyond measuring pollution alone.

Ms. PAŞCA PALMER said conservation efforts had failed to put a dent on the loss of species or the degradation of marine ecosystem functions.  The consequences would be severe, particularly for those who relied on the oceans for their livelihood and nutrition.  Noting that adherence to the Convention on Biological Diversity was near-universal, she said Goal 14 represented a critical opportunity to build on political will and experience.  An integrated and holistic approach was a must, however.  She said the world was well on the way to achieving the target of conserving at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, noting that since the Convention came into force in 1993, such areas had increased 10 fold to 5.7 per cent today.  But there remained much to do to improve the management of those areas and to ensure that they were representative of many ocean ecosystems.  In that regard, the Sustainable Ocean Initiative produced by the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity addressed the question of capacity-building, especially for developing countries.  Going forward, she emphasized the critical importance of having clear targets and political commitments, as well as basing actions on a scientific understanding of the ecological and biological value of marine biodiversity.

Ms. SENDASHONGA said that since the 2016 World Conservation Congress, the International Union for Conservation of Nature had included a new membership category for indigenous peoples’ organizations.  More broadly, its structure involved 16,000 experts in six commissions and many of its projects were implemented with local communities.  Sharing lessons learned in working with those communities, she said success was about ensuring the resilience of ecosystems, and, in turn, the communities that depended on them.  The “Mangroves for the Future” project was being carried out in South and South-East Asia across 11 countries by bringing together all stakeholders.  Through a “resilience approach” the project was examining socioecological systems, exploring the dynamics and interactions associated with the ecological system.  “You can’t do that without involving all the stakeholders,” she said, stressing that local communities understood their context best.  Another project called “Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services in Territories of European Overseas” was funded by the European Commission across five regions.  In terms of alternative livelihoods, her organization had learned to take a holistic view of an ecosystem and create a framework of jobs that aligned with the goods and services produced by the marine or coastal ecosystem at hand.  The conditions for equitable benefit sharing included empowering the community with knowledge and establishing good governance.  Projects that allowed all voices to be heard, promoted local ownership and fostered opportunities for collaboration were those that succeeded.

Mr. RICE, describing technical measurement challenges, said “the ocean is not an easy place to sample” to create the iron-cast knowledge that justified management decisions.  There must be a proper forum to translate that knowledge into advice for decision-makers in terms that could be understood.  The conceptual challenges about what constituted progress — about the outcomes to seek, for example, or the costs and benefits involved — could be perceived differently.  While the ocean had been “woefully” under-sampled, there was a huge scientific legacy, with the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) among the vast number of forums created.  If anything, there was a turf war over who had the right to assess what, creating a travesty that allowed people with preconceived ideas of what answers should be to find the data that supported the answers they wanted.  Those challenges must be overcome.  “We need to discuss more”, he said, stressing that focusing on how much of the ocean should be put away in “pristine deposit boxes” of protection was insufficient.  Several of the Sustainable Development Goals would not be achieved without using the ocean as a greater source of wealth.  The issue of measuring progress was an equally great challenge, as costs and benefits were perceived by people with different world views.  In terms of assessment, interest groups — those holding the knowledge and those whose lives would be forever altered by the decisions made — must participate in assessment processes.  The vast knowledge of the ocean was not being used as effectively as it could be and he advocated using it more wisely.

In the ensuing discussion, participants discussed a range of initiatives being undertaken to manage, protect, conserve and restore marine and coastal ecosystems.

HENRY PUNA, Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, said that upon his return from the Conference, legislation would be tabled in his country’s Parliament that would establish 16 per cent of its exclusive economic zone as a marine protected area comprising 324,000 square kilometres in which no industrial activity would be permitted.  The Cook Islands aimed to be a model of sustainability, but its efforts would be in vain if it was left to do it alone, he said, calling upon the international community to do more to control high-seas activities and to meet emissions commitments.  He added that his country supported the immediate creation of a “blue fund” for sustaining conservation efforts.

A representative of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, which served 21 Pacific island countries and territories over an area almost twice the size of the Russian Federation, said its work currently focused on climate change resilience and environmental governance, among other topics.  Noting that the region led the world in marine protected areas and sanctuaries totalling 3 million square kilometres, he emphasized the enormous strain and threat posed by climate change, overexploitation and pollution.  He suggested that, with regards to the environment, the word “pristine” should be removed from the English language.  He added that achieving Goal 14 would require a major ongoing commitment on the part of Pacific Island countries and partners.

The representative of French Polynesia called the ocean a link between people and cultures.  Since 2002, French Polynesia had become one of the world’s largest sanctuaries for marine animals, where all shark species were protected.  The Marquesas Islands had established the first six educational marine areas.  In terms of resource management, French Polynesia had in 1996 stopped selling fishing licenses to foreign fleets to its exclusive economic zone.  Fishing in the maritime area was reserved for Polynesian fishers and its exclusive economic zone would be reclassified as a marine protected area.

The representative of Tonga described lack of financing mechanisms to achieve long-term conservation goals, stressing the need to build the capacity for using financial and management tools.  He saw the dialogue to build a unified path to achieving Goal 14.  In Tonga, conservation efforts had been carried out to address challenges.  It sought to enhance and foster new partnerships to support those efforts, which included a marine protected area as part of the “10 times 20” initiative between Tonga and Italy.

The representative of Monaco said his country had a long regional history in establishing the Pelagos Sanctuary, which today was seeing a new impetus with an agreement signed in April for the protection of marine mammals.  Monaco was focused on creating new marine protected areas to achieve the Aichi Biodiversity Targets; developing regulatory and legal frameworks on national, regional and international levels; supporting scientific studies on the merits of such areas; and strengthening the management and financing for such areas.

ANTÓNIO DA CONCEIÇÃO, Minister for Commerce, Industry and Environment of Timor-Leste, said his country depended on the unique biodiversity of both Asia and Australia.  Although it was a small developing country, it took its responsibilities seriously, as demonstrated in the Coral Triangle Initiative.  Through traditional law, Timor-Leste had created marine protected areas that were co-managed with local communities, thus protecting biodiversity and improving food security while guarding against the effects of climate change.  While Timor-Leste would do its part, it looked to the community of nations for partnerships, he said, adding that even the biggest countries could not go it alone.

The representative of Grenada said that without ocean health, there could be no ocean wealth.  In his country, conservation was mainstreamed into the wider economic strategy, with the private sector playing a key role as demonstrated by an underwater sculpture park described by National Geographic as a wonder of the world.  Emphasizing that Grenada was open to innovative partnerships, he said it had developed investment prospects of bankable projects that were environmentally sustainable.

The representative of France said that, as a sailor, she had never made a voyage without seeing garbage at sea.  While that made her feel responsible, she hoped that an historic moment had come to raise awareness and take collective action.  She added that, since the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris, the substantial role of the oceans in regulating climate was acknowledged.  For that reason, France supported the Oceans and Climate Initiatives Alliance and affirmed that the good health of the oceans depended on implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The representative of the Seychelles addressed the problem of marine plastic pollution, stressing that his country was doing its best to ensure effective solid waste management and take targeted approaches to plastics.  It had banned the import of plastic bags, utensils and other items, and was partnering on another strategy that sought to avoid their design.  To implement such plans, effective partnerships were required.

The representative of the Pacific Community said more ocean data and better communication of ocean science was required for decision-making.  She advocated knowledge- and skills-transfer, under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, as well as funding for adequate monitoring.  Her organization was committed to providing the best scientific and technical advice to Pacific islands and territories so they could make informed decisions.

A representative of the Drammeh Institute, explaining she was a Haitian voodoo priestess, advocated enshrining the eco-theological beliefs of more than 200 million people in Haiti, Cameroon, the United States and Ghana into marine management issues.

The representative of Togo described the creation of the High Council of the Sea, composed of public, private and civil society bodies, which regulated sea and coastal areas, and worked to strengthen regulations related to assessments.

The representative of Sri Lanka explained that coral reefs, mangroves, sand dunes and coastal wetlands played an important role in protecting his country from tidal waves.  Marine protected areas covered 289,000 hectares and there were six marine sanctuaries.  Sri Lanka aimed to increase its marine protected areas by 1,000 square kilometres by 2020.

The representative of Nepal said landlocked countries were catchment areas from where rivers eventually flowed into oceans.  Welcoming the Call of Action that would emerge from the Conference, he said special support must be given to climate-vulnerable countries, both coastal and landlocked, to fight climate change in a smart manner.  It was incumbent upon mankind to manage, protect, conserve and restore marine and coastal ecosystems and Nepal was on board that effort, he said.

Also speaking were Heads of Government, ministers and other senior officials and representatives of Samoa, United Arab Emirates, Sweden, Colombia, Philippines and Canada, as well as of the Holy See.

Also taking the floor were representatives of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Union Nationale des Travailleurs Democrates and the Ocean Sanctuary Alliance.

Partnership Dialogue II

In the afternoon, the Conference held a partnership dialogue on “Minimizing and addressing ocean acidification”.  Moderated by Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General, World Meteorological Organization, it featured presentations by Cardinal Peter Turkson, Head of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development, Holy See; Rahanna Juman, Deputy Director, Institute of Marine Affairs, Trinidad and Tobago; David Osborn, Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Environment Laboratories; and Carol Turley, Senior Scientist, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, United Kingdom.  Prince Albert II of Monaco and Agostinho Mondlane, Minister of the Sea, Inland Waters and Fisheries, Mozambique, co-chaired the meeting.

Prince ALBERT II of Monaco said acidification, while not a well-known phenomenon, had severe consequences.  Target 14.3 had established a framework for collective action to combat its affects, notably by strengthening scientific cooperation.  Through the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, the Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre had been established in Monaco, and action must focus on better understanding, adaptation and prevention.  Noting that oceans absorbed 30 per cent of carbon dioxide and 80 per cent of excess heat, he said that at that pace oceans would no longer be able to act as climate regulators.  Revenue loss related to sustainable tourism in coastal areas could be affected and 90 per cent of coral reefs could be threatened with extinction by 2030.  Understanding acidification required global and local approaches to decision-making.  On adaptation, he advocated working with local communities to devise solutions that strengthened the resilience of ecosystems.  Calling prevention the most complex challenge, he said limiting greenhouse gas emissions towards a carbon-free economy should be a common goal, as the effects of such efforts on acidification would be a slow process.  Indeed, climate change and acidification must be fought holistically.  An inventory of good mitigation and adaptation practices would foster better responses to the challenges ahead.

Mr. MONDLANE, noting that 40 per cent of Mozambique’s territory lay within a marine environment, said his country had one of the world’s longest coastlines of 2,700 kilometres inhabited by 26 million people and hosting more than 70 per cent of the nation’s cities.  Marine fisheries provided livelihoods for most coastal communities.  That scenario highlighted the importance of oceans to Mozambique’s economy, he said, underscoring the need to maintain such resources so they could continue to serve society.  Increased acidification, with its adverse impacts on marine resources, had brought about a huge awakening, as it affected people’s survival.  “The solutions must come from us,” he said, noting that in addressing the exploitation of marine resources in Goal 14.6, Mozambique was keen to develop such marine cultures as mussels, bivalves and prawns to provide alternative livelihoods.  The Government was finalizing a national action plan for aqua-culture, the implementation of which hinged on the health of the ocean.  Acidification trends threatened those efforts, and the lack of action to address that phenomenon would lead to a failure to achieve objective Goal 14.6, rendering Mozambique unable to feed its people.

Mr. TAALAS said ocean acidification, while concentrated in tropical zones, was emerging at high latitudes, while concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere were at record-breaking levels.  “We are not moving in the right direction” in implementing the Paris Agreement, he said.  Stressing the importance of strengthened monitoring systems, he said successful implementation of the Agreement could stabilize greenhouse gas trends by 2060.

Ms. TURLEY said carbon dioxide emissions were a global issue that was being experienced very locally.  While their economic impacts remained uncertain, they were indeed happening, she said, citing an 80 per cent mortality rate at oyster hatcheries in the Pacific North-West of the United States and costly efforts to respond to that development.  Going forward, she said, the most important option was to mitigate the impact of acidification by reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, adopting sustainable practices and using infrastructure to protect ecosystems.  Even if the Paris Agreement targets were fulfilled, she added, the impact would be there and the risks would be quite high.

Mr. OSBORN likened the oceans to a sophisticated Swiss watch that one never really owned, but passed along for future generations.  Using radio isotopes and sensitive monitoring equipment, it was possible to monitor ocean acidification and even to measure past levels of acidity through the use of a pH proxy.  He described a new project to collate data and encourage the training of experts in techniques for monitoring acidification at the local level.  Science had revealed that changes due to acidification were not linear, but varied in terms of time and space, but the overall trend was a significant concern, with coral reefs being particularly susceptible.  Some species would do better than others, but as the oceans — like a Swiss watch — was a finely tuned system, the collapse of one or two or three species would have a domino effect.  He went on to emphasize the need to bridge a gap between science and policy, noting that international legal regimes currently did not address acidification.

Ms. JUMAN said coral reefs were responsible for one quarter of total fish catches in developing countries.  They protected shorelines, coastal dwellings, land and beaches.  Small island developing States would have fewer livelihoods if their reefs were damaged.  At least 60 per cent of global coral reefs were already degraded, with tropical and subtropical corals expected to be the worst affected.  More broadly, internationally-funded climate change projects addressed sea-level rise and ecosystem-based adaptation, with acidification considered only in the context of such issues as food security, rather than prioritized.  Noting that donors had provided $55.5 billion to Caribbean and Pacific small island developing States between 1995 and 2015, she said those countries had also been able to leverage $460 million from the Green Climate Fund.  The main challenges were around competition for aid, limited local human resource capacity, duplication of donor efforts, limited private-sector involvement and changing money flow and priorities.  As small island developing States had limited ability to monitor the impacts of acidification, she recommended a number of measures.  Those included enhancing research capacity through partnerships; developing indicators for Goal 14.3; rehabilitating coastal blue carbon ecosystems, like mangroves, that sequestered carbon dioxide; and advocating for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by meeting international obligations, targeting support for alternative livelihoods and increasing awareness about the benefits.

Mr. TURKSON underscored the importance of oceans and seas, providing food and raw materials, as well as essential environmental benefits such as air purification, a global carbon cycle, waste management, and maintenance of the food chains and habitats that were critical to life on Earth.  Pope Francis regularly called for ecological citizenship, from a belief in a moral imperative to care for the environment, a gift entrusted to the current generation for stewardship.  He had repeatedly affirmed that intergenerational solidarity was not optional, but rather, a question of justice.  There was an obligation to conserve — or care — a word that invited people to be compassionate, sympathetic and to understand the state of the environment.  Efforts to establish an effective regulatory framework to safeguard ocean health were often blocked by those profiting from marine resources and intent on maintaining their advantages, to the detriment of the poor.  The Pope also advocated the principle of integral ecology, which captured the belief that “everything belongs together”.  The environment was not regarded as something separate from ourselves.  “We are part of it,” and thus, a crisis of environment was one for humanity.  On the pontiff’s third principle — an integrated approach in seeking solutions to global problems — he said ethical considerations must be integrated into approaches to the environment.  Technical solutions were never enough.  “Leaving no one behind” was a call to solidarity that should spur everyone on to achieve the Goals, he said, stressing that the fourth principle centred on the role of education, all the more necessary where proper waste disposal was either scarce or non-existent, and the fifth principle on the need to collaborate at all levels to arrive at sustainable solutions.

ENELE SOSENE SOPOAGA, Prime Minister of Tuvalu, said studies on the impact of ocean acidification on his country were urgently needed.  Everyone had a responsibility to address ocean acidification by dramatically reducing carbon dioxide output, he said, calling upon all nations to ratify the Paris Agreement and to urgently reduce their reliance of fossil fuels.  He went on to propose a halt to the trade in sea cucumbers, which through their natural digestive systems made water more alkaline, mitigating the effects of acidification at a local level.  Action under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora might be required in that regard, he said.

BJÖRT ÓLAFSDÓTTIR, Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources of Iceland, said that for an island State like hers, where sustainable fisheries were a backbone of society, acidification was very alarming.  She expressed deep disappointment at the decision by the United States to pull out of the Paris Agreement, but celebrated the fact that some American states and cities would fulfil its goals.  Noting that Iceland produced all of its energy from renewable sources, she said its efforts would further contribute to reducing acidification.

The representative of Palau said nutrient-poor ocean deserts had increased 15 per cent since the 1980s.  Urgent steps were needed to boost ecosystem resilience and protect their capacity to provide vital goods and services.  One of the most cost-effective strategies in that regard was the creation of marine protected areas.

The representative of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the nexus between climate change and the ocean presented a challenge in terms of population displacement.  According to the International Displacement Monitoring Centre, 22.5 million people had been displaced annually since 2008 due to adverse climate change.  In 2016 alone, 24.2 million people had been displaced, most of whom from ocean coastal areas, small island developing States or areas or regions affected by “climate change fault lines”, such as the El Niño phenomenon.  Some 40 million people were at risk for displacement, including 15 million living in the Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta of Bangladesh, due to sea-level rise.  He advocated a whole-of-Government approach to solutions.

The representative of Peace Boat, noting that he was from Japan, described the “Eco-ship” project to design the most environmentally green ship using solar and wind power, as well as a closed-loop water system.  A Finland shipyard had agreed to build the vessel.  Efforts by the maritime industry were not enough; strong will must be generated to protect the oceans.

The representative of the International Chamber of Shipping said the association represented 80 per cent of the world’s merchant ships.  Noting that shipping was responsible for 2.2 per cent of annual man-made carbon dioxide emissions, which contributed to acidification, he said Chamber members had reduced those emissions between 2008 and 2012, despite increased maritime trade.  There was an incorrect perception that shipping might have escaped the Paris Agreement.  However, in three weeks, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) would unveil a strategy to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from ships to match the ambition of the Paris accord.  Global shipping would propose that IMO agree to keep total carbon dioxide emissions below 2008 levels, setting that year as the peak year for emissions, and then progressively cutting annual emissions by a percentage to be agreed by IMO member States by 2050.  He clarified that it was not proposing a binding cap on such emissions.

The representative of the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification said the group included the United States states of California, Oregon and Washington.  It should not be confused with the United States Climate Alliance, formed recently in response to United States President’s decision to pull out of the Paris accord.  The International Alliance included 12 states, along with Puerto Rico, representing 36 per cent of the United States.  Its nearly 40 members had pledged to develop ocean acidification action plans to assist in the implementation of Goal 14.3.  They sought to understand acidification, take actions against it, protect coasts from its impacts and build support for addressing that problem.  It aimed to increase its membership to 60 members by June 2018 and support the development of action plans.

The representative of the United States, citing her role as co-chair of the Ocean Acidification Observing Network, drew attention to voluntary commitment 16542 and her group’s close work with international and intergovernmental partners, including the Ocean Foundation, the University of Gothenburg, the University of Washington, as well as IAEA and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).  The group also had launched a mentorship programme, pairing scientists with researchers to new ocean acidification work.

The representative of Colombia said her country was considered one of the top five with the most marine diversity, which in turn, supported local populations.  She underscored the need for gathering scientific information at the local level, including for ecosystem responses and socioeconomic impacts.

Also speaking in the interactive dialogue were representatives of Tuvalu, Iceland, Palau, New Zealand, Vanuatu, Finland, France, Argentina and Iran, as well as speakers from the European Investment Bank, Vision Tool, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, Scientific Centre of Monaco and the Ocean Foundation.

For information media. Not an official record.