“We must not squander the opportunities presented by the unique confluence of moments in 2022 for decisive ocean action,” writes the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean Peter Thomson in the “UN Chronicle”.
We are all inextricably connected to the ocean.
Think only of the fact that 50 per cent of the planet’s oxygen is produced in the ocean for evidence of that connection.
Think of the nourishment that billions of us receive from the ocean, and then of how the ocean absorbs most of the heat trapped in the Earth’s atmospheric system, thus stabilizing our climate. In return for all this bounty, human activities are causing the ocean’s health to spiral into decline.
Increasing anthropogenic carbon emissions are making the ocean more acidic, weakening its ability to sustain life underwater and on land. Plastic waste is permeating the ocean’s ecosystems, while atmospheric and ocean warming is leading to the death of coral and inexorably rising sea levels.
If current trends continue, more than half of the world’s marine species may be all but extinct by 2100.
There are many solutions that can help restore the ocean’s health, but they will require action—action from world leaders as well as everyday citizens from all parts of society.
Our planet cannot be healthy without a healthy ocean, and the ocean is increasingly unwell.
But in spite of this measurable decline, it remains within our power to make 2022 the year we stop the decline of the ocean’s health. Many global endeavours are underway.
In 2022 we mark the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture, and both aquaculture and artisanal fisheries are central to achieving sustainability.
Last year we launched the United Nations Decades of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development and on Ecosystem Restoration to support the realization of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
In addition, the twenty-sixth United Nations Climate Change Conference—COP 26—held in Glasgow, Scotland in 2021, decided that ocean considerations had to be built into the ongoing work of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), raising our optimism that real progress will be made on addressing such issues as ocean warming and acidification.
Effectively dealing with those two issues will strengthen the ocean’s health and help secure its unique capacity to sequester carbon.
Added to these positive factors and to the many other ocean-related meetings taking place this year, six major international gatherings can together result in a halt in the ocean’s decline.
One of those events—the resumed fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly, held in Nairobi earlier this year, agreed by consensus to start negotiations on a binding global treaty to end plastic pollution.
We currently dump 11 million metric tons of plastic into the ocean each year, and that amount is projected to double by 2030 and triple by 2050. The proposed treaty can stop this unconscionable trend.
We must not squander the opportunities presented by the unique confluence of moments in 2022 for decisive ocean action.