The Ocean Conference one year on – are we keeping our promise?
Interview with UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean
Almost exactly one year ago, countries gathered at the first-ever Ocean Conference, unanimously committed to a set of ambitious measures to start reversing the decline of our ocean’s health. The conference also attracted over 1,400 voluntary commitments of ocean action by states, international organizations, civil society and others.
“In most probability this conference represents the best opportunity we will ever have to reverse the cycle of decline that human activity has brought upon the ocean,” said Peter Thomson, then President of the UN General Assembly. One year on, we talk to Mr. Thomson, now the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, about the legacy of the Ocean Conference – have we grasped its opportunity and fulfilled its promise?
How does a healthy ocean contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?
“A healthy ocean is vital to the achievement of sustainable development, as demonstrated by the close interlinkages between SDG 14 – the ocean goal, and the other SDGs.
The ocean currently provides livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people and through the sustainable blue economy will create many new job fields in the future. One billon people depend on seafood for sustenance and all of us can thank the ocean for every second breath we take.
The ocean is an integral part of the planet’s climate and serves as a massive carbon sink, with a quarter of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere being absorbed by the ocean. A healthy ocean equals a healthy planet equals healthy people.”
Since the landmark Ocean Conference last year, you have been following up on its outcomes. Could you share some success stories inspired by the Conference?
“Perhaps the greatest success of the Ocean Conference was the raising of global consciousness on the need for universal remedial action to halt the decline of ocean health. Over the last year, we have witnessed ocean action measures taking hold around the globe, from governments to local communities, from G7 to the Commonwealth, from IMO [International Maritime Organization] to the UN itself, a massive wave of ocean action is underway.
The Conference attracted across-the-board participation, resulting in a strong, consensual call to action, new partnerships, and the registration of over 1,400 voluntary commitments in support of SDG 14 implementation. I’m happy to report that good progress is being seen in the delivery of these commitments.
A good example of a voluntary commitment achieved is one on “Coastal Risk Resilience and Insurance”. In March this year, The Nature Conservancy and the Government of Quintana Roo announced the creation of the “Coastal Zone Management Trust,” for the Mesoamerican Reef along Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. It will promote conservation of coastal areas in the Mexican Caribbean and will finance what will become the first-ever parametric insurance policy for a coral reef.”
The UN has launched nine Communities of Ocean Action. Can you share with us some examples of concrete actions these Communities are taking to protect the Ocean?
“The Communities of Ocean Action were created to help drive forward the voluntary commitments. They are grouped into areas of common interest: ocean science, coastal ecosystems, fisheries, sustainable blue economy and so on. They allow members to share best practices, identify synergies and build partnerships and networks for mutual advancement.
The Communities’ focal points have begun the assessment of existing voluntary commitments to identify gaps and enhance their Community’s contribution to achievement of the SDG 14 targets.
The Communities are collaborating with other important Ocean-related initiatives, including the Friends of Ocean Action, and initiatives arising from the recently adopted Commonwealth Blue Charter.”
The Ocean Conference urged everyone to work together to save the ocean. What can we do in our everyday lives to support a healthier ocean?
“From ocean acidification to declining fish-stocks, from marine pollution to deoxygenation, the ocean is in trouble and needs our help. Everyone has the opportunity and responsibility to be part of the necessary solutions.
As consumers, we must insist that the fish we consume has been legally and sustainably caught. We can move away from single-use plastic and reward producers and retailers who provide us with environmentally responsible products. As citizens, we can support leaders who are working to put in place the right measures to safeguard the ocean for the benefit of our children and those who come after them.”