Video Message for ReSolve, a competition with purpose at their Transformation Summit, organized by PVBLIC Foundation and American Association of Advertising Agencies
4 April 2017
Ladies and gentlemen,
My name is Peter Thomson and I am the President of the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly. I want to thank the American Association of Advertising Agencies and Pvblic Foundation for inviting me to address you at ReSolve today about what I believe to be the most consequential undertaking of our time: the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
But mainly, I would like to seize this moment to talk about the central passion of my work at the United Nations – saving life in the Ocean. The two topics are intimately linked, for one of the key goals of the Sustainable Development Agenda is to conserve and sustainably manage the resources of the Ocean.
The Ocean is in dire need of our help. If the cycle of decline in which it is currently caught is allowed to continue, the deleterious impacts on the life-forms dwelling in, above, and next to it, may well become irreversible.
All life on this planet ultimately depends on a healthy Ocean, thus stopping the latter’s deterioration is one of the greatest challenges of our era. If we are to ensure a bountiful planet, for ourselves and for future generations, the time for action is upon us.
The Ocean unites us. With the bounty of its resources, its boundless energy, and indispensable trade routes, it is the life-blood of our planet. Its health is crucial to humanity’s well-being, thus it is that the time has come for us all to recognize that accumulating human activity has placed Ocean’s health in jeopardy.
Covering three quarters of the Earth’s surface and containing 97% of the planet’s water, the Ocean drives global weather patterns, absorbs around 30% of human-produced carbon dioxide, and serves as a critical buffer to the ever-worsening impacts of global warming. More than 50% of the oxygen we breathe comes from the Ocean. Home to nearly 200,000 identified species, with actual numbers estimated to lie in the millions, the Ocean is a massive reservoir of biodiversity. Billions of people rely on it for their livelihoods, food security, and cultural identity.
Do we really want to give all that away?
Since the integrity of Ocean’s precious ecosystem is essential for humanity’s survival, logic would dictate that we should steward its welfare with utmost diligence. Sadly the opposite has become the case. For the veracity of that statement, one need only consider the fact that we dump the equivalent of a large garbage truck of plastic rubbish into the Ocean every minute of every day. And if current trends continue, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the Ocean than fish. This is but one of many shameful human activities that have pushed the Ocean into its cycle of decline. The existential challenges of reversing that cycle have now become one of humanity’s greatest imperatives.
The science demonstrating the decline is solid, be it habitat destruction, biodiversity loss, overfishing and collapsing fish-stocks, marine pollution, or the effects of climate change manifested in Ocean acidification and warming, the challenges before us are both complex and daunting.
Consider first the intolerable levels of marine pollution and litter cluttering the Ocean and piling up on our beaches. Enormous gyres of garbage are circulating out in the high seas. Tragically, plastic is now entering the marine food chain with obvious toxic effects for marine life and ultimately for us. Hypoxic dead zones expand along our coasts, while life-supporting reefs of multitudinous coral forms are turning into white cemeteries devoid of life.
Meanwhile, human activity is continuing to cause rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which in turn is driving increases in the Ocean’s acidity. If this trend continues, the outlook for calcium-based marine life is dire. And those greenhouse gases are also warming the Ocean, which will further exacerbate rising sea levels, while at the same time causing fish to move away from hot equatorial zones. What this will do to the planet’s ecosystem remains to be seen, but the consequences for humanity cannot be good.
Even as all these woes befall the Ocean, reckless human behaviour continues to put enormous strain on the survival of many marine species through destructive fishing practices, harmful fisheries subsidies, illegal and unregulated fishing, and illogical patterns of over-fishing. Official sources indicate that nearly one third of all fish stocks are now at below sustainable levels.
All these problems emanate from human activity. Therefore it is human activity that must produce the solutions and the time for concerted action has come.
World leaders acknowledged the fundamental importance of the Ocean to humanity and to the planet in September 2015, with the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, humanity’s masterplan for a sustainable future on this planet.
At the heart of the 2030 Agenda are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, with SDG14 setting out specific targets to be met in order to conserve and sustainably use the Ocean.
SDG14 is the only universally agreed roadmap we have for conserving and sustainably managing the Ocean’s resources. Its faithful implementation is therefore our best hope for remedying Ocean’s woes.
With the inclusion of a strong Ocean goal in the 2030 Agenda, the stage was set for the next phase of remedial action. A system of staying true to SDG14’s implementation was required.
Thus The Ocean Conference came into being, to be co-hosted by the Governments of Sweden and Fiji at the United Nations in New York, 5-9 June 2017.
The conference will mobilize urgent collective action by all stakeholders in the Ocean’s well-being: governments, the UN system, civil society, philanthropies, non-governmental organizations, the scientific community, academia and technical experts, the private sector and local communities. Together we will chart a course for Ocean’s recovery.
One of the outcomes of the conference will be a ‘Call for Action’, a declaration currently being put together by Member States of the UN that will provide the consensual political commitment needed to drive action to effectively implement SDG14.
A further outcome from the conference will be a raising of global consciousness on the state of the Ocean and the need for humanity to take remedial action.
Another key outcome of the conference will be the solutions arising from the seven partnership dialogues that will be focusing on particular aspects of SDG14 such as marine pollution, Ocean acidification and management of fish-stocks. At these partnership dialogues, with a view to concerted action, we will be gathering all the voluntary commitments that are being put in place to meet SDG14’s targets.
In order to make the efforts to support SDG14 implementation open to all who have contributions to make, a Register of Voluntary Commitments has been created by the conference organisers. Any voluntary commitment made within the framework of the 2030 Agenda targeting SDG 14 can be registered at https://oceanconference.un.org/commitments/register/.
The Ocean Conference will be humanity’s first universal moment of accountability to remedy the woes we have put upon the Ocean. We will come out of the conference armed with a broad set of partnerships, commitments and measures to then be put into action.
The central messages at this time are: register your voluntary commitments, and then join us in communal resolve at The Ocean Conference to be a positive part of this historic event. This is the opportunity to do your part in passing onto succeeding generations an Ocean full of life, one that they can then sustainably steward into the future.
Turning now to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development –I’d like to briefly explain why it is so consequential for us all.
In September 2015, after two years of intense negotiations at the United Nations, world leaders came together in New York to adopt by consensus, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The Agenda is an integrated plan comprising 17 mutually-reinforcing Sustainable Development Goals, also known as the SDGs, all of which are to be met by 2030.
Why do we need these Sustainable Development Goals? Because with the human population soaring to over 9.7 billion by 2030 and 11 billion by the end of the century, and with the fast-expanding middle class demanding more and more, the planet does not have the resources to sustain our current way of life. We are heading towards a precipice of unsustainability if we continue down our current path of consumption and production. You only need to think of the impacts of climate change to appreciate the veracity of that statement.
The only path away from that precipice of unsustainability is for humanity to implement the Paris Climate Change Agreement and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. If the SDGs are implemented effectively, they will transform the world in which we live for the betterment of the generations to come.
As young professionals, you have an especially important contribution to make, especially in the area of consumption.
I urge all of you as individuals to use your unique skill-sets to raise awareness of the SDGs to help us all achieve the 2030 Agenda.
As the advertising elite of tomorrow I call on you to leverage your roles as communicators and creative innovators, to be champions of the Sustainable Development Goals. I call on you to “sell” the logic and the imperative of the SDGs.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Sustainable Development Agenda and its 17 Goals are undoubtedly ambitious. They have to be. Saving the world is a complex business and implementing 17 Sustainable Development Goals is about as succinct as we could hope for.
We have little over 13 years left to attain the SDGs. They are the great task of our time. Succeed and we will have effectively combatted climate change, protected the Ocean, and created a safe, equitable, and prosperous world for humanity.
Fail and we will be placing the future of our species in jeopardy. As young people I say to you today that it is you who have the most to gain or to lose. The transformation for the better of humanity’s way of life on Planet Earth will come into effect in your lifetime. You all have the ability to contribute to that transformation so that your children will live in a sustainable world.
I thank you.