Keynote Address by H.E. Mr. Peter Thomson, President of the 71st Session of the General Assembly at High Level Luncheon on SDG 14 – “Our ocean, our future: call for action”
16 August 2017
Deputy Commissioner, Ms Tong Xiaoling,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be back in Hong Kong, one of my favourite cities in the world.
Ever since, I first began travelling here early in my career, I have always been inspired by the energy of the city, the dynamism of its people and its outstanding natural setting.
It is with a view to tapping into those qualities that I am here today. I want to talk with you about a matter of critical importance to our world – the health of the Ocean. I want to talk with you about how each of us can help remedy the cycle of decline in which the Ocean’s health has been caught.
I’m sure you all know that life on this planet depends on the Ocean. It supplies nearly half of the oxygen we breathe, absorbs over a quarter of the carbon dioxide we produce, is a vital source of our planet’s biodiversity, and plays a critical role in regulating our climate.
The Ocean carries 90 per cent of global trade and undersea cables are the backbone of the internet.
It is a vital source of livelihood support for over 300 million people, providing food security, prosperity, employment, and tourism opportunities – particularly for Small Island Developing States such as my home country, Fiji. The Ocean nourishes more than 3 billion people who rely on fish for animal protein.
And let us never underestimate that our Mother Ocean is a seminal source of social, cultural and spiritual inspiration and sustenance for civilizations across our world. We take joy as humans in the creatures, the beauty and the bounty of the Ocean
Despite all these existential properties, the reality is that the Ocean is in trouble, and that the causes of the problems are human-induced.
Destructive fishing practices, overfishing and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing are putting pressures on marine ecosystems that point towards an ecosystem collapse. Nearly one third of all fish stocks are now below sustainable levels.
The Ocean has become a dumping ground for pollution and waste. Land-based sources of pollution including agricultural run-off, coastal tourism, urban development, untreated sewage and wastewater, and marine debris account for approximately 80 per cent of marine pollution globally, threatening coastal and marine habitats, as well as human health and well-being.
Around the World, there are now close to 500 hypoxic ‘dead zones’ covering more than 245,000 square kilometers, within which there is insufficient oxygen to support most marine life.
And plastics are now the most prevalent forms of marine pollution, contributing an estimated 60 to 80 per cent of all marine debris. Research suggests that by 2050 almost 99 per cent of seabirds will have ingested plastics, and that unless we change our ways, there will be more plastic in the Ocean than fish.
Exacerbating Ocean’s woes are the adverse impacts of climate change, which are causing Ocean acidification; increased Ocean temperatures; sea-level rise; and extreme weather events.
Indeed, since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the Ocean has become 27 percent more acidic, with some studies showing increasing rates of acidification with severe implications for our ecosystems.
The consequences of these anthropogenic influences on the state of for coral reefs, mangroves, fish-stocks and marine ecosystems have already been devastating.
And for some low-lying Small Island Developing States and coastal populations, the threat of rising sea-levels is threatening their very existence. For large swathes of the world’s coastlines, sea level rise will engulf food-basket river deltas and low-lying cities.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The magnitude of the challenge we face is enormous.
And the reality is that we have all in one way or another contributed to the decline in the Ocean’s health.
But, for every human created problem there is a human solution. It is therefore incumbent upon us all to take responsibility for our past behavior, and to act decisively to save Ocean’s health.
Such action will require the combined efforts of all stakeholders – Governments, the United Nations, civil society, the scientific community, business sector, and indeed for us all as responsible individuals.
And it will require integrated and cross-cutting action that looks to bend humanity’s current direction away from the precipice of unsustainability, towards a future that is safe, secure and prosperous for all.
It was with this vision in mind that in September 2015, world leaders came together at the United Nations to adopt the historic 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Through 17 universal, integrated and mutually-reinforcing Sustainable Development Goals, the 2030 Agenda sets out to transform our world for the better. The Agenda will get there by breaking intergenerational cycles of poverty; building peaceful societies; increasing global prosperity; achieving gender equality; protecting our natural environment, and by averting the worst impacts of climate change.
Critically, the 2030 Agenda includes SDG14 to conserve and sustainably utilize the resources of the Ocean. I am proud to say that SDG14 resulted from the dedicated work of many Ocean advocates, particularly Governments and civil society from the Asia-Pacific region. We clearly saw that without a healthy ocean, healthy sustainable conditions for human life on this planet would not be possible.
Taken together with the Paris Climate Agreement, the 2030 Agenda provides humanity with a sustainable future upon this planet. But, having adopted the 2030 Agenda, and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the delivery of the sustainable future we want, now depends on the faithful implementation of our commitments. The international community must hold firm on this, we must implement our commitments.
To advance implementation efforts, in June this year, the United Nations convened a High-level Conference to Support the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14.
Convened under the co-Presidency of Fiji and Sweden – a partnership reflecting the importance of the Ocean to both developed and developing countries alike – the Ocean Conference was a game-changer in our efforts to save the Ocean.
With around 6,000 participants, including Heads of State and Government, and high-level representatives from the UN system, civil society, the scientific community, and the business sector, the Conference provided a rallying call for action.
It raised global consciousness to unprecedented levels on the seriousness and comprehensive nature of the challenges facing the Ocean and made all concerned focus on solutions we need. Critically, the Conference led to three specific outcomes.
Firstly, Member States agreed to an ambitious Political Declaration “Our Ocean, our future: Call for Action.” which explicitly sets out a series of priority actions to be taken to save the Ocean. This declaration was subsequently adopted by acclamation in the General Assembly of the United Nations.
Secondly, Member States and global experts presented a comprehensive range of innovative solutions to the problems facing the Ocean, during seven partnership dialogues focused on the seven most important challenges.
And thirdly, nearly 1,400 voluntary commitments were pledged by stakeholders – individually or in partnership – aimed at advancing the implementation of SDG 14 and its related targets.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The international community has thus agreed to undertake the decisive action needed to save the Ocean.
We have the international legal framework, as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
We have the 2030 Agenda, including SDG14 on the conservation and sustainable use of the Ocean’s resources.
And thanks to The Ocean Conference, we now have specific solutions and voluntary commitments in support of SDG14 that we must implement.
We are all in this together. There is only one Ocean – all rivers, seas, ocean and clouds are connected. Either we continue to ignore the damage we are doing, or we decide to safeguard Ocean’s health
This end, I would like to ask each of you today to join me in taking seven concrete actions to save the Ocean.
First, join the international community in the effort to implement the 2030 Agenda, and to amplify the message of the SDGs across our world.
Second, promote Ocean literacy, and help to nurture a culture of conservation, restoration and sustainable use of the Ocean;
Third, give your support to marine science research so that we can increase scientific knowledge, fill information gaps, and promote policy-making based on the best available science.
Fourth, speak out in support of area-based management tools, including the establishment of marine protected areas.
Fifth, encourage sustainable fisheries management by insisting that the fish you buy is sustainably and lawfully brought to you.
Sixth, take steps in your daily lives to prevent and reduce marine pollution. If, for example, each of us stops using single use plastic bags and takes our own bag to the supermarket, this simple act when replicated by millions of people every day, stands to make an enormous difference.
And finally, be aware and do all you can to minimize your carbon footprint, in order to adapt and mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Looking ahead, Kenya and Portugal have offered to host a follow-up UN Ocean Conference in 2020. We have 3 years to make a difference, before we again gather as a global community to assess our successes and failures and adjust accordingly in support of SDG14’s implementation.
There are other positive moves afoot in the international community. The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission has called for an International Decade on Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030).
UN Member States have agreed to move as soon as possible to consideration of developing a new treaty on marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.
We can see that momentum for Ocean action is now underway; but we need all hands on deck.
It is my view that saving the Ocean is a sacred task, one in which we must all play our part if we value life on Planet Earth.
Let us therefore embark together on this shared voyage to save the Ocean, to implement the 2030 Agenda, and to preserve humanity’s place on this planet for our grandchildren’s sake and for those who come after them. It is no longer morally acceptable for us to steal from their future, so we must all turn our minds and practices to the imperative of conservation and sustainable use of planetary resources.
I thank you for your attention.