– As delivered –
Statement by H.E. Mrs. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly
Delivered by Mr. Kwabena Osei-Danquah, Chef de Cabinet to the President of the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly
7 June 2019
Ms. Natasha Berg, Director of Communications at Oceanic Global,
Excellencies, Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very sorry that I cannot join you for this important occasion. Each year, World Oceans’ Day is an opportunity to celebrate the beauty and vital ecosystem services that the ocean gives to humanity.
Our planet is blue. The ocean covers more than 70% of the Earth’s surface. It produces over half the oxygen we breathe, and is the world’s largest carbon sink. It cleans the water we drink and serves as our medicine chest. It is one of the most resilient of our planet’s ecosystems, providing food, work and resources to over 2 billion people around the world. Quite simply, the ocean is crucial to our survival, and to life as we know it.
But the seemingly infinite bounty of the ocean is under threat. Plastic pollution alone has increased ten-fold since 1980, contributing to more than 400 so-called “dead zones” in the ocean.
Last year, I launched a campaign in response to heartbreaking images of plastic maiming marine life and polluting our seas and beaches. Some of these images are in the Visitors’ Lobby, in an exhibition I opened earlier this week with National Geographic.
Last weekend, I was in beautiful Antigua, hosting a festival to fight plastic pollution. It brought together thousands of people from the Caribbean, and many more online – proof that millions of us are ready to change our habits to protect our ocean. I am particularly proud that single use plastics are no longer welcome in this building.
But, sadly, this is just one threat to our ocean. We must also contend with other forms of pollution and waste; with illegal and unregulated fishing; and with the climate crisis.
Human activity has significantly altered a staggering two-thirds of our marine environment – putting at risk an estimated one million species, including our own. And as so often, it is the poorest and most vulnerable – and girls and women among them – who suffer most.
I am therefore pleased that this year’s theme for World Oceans’ Day is: Gender and the Ocean. Women and men use marine and coastal ecosystems in different ways, and are impacted differently by changes in these environments.
For example, while women and girls make up half the workforce in processing, cleaning and trading fish, they are concentrated in low-skilled, low-paid and insecure jobs. Often, their work is treated as part of their responsibility as ‘helpers’ to men’s activities. At the same time, women are more likely to be affected by poor waste management and pollution, for instance, bearing the brunt of care work when relatives fall ill.
For too long, this ‘blue gender gap’ has been under-studied and under-prioritized.
Two years ago, Member States issued a call to action at the UN conference on Sustainable Development Goal 14, highlighting the crucial role that women and youth play in the conservation and sustainable use of marine and coastal resources.
We must now increase our efforts to empower women and girls – politically by including them in decision-making at all levels, economically by ensuring equal pay for equal work, socio-culturally by fighting discrimination and stereotypes; and physically – by combating drudgery and violence, and promoting health and safety.
I often say that investing in women and girls is the closest thing we have to a magic formula for achieving the 2030 Agenda. This is as true for SDG 14 as it is for all other Goals. We have much to do to restore the health and bounty of our ocean. We will not succeed if we leave half the world’s population behind.