– As delivered –
Remarks by H.E. Mr. Volkan Bozkir, President of the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly
1 June 2021
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for joining today’s high-level thematic debate on the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14, Life below Water. I would like to express my appreciation to the Governments of Kenya and Portugal, as well as to His Excellency Mr. Peter Thomson, my predecessor, for their support in organizing today’s debate. This is in direct response to the pandemic-related postponement of the 2nd UN Ocean Conference. I fully believe we need to maintain momentum to ensure action on this important topic.
There is simply no scenario wherein we live on a planet without an ocean. Clear, transformative, and actionable solutions to address the ocean crisis must be found and must be scaled up.
I have in my notes ample statistics on the economic and environmental importance of the ocean. I also have pages of data on the current state of the ocean, on everything from plastic pollution, to coral bleaching, to acidification. It goes without saying, these numbers aren’t good. We know this. Every person here is aware of the situation. This is not a new topic. What we need to discuss, what we cannot afford to delay any further, is what we can do about it.
Allow me to be even more direct: there is simply no scenario wherein we live on a planet without an ocean. Clear, transformative, and actionable solutions to address the ocean crisis must be found and must be scaled up. Simply speaking, our relationship with our planet’s ocean must change.
If there is one thing that we have learned this past year it is that there is indeed an appetite for change. People do not want to live in a world of one crisis after the next. They want security, sustainability, and the peace of mind that comes with knowing that we can in fact make the right choices that are critical to our well-being, our prosperity, and our existence.
And we know it can be done. Policies once thought unachievable due to economic constraints are being welcomed. Indeed, as our understanding of the true benefit of a healthy planet grows, policy makers are increasingly aware of how central a healthy ocean is to a healthy economy. We have seen this in countries and cities that have prioritized coastal and marine areas over tourism; we have seen this in protected wetlands; we have seen this in efforts to address illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, and regulate shipping and resource extraction. Why then can we not combine and scale up our efforts?
New governance, policy, and market approaches are required that incentivize both profitability and sustainability – for the benefit of people and the planet. Critically, we cannot miss the opportunity for a ‘blue recovery’ to build resilience, particularly in small island developing states.
Building a sustainable ocean economy is one of the most important tasks and greatest opportunities of our time, and affects many other SDGs, from Zero Hunger, to Decent Work, to Responsible Consumption. Governments, industries, civil society stakeholders, and citizen groups, must continue to join forces to develop and implement ocean solutions.
On this, I commend those Member States that have gone above and beyond SDG target 14.5 and committed to conserving 30% of marine areas by 2030. This is the spirit of ambition that I hope today’s thematic debate is going to inspire.
Likewise, I strongly welcome and support the ongoing discussions around the need for urgent action on plastic pollution. It was the President of the General Assembly in the 73rd session who led the effort to remove single-use plastics from the UN. This accomplishment was rightly celebrated as a starting point to build on. The world is much bigger than this house.
As the SDG 14 targets are some of the first to mature, it is time for us to think ahead, to ensure that we arrive at the 2nd Ocean Conference not with further delays, but with demonstrable evidence of progress. Let us not ‘kick the ball down the road’, as they say, and wait until the Conference to re-discuss these very same issues. The Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development has already begun. Let us choose to arrive in Portugal with accomplishments and progress that inspire hope and optimism for a better tomorrow.