Following is UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ video message to the launch of the “Second World Ocean Assessment” (WOA II) today:
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility of our societies and demonstrated that human health and the health of our planet are linked. To recover better, achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and keep the 1.5-degree target of the Paris Agreement within reach, we must transform our relationship with nature.
This includes our relationship with the ocean, the life support system of our planet. The “First World Ocean Assessment”, released in 2015, highlighted serious degradation of many areas of the world ocean — and concluded that its carrying capacity is at or near its limit. Today, we launch the “Second World Ocean Assessment”. This is the only global integrated assessment of the world’s ocean along all three pillars of sustainable development.
Hundreds of scientists from around the world came together to assess the state of the ocean and strengthen the ocean science-policy interface at the global level. Alas, the findings are alarming. Pressures from many human activities continue to degrade the ocean and destroy essential habitats — such as mangrove forests and coral reefs — hindering their capacity to help address climate change impacts.
These pressures also come from human activities on land and coastal areas, which bring dangerous pollutants into the ocean, including plastic waste. Meanwhile, overfishing is estimated to have led to an annual loss of $88.9 billion in net benefits. And the carbon we are releasing into the atmosphere drives ocean warming and acidification that destroy biodiversity, as well as sea level rise that threatens our coastlines.
The number of so-called “dead zones” in the ocean has increased from more than 400 globally in 2008 to about 700 in 2019. Around 90 per cent of mangrove, seagrass and marsh plant species — as well as 31 per cent of species of seabirds — are now threatened with extinction.
The “Second World Ocean Assessment” warns that many benefits that the ocean provides to humankind are increasingly being undermined by our actions. The experts attribute this to our general failure to achieve integrated sustainable management of coasts and the ocean.
I urge all stakeholders to heed this and other warnings. Better understanding of the ocean is essential. As the “Assessment” makes clear, ocean sustainability depends on us all working together — including through joint research, capacity development and the sharing of data, information and technology.
We also need to better integrate scientific knowledge and policymaking. The United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, which started this year, provides a global framework to act as one to achieve this goal.
The findings of this “Assessment” underscore the urgency of ambitious outcomes in this year’s United Nations biodiversity, climate and other high-level summits and events.
Together, we can foster not only a green but also a blue recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and help ensure a long-term, resilient and sustainable relationship with the ocean.