The world cannot afford to further delay action to protect the ocean, governments and conservationists agreed this month at a series of UN conferences. They called for “transformative” and actionable solutions following delays and cancellations caused by the pandemic last year.
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG 14) lists targets to reduce pollution, protect marine ecosystems, tackle illegal fishing and overfishing, and oversee sustainable resource use. But progress so far has been limited.
Only 8% of the ocean is currently protected, a third of fish stocks are overexploited, and climate change is increasing ocean acidification and deoxygenation. This not only threatens marine biodiversity, but also the livelihoods of millions of people who rely on ocean resources.
“Clear transformative actions to address the ocean crisis must be found and must be scaled up. Our relationship with our planet’s ocean must change,” Volkan Bozkir, president of the UN General Assembly, said at a high-level debate on the ocean and SDG 14 in New York on 1 June.
The event sought to maintain momentum ahead of the 2nd Ocean conference, which was postponed due to the pandemic and is now expected to take place next year in Lisbon, Portugal. Bozkir said the pandemic revealed an “appetite for change” as people do not want to live in a world of “one crisis after the next.”
Speaking in four sessions, the panellists reflected on the progress made on SDG 14, six years after its introduction. Peter Thomson, UN secretary-general’s special envoy for the ocean, said progress has been more tangible compared to the “indifferent waters we sailed before SDG 14”. Still, he said, there is much more to be done.
Thomson called for a global plastic pollution treaty and a further expansion of marine protected areas (MPAs), with a goal of making at least 30% of the oceans protected by 2030. The target is set to be included in the new global biodiversity framework that countries are expected to agree on at the UN biodiversity conference in Kunming, China, in October this year.
Clear transformative actions to address the ocean crisis must be found and must be scaled up. Our relationship with our planet’s ocean must change
Meeting it won’t be possible without new MPAs being designated in Antarctica, Thomson added. Countries grouped under the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Living Resources (CCAMLR), which regulates the use of resources in the region, will meet in October this year to try and agree on three MPA proposals currently on the table.
Carlos Rodriguez, chief executive officer at the Global Environment Facility (GEF), said humans have a “social contract” for activities on land, with mandates for proper use, but that doesn’t exist in the ocean. “We have to bring new ways of marine governance based on science,” said Rodríguez.