The ocean is the planet’s largest ecosystem, regulating the climate, and providing livelihoods for billions. But its health is in danger. The second UN Ocean Conference, due to take place between June 27 and July 1, will be an important opportunity to redress the damage that mankind continues to inflict on marine life and livelihoods.
With delegates from Member States, non-Governmental organisations, and universities attending, as well as entrepreneurs looking for ways to sustainably develop the ‘Blue Economy’, there are hopes that the event taking place in Lisbon will mark a new era for the ocean. The first conference in 2017 was seen as a game-changer in alerting the world to the ocean’s problems. According to Peter Thomson, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, Lisbon “is going to be about providing solutions to those problems”.
The event is designed to provide a space for the international community to push for the adoption of innovative, science-based solutions for the sustainable management of the oceans, including combating water acidification, pollution, illegal fishing and loss of habitats and biodiversity. This year’s conference will also determine the level of ambition for the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030). The Decade will be a major theme in the conference, and will be the subject of several important events, laying out the vision of a healthier, more sustainable ocean.
The UN has set 10 ocean-related targets to be achieved over this decade, as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the organisation’s blueprint for a fairer future for people and the planet. They include action to prevent and reducing pollution and acidification, protecting ecosystems, regulating fisheries, and increasing scientific knowledge. At the conference, interactive dialogues will focus on how to address many of these issues.
The role of youth will be at the fore in Lisbon, with young entrepreneurs, working on innovative, science-based solutions to critical problems, an important part of the dialogue. From June 24 to 26, they will participate in the Youth and Innovation Forum, a platform aimed at helping young entrepreneurs and innovators to scale up their initiatives, projects and ideas, by providing professional training, and matchmaking with mentors, investors, the private sector, and Government officials.
The ocean provides us all with oxygen, food, and livelihoods. It nurtures unimaginable biodiversity, and directly supports human wellbeing, through food and energy resources. Besides being a life source, the ocean stabilises the climate and stores carbon, acting as a giant sink for greenhouse gases. According to UN data, around 680 million people live in low-lying coastal zones, rising to around one billion by 2050. Plus, latest analysis estimates that 40 million people will be employed by ocean-based industries by the end of this decade.
Although the conference is taking place in Portugal, it is being co-hosted by Kenya, where 65 per cent of the coastal population lives in rural areas, engaging primarily in fisheries, agriculture, and mining for their livelihoods. The ocean and global climate heavily influence one another in many ways. As the climate crisis continues to pose an existential threat, there are some key metrics scientists are watching closely.
According to the latest climate change report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) global mean sea levels increased at an average of 4.5 mm per year between 2013 and 2021, due to ice sheets melting at an increasing rate.
The ocean absorbs around 23 per cent of CO2 generated by human activity, and when it does, chemical reactions take place, acidifying the seawater. That puts marine environments at risk and, the more acidic the water becomes, the less CO2 it is able to absorb.
Samuel Collins, a project manager at the Oceano Azul Foundation, in Lisbon, believes that the conference will serve as a bridge to COP27, due to take place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt this November.