This speech by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Inger Andersen was delivered at the Ocean Climate Nexus: Scaling up Ocean Solutions towards Sustainable Development for People, Planet and Prosperity event. It was first published on 3 June 2022 on the UNEP site
HE President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya,
Ambassador Macharia, Principal Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kenya
Our oceans are in trouble. Trouble that we, humanity, have plunged them into through driving the triple planetary crisis. The crisis of climate change. The crisis of nature and biodiversity loss. The crisis of pollution and waste.
In 2021, the four primary measures of climate change all hit record highs. Greenhouse gas concentrations. Sea-level rise. Ocean temperatures. Ocean acidification.
As the ocean grows more acidic, its ability to absorb CO2 declines, which will further accelerate climate change. Heat extremes are putting marine ecosystems at risk of collapse. Coral reefs would decline by up to 90 per cent with global warming of 1.5°C. At 2°C, virtually all reefs would disappear. Rapid ocean warming has triggered a drop in global fish populations, threatening communities and fishing economies.
There are over 500 marine dead zones – caused by excess nutrients, primarily nitrogen and phosphorus, entering coastal waters and helping fertilize blooms of algae. Major nutrient sources include fertilizers, wastewater, and the burning of fossil fuels. Approximately 11 million metric tonnes of plastic flow into aquatic ecosystems each year.
Friends, our oceans are in trouble.
At Stockholm+50 and beyond, we must tap into the Nairobi spirit we saw at the fifth UN Environment Assembly and get on with creating a better, sustainable future for our blue world. But we have the knowledge, know-how and political momentum to change the trajectory.
In 1972, the first Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment devoted nine out of its 109 paragraphs to marine issues in its Plan of Action. In 1974, a Regional Seas Programme was established to support cooperation for clean and healthy seas.
Today, involving 146 countries and 18 regions, this programme is one of the most comprehensive initiatives for the protection of the marine and coastal environment.
21 legally binding agreements relating to marine litter have been adopted.
The global biodiversity framework – if it prioritizes rigorous monitoring using new and improved technologies and is backed by finance to realize the vision – can revitalize ocean health.
UNEA 5.2, meanwhile, ushered in key resolutions, sustainable nitrogen management; sustainable lake management, a universal definition on nature-based solutions, and sound management of chemicals and waste.
The resolution on a legally-binding instrument to end plastic pollution offers an opportunity to transition to a new circular plastics economy, one where businesses innovate across the plastics value chain. And the process is happening in record time, with the ad-hoc Open Ended Working Group meeting having just discussed the preparations for the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee in Dakar, Senegal.
Meanwhile, the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, led by FAO and UNEP, calls us to recreate, re-imagine, protect and restore nature. We must use this moment to launch a global movement to save our marine ecosystems and optimize sustainable blue economy solutions – from carefully placed windfarms to cultivated seaweed solutions to restoring mangrove forests.
This Decade of Ocean Science for sustainability, coordinated by the Intergovernmental Oceanic Commission of UNESCO, also invites partnership amongst the global ocean community to accelerate the use of ocean science and technology.
At the UN Ocean conference, we must focus our efforts for building impact through these many tools, processes and initiatives. Specifically, we must support the global instrument to end plastic pollution by identifying policy and technology innovations that makes economic circularity practical and feasible. We must ensure quality Marine Protected Areas within a holistic 100 per cent ocean management ambition – building on UNEP’s long-running protected areas governance work.
We must stimulate public and private blue finance, so we can triple investment in nature-based solutions by 2030. In Lisbon, the UNEP Finance Initiative and partners will present a guide on sustainable blue economy private financing and a blue public finance framework. We will also lend our full support to the Global Fund for Coral Reefs. We must connect policy agendas and actions on the ocean, biodiversity and climate nexus – from Nairobi to Kunming, from Lisbon to Sharm El-Sheikh.
We must make strides on the issue of marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. Crucially, we must end the destructive subsidies paid to the global fishing industry that encourage overfishing – because 60 per cent of the USD 35 billion spent on subsidies each year meet the World Trade Organization definition of harmful subsidies.
Stockholm+50 and Lisbon can galvanize major shifts. As the original Stockholm declaration said, we are both creature and moulder of our environment. Let us use choose to mould oceans for health, from Stockholm to Lisbon and beyond.