Collective Action For Our Oceans: From Nairobi To Stockholm To Lisbon And Onwards

Never has it been more important to protect our Oceans and on World Oceans Day, I am honoured and delighted to introduce Leticia Carvalho from the United Nations Environment Programme as my special blog guest.

Leticia is the Principal Coordinator of the Marine and Freshwater Branch, United Nations Environment Programme and Acting Secretary for organizational and substantive preparations for the ad hoc open-ended working group and the intergovernmental negotiating committee to develop a legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution.

She was previously Director of Environmental Quality at Industry in the Ministry of the Environment of Brazil, responsible for chemicals and air quality. She was also the President of the National Commission for Chemicals Safety. She has also served as Head of Oil Spills Contingency Planning at the Marine and Coastal Division and as Coordinator of Sustainable Fisheries at the National Fund of the Environment.

Leticia has been published nationally and internationally on chemicals management, air emissions, fisheries, Brazil’s marine and coastal policies and international environmental law. She is an oceanographer and has a Master’s in Sustainable Development from the University of Brasília.

Happy World Ocean Day!

Given my work as an oceanographer and as the head of our ocean and freshwater work at UN Environment Programme, I never stop learning and being captivated by the magic, beauty and bounty of our ocean.

The fact that the ocean is in fact one body of water is hard to imagine, but I believe thinking of it this way instils a deeper appreciation of how we need to approach sustainable ocean management holistically: to care for its parts necessitates caring for the whole.

Life below Water is a world of mystery. Imagine that we know more about the moon than the ocean, although it covers more than 70% of our planet. Earth is called the blue planet for good reason! Today, only 20% of the ocean has been explored and 91% of marine species still remain undescribed.

Essential to Life

And yet, what we do know is that the health of the ocean is existential to life on earth as we know it. Our ocean provides half the oxygen we breathe. It plays a crucial role in climate stability.

  • Over 90% of the extra heat trapped to the Earth by humanity’s carbon emissions is stored in the ocean.
  • Only about 2.3% warms the atmosphere, while the rest melts snow and ice and warms the land.
  • As a result, the atmosphere is warming less quickly than it otherwise would.

Our ocean drives the global economy and food supplies, carrying more than 90% of world trade and sustaining the 40% of humanity that lives within 100 km of a coastline.

Globally, fish provided more than 3.3 billion people with 20 percent of their average per capita intake of animal proteins, reaching 50 percent or more in countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, the Gambia, Ghana, Indonesia, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka and several SIDS.

Severely Threatened

But our ocean is in trouble. The triple planetary crisis of climate instability, threats to biodiversity and rampant pollution are causing an imperfect storm. In 2021, the 4 primary measures of climate change — greenhouse gas concentrations, sea level rise, ocean temperatures and ocean acidification –all hit record highs. Global oceans reached their hottest and most acidic levels ever recorded and PH levels reached the lowest point in 26,000 years. As the ocean grows more acidic its ability to absorb CO2 declines.

Much of the ocean experienced at least one “strong” marine heatwave. These heat extremes are putting critical marine ecosystems — coral reefs, seagrass meadows and kelp forests — at risk of collapse. Rapid ocean warming has triggered a drop in global fish populations, threatening communities and fishing economies as well as those in polar and high mountain regions.

11 million metric tons of plastic flowed into aquatic ecosystems. More than 80% of wastewater discharged globally is not being treated and the discharge of nutrients and pollutants into marine environments has increased, resulting in more than 500 identified “dead zones” in the world’s ocean.

It sounds like an overwhelming laundry list of assaults on the seas. But facts are facts.

Positive News

The good news is that we have the knowledge and know how to solve the problems facing the ocean. We are also seeing political will stepping up to meet the moment. The theme of this year’s United Nations World Oceans Day, Revitalization: Collective Action for the Ocean is apt given all the global efforts in 2022 to put the health of the ocean at the heart of decision making.

At the resumed session of the fifth UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) this March, Nations came together, online and in-person, to agree on 14 resolutions and a ministerial declaration that secured ambitious outcomes for people and the planet that will help to tackle the triple planetary crisis. Notably, the resolution to help end plastic pollution, including in the marine environment, through a legally binding and globally agreed instrument was gaveled in to a standing ovation.

From 2–3 June 2022, Nations gathered in Stockholm for the Stockholm+50 international meeting co-hosted by the Governments of Kenya and Sweden. In the lead-up to World Environment Day, the event allowed leaders to reflect on 50 years of multilateral environmental action and the urgent action needed to secure a better future on a healthy planet. More importantly, the high-level meeting advocated the importance of multilateralism in tackling the Earth’s triple planetary crisis.

At the end of this month, I look forward to the Ocean Conference in Lisbon, co-hosted by the Governments of Kenya and Portugal. This conference aims to start a new chapter in global ocean action and comes at a critical time as it will seek to propel much needed science-based innovative solutions in the Decades of Restoration and Ocean Science for Sustainability.

All Hands on Deck

I believe these various global convenings speak to the understanding that it will take nothing less than leadership, vision and innovation to achieve a 100% well-managed ocean, through effective marine protected areas and other area based conservation measures, sustainable fisheries management, valuing blue carbon, identifying and restoring degraded ecosystems, ending harmful subsidies, beating pollution, taking a source to sea approach, and innovating to ensure that climate friendly technologies that involve the ocean are also consistent with ocean health.

I hope you will join in the World Ocean Day celebrations to galvanize an all hands on deck approach to steering the ship in the right direction, for people and planet!

Notes

Further Resources

Four UNEA resolutions were specific to ocean and freshwater as below:

UNEA resolution 5/14: End plastic pollution: Towards an international legally binding instrument

It is convening an INC to develop a legally-binding instrument to end plastic pollution, commencing its work in the second half of 2022, with the ambition of completing its work in the second half of 2024. Why is this important?

UNEA resolution 5/2: Sustainable Nitrogen Management

The resolution looks at reducing wasted nitrogen resources from polluting the environment. The two significant sources of nitrogen pollution to the air are fossil fuel combustion through vehicle and power plant emissions and agriculture through fertiliser and manure emissions. However, Nitrogen pollution is a largely-unknown issue or acknowledged outside scientific circles, yet it is causing an environmental catastrophe with devastating consequences for the planet. The resolution focuses on supporting member states in developing national action plans, identifying options to enhance coordination and making progress on nitrogen management.

UNEA resolution 5/4: Sustainable Lake Management

The resolution on sustainable lake management calls on member states to protect, conserve, restore, and sustainably use lakes while integrating lakes into national and regional development plans. It focuses on advancing management, facilitating research, capacity building, sharing knowledge, information and best practices, mainstreaming sustainable lake management in the relevant global agenda, and awareness-raising the importance of lakes.

UNEA resolution 5/5: Nature-based Solutions for supporting sustainable development

The resolution speaks to the goal of protecting, conserving, restoring, and sustainably using and managing ecosystems. The agreement called on the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) to support the implementation of such solutions, helping drive their adoption worldwide. In light of this agreement, Inger Anderson, Executive Director of UNEP, illuminated the importance of agreeing on a universal definition of nature-based solutions to help support their use. She continued to underline that the need to scale-up adoption of these solutions is especially crucial given the recent IPCC report on the impacts of climate change and our vulnerability to it.

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