Sunday 29th March 2020
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Super Year and future of oceans: From Lisbon to Glasgow

Ambassador Peter Thomson, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, speaking at the Open-ended Working Group on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework negotiations holding in Rome, makes four salient points concerning how the blue economy relates with biological diversity, climate change and the sustainable development goals in the light of the Super Year

Peter Thomson un secretary general Super Year and future of oceans: From Lisbon to Glasgow Peter Thomson
Peter Thomson

The first point springs from the perspective of most life-forms of this planet, including human beings, to the effect that we are living in a time of climate and environmental emergency, the so-called Anthropocene. The three major IPCC reports of 2019 on the Ocean and Cryosphere, on Land, and on the 1.5ºC Climate Goal, confirm the predicament we have found ourselves in.

Referring to the IPCC Reports at the UNFCCC’s COP25 in Madrid two months ago, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, said in his keynote address, “We are knowingly destroying the very support systems that are keeping us alive.”

So, my first point comes in the way of a question, does the Zero Draft that we are considering here at this Roman gathering sufficiently meet the emergency? In a spirit of intergenerational responsibility, I say to you, if you do have doubts, then this is your opportunity to strengthen the ambition of the draft before us.

The second point comes from the heart of the Ocean. The message is this: there can be no healthy planetary ecosystem without a healthy Ocean ecosystem, and currently the health of the latter is in serious decline. There is a trail of logic that connects the well-being of humanity with that of the Ocean’s coral reefs, and the prognosis for coral is not rosy.

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Unconscionable levels of pollution and harmful fishing practices continue. And more importantly, rates of Ocean deoxygenation, acidification and warming are increasing, with humanity’s Greenhouse Gas emissions the guilty party and no immediate curtailment of these expected in the short term.

Without much greater human ambition to correct the destruction of our planetary life-support systems through radical changes to our consumption and production patterns, all our good efforts on behalf of the Ocean’s health and the planet’s biodiversity will come to nought. The point is that everything is connected, silos must be broken, and work-streams must converge, for the Ocean, Biodiversity and Climate Change have one common enemy and that is our Greenhouse Gas emissions.

All efforts in the so-called Super Year, from the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon to the Biodiversity COP in Kunming, must ratchet up our ambition for the outcomes of the UNFCCC COP in Glasgow in November. That must be our common goal and that is my central message to today.

My third point relates to humanity’s relationship with the Ocean’s resources. The Zero Draft refers to the harvesting of wild species and I presume this largely refers to fisheries. If so, then reference to FAO’s SOFIA Report and the recent IPBES Report is necessary, as these make it clear that sustainable aquaculture, not wild catch, is what is vital to the future of humanity’s food security.

Here I underline the Sustainable Blue Economy, never just the Blue Economy, for as long as our use of the Ocean’s resources is ruled by the principle of sustainability, and as long as we treat it right, the Ocean will provide future generations with all the renewable energy, medicine and food they will need for healthy lives.

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The Ocean is where over 90% of the living space for species on this planet occurs. The Ocean is essential for the natural services that keep us, and everything else on land, alive. Yet even as we sit here in Rome, mass changes to the Ocean are steadily removing marine ecosystems such as corals and kelp forests.

So, the corrective urgency and ambition needs to be palpable in all we do. The Zero Draft refers to 2030 as the target for trade in wild species to be made legal, but I say, where is the sense of urgency?

If this refers to IUU Fishing, then surely a much shorter timeline should be the target. SDG14.4 calls for IUU Fishing to be wiped out by 2020, but still we see over $20 billion’s worth of illegal catch every year. We have tools, such as FAO’s PSMA, to accomplish the desired eradication of this crime against countries, communities, scientific management and against Nature itself, so why the delay until 2030?

People want a greater sense of urgency, but they are also looking for greater clarity in what we are proposing.

So my fourth and last point is that while most of the Zero Draft is clearly expressed, when it comes to the most important section, “Reducing Threats to Biodiversity”, I believe the average citizen would find it difficult to grasp what is actually going to be done. More straight-forward and precise statements are called for, along the lines of, “All EEZs will be 100% covered by marine spatial plans by 2030.” A clear message gives common direction and instils hope that dogged pursuit of desirable outcomes is underway.

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I conclude with an exhortation to you all to see your work here in Rome as part of a whole, a whole that is captured in the Zero Draft’s opening paragraph when it refers to the fulfilment of a vision of our living in harmony with Nature. To make that more than a pipe dream, the cohesion between Lisbon, Kunming and Glasgow must be well coordinated and cumulative, with a much-enhanced sense of urgency and ambition.

The Ocean community is ready to play its part in this common effort. And while we’re at it, we must strive for more cohesion between the SDGs, the division between SDGs 6 and 14 for example is wholly artificial. And finally, partnership must be more than a catch-phrase, it is in fact the only way we will achieve the vision of harmony that is set out in the draft before us.

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