UN Ocean Conference,
Interactive Dialogue 3 (PM)

Warning Conditions Will Worsen without Stronger Governance, Speakers Discuss Ways to Stop Marine Biodiversity Loss, Restore Ocean Health, at Lisbon Dialogue

LISBON, 28 June — Marine and coastal ecosystems are the most threatened in the world — a fact that must receive greater attention if Governments are going to successfully reverse pollution trends and restore the health of the world’s oceans, speakers in the third interactive dialogue taking place alongside the 2022 Ocean Conference stressed today, as they focused on solutions.

“Without political will, we will not make it,” said Isabella Lövin, Co-Chair of the Friends of Ocean Action and Former Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden, who moderated an afternoon discussion on “Managing, protecting, conserving and restoring marine and coastal ecosystems”.  Without regulatory frameworks, conditions will continue to worsen.

She said today’s conversation is the most important to have, as it provides the right entry point for achieving Sustainable Development Goal 14 in its entirety.  She encouraged participants to grapple with how to define a healthy ecosystem, pointing out that the world lacks an operational definition of what is meant by marine ecosystem health.

Panellists presenting their findings today included Elizabeth Mrema, Executive Secretary, Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Montreal; Martha Rojas-Urrego, Secretary-General, Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, Gland, Switzerland; Zhang Zhanhai, Special Envoy for China, Chief Engineer, Ministry of Natural Resources, China; and Marco Lambertini, Director General, World Wildlife Fund International, Gland, Switzerland.

Ms. Mrema said biodiversity, like the ocean, does not recognize national boundaries.  The drafters of the Convention on Biological Diversity affirmed that conservation is a common concern, and as such, a collective response is needed to preserve nature for future generations.  Nature, through its ecological and evolutionary processes, sustains the quality of air, water and lands on which humans depend.  “Nature has been sounding its alarms,” she said, stressing that more food, energy and materials are being supplied today than ever before, at the expense of nature’s ability to continue to provide such contributions. 

Moreover, she said half of live coral cover has been lost since the 1870s, with accelerated losses due to climate change.  Marine plastic pollution has increased ten-fold since 1980, affecting 257 species, while 66 per cent of the ocean area is experiencing the cumulative impact from multiple forces.  Over the last 50 years, the human population has doubled, while global trade has grown ten-fold.  She called for addressing the drivers of biodiversity loss by engaging sectors that have an impact upon it, empowering stewards — including indigenous peoples and local communities — and treating biodiversity as the valuable asset that it is.

Ms. Rojas-Urrego said marine and coastal ecosystems are essential to achieving Goal 14.  More than 3,000 species of fish depend on mangroves, while turtles and manatees need them to survive.  These ecosystems are important for the flows of water and sediments.  They store carbon and are a source of livelihoods.  However, they are the most threatened ecosystem today.  The world has lost 87 per cent of its wetlands — 35 per cent in the last 30 years — and 67 per cent of its mangroves, three times faster than forests. 

Going forward, she said Governments must prioritize the conservation and preservation of marine and coastal ecosystems, integrate this protection into ocean strategies and take a source-to-sea approach in doing so.  It is also vital to take area-based measures and focus more on the link between marine and coastal ecosystems and climate change.  These areas are the most efficient carbon store.  Mangroves store carbon 55 times faster than all the forests in the world.  Along with coral reefs, they reduce the impact of extreme events and should be part of the nationally determined contributions.  Yet, only 21 per cent of them include wetlands in the area of mitigation.  She also called for strengthening data and science.

Mr. Zhang, describing national actions, pointed to a law aimed at protecting coastal ecosystems, as well as the introduction of coastal protection initiatives into overall planning efforts.  Among other measures, China has restored coastal wetlands, improved ecosystem resilience, and issued opinions on encouraging private capital into ecological protection and market-based solutions.  It has promoted nature-based solutions and ecosystem-based methods within its protection efforts.  Noting that since 2015 China has carried out 24 coastal zone restoration projects, he said it also has held seven international training courses that have been applied in 20 countries.  He underscored the importance of shouldering common but differentiated responsibilities, noting that China also will explore ways of enhancing carbon sink capacity of marine ecosystems and has looked positively on the proposal to create a global coastal forum to promote protection. 

Mr. Lambertini said ocean conservation is no longer simply an ecological issue, as it is impacting the economy, social stability and the sense of intergenerational justice.  From an economic perspective, the World Wildlife Fund and Boston Consulting Group developed an assessment for gross marine product, based on the same metrics used for gross domestic product (GDP).  By that measure, the ocean constitutes the seventh-largest economy, generating $2.5 trillion in goods and services every year. 

“We need to protect more of the ocean — and in the right places, in the right way,” he stressed.  There is an opportunity to develop new governance for the high seas, which are vital to ensuring the interconnectedness of the oceans by providing safe migratory corridors for fish.  Underscoring the need to stop funding over-fishing, he welcomed the “fantastic” World Trade Organization decision last week in which, for the first time in 20 years, subsidies for over-fishing and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing will be significantly diminished.

Launching the interactive dialogue, Tony Holmgren, Chief Executive Officer of the Stockholm International Water Institute, lead discussant, said the only lasting solutions are the strong partnerships forged between actors on land and at sea.  He called for investing in science, education and monitoring of the economic links across the source-to-sea continuum.  Decision-makers must always ask the question “what are the consequences downstream”, he said.  He also called for creating institutions and incentives that prompt decision-makers to consider the downstream impact of daily operations, among other solutions to create a “water wise world”.

Lead discussant Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, cited a study showing that if current trends continue, there will be 560 medium-to-large disasters per year by 2030 — or 1.5 per day — which will disproportionately impact coastal areas and small island developing States.  At their heart are unsustainable consumption and production patterns. 

“We are living outside the boundaries of what the planet can sustain,” she warned, calling for a “radical” change in how decisions are made by comprehensively managing systemic risks and placing disaster risk reduction at the core of priorities.  National and local strategies for disaster risk reduction also must be aligned with environmental policies, while multi-hazard risk data must be both collected and analysed.

When Government and other participants took the floor, several offered solutions, with Albert II, Sovereign Prince of Monaco, focusing on local approaches, as the scope of the task ahead could discourage “even the boldest”.  Protected marine areas provide some of the most effective solutions to recover marine and coastal ecosystems.  Yet only 8 per cent of surfaces are protected, far short of what is needed.

Frank Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji, speaking for the Pacific Islands Forum, said the Pacific region has experienced climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss with a severity that rivals war.  Recalling that only 4 per cent of the Pacific territory is land — and that the rest is ocean — he said the goal to protect 30 per cent of the ocean offers a huge opportunity to develop domestic blue economies.  He said he is excited about the future and called for a new way of thinking that is centred on people and nature.  “By the time we leave Lisbon, we need the world with us,” he insisted.

Silas Bule Melve, Minister for Climate Change of Vanuatu, speaking for the Pacific small island developing States, said the Pacific region is home to the world’s largest tuna population, and by far remains among the best managed fisheries.  Its success is based on a long history of managing coastal resources through strong marine protected area approaches, whereby traditional concepts have been translated into modern protection efforts.  This is but one example of how the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples and local communities can inform actions to conserve and restore ecosystems, especially mangroves, sea grass and coral reefs.  He also called for strong practical action for species protection.

Mark Harbers, Minister for Infrastructure and Water Management of the Netherlands, noting his country is a low-lying delta nation, said the Netherlands believes in a sustainable blue economy.  It advocates a strong evidence-based ocean policy and close cooperation among Governments, knowledge institutions and the private sector.  He pointed to the North Sea Roundtable as a good example.

John Briceño, Prime Minister of Belize, said his country was among the first to restructure its national debt for marine conservation.  With an unsustainable $550 million bond, Belize convinced bond holders to help it emerge.  It took a haircut of 45 cents on the dollar, saving $250 million.  “It was painful but it was necessary,” he said, noting that it is now using money from its blue bonds for marine conservation.  It set up a marine conservation fund, which will be worth $100 million by 2040.  Belize, through the blue bond, will see 30 per cent of its ocean space protected “well before” the 30 by 30 target, he said.  

Minna Epps, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, noting that the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report found that countries must protect 30 to 50 per cent of the ocean, urged countries to protect at least 30 per cent by 2030, and further, to conclude the treaty for marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction in 2022. 

Francisca Eneme Efua, Minister for Agriculture, Livestock, Forests and Environment of Equatorial Guinea, said her country is comprised of a continental part along the Atlantic coast, as well as two volcanic islands, covering 24,000 square kilometres.  She pointed to the adoption of several laws, notably for protected areas, waters and coast, fishing and agricultural activities, and for hydrocarbons and fuels.

The Minister for Fisheries and Ocean Policy of Norway said his country is “world leading” in the areas of sustainable knowledge-based management and related ocean technology, pointing out that it launched a blue justice initiative in 2019.  “The ocean responds to wise ways of using it,” he said.  Decline can be turned around.  The blue ecosystem has much more to give if “we are able to adapt and interplay with it,” he said, stressing that there is still time to realize true sustainability if Governments “future proof” decision-making by using the best available science, ensuring a common commitment and engaging in cooperation.

Bianca Dager, Vice Minister for the Environment of Ecuador, said her country is among the 17 that are home to two thirds of all biodiversity, and the only one in Latin America to establish a policy of ecological transition.  One coastline runs along 29 cantons, exporting $7 billion in aquaculture and fishery activities, as well as 40 per cent of non-oil exports.  Noting that a dead shark sells for $100, while a live one could fetch “a thousand times more”, she described the establishment of a reserve on the Galapagos that has generated huge benefits for Ecuador and includes an agreement with the fisheries sector.  Ecuador also has tripled the area of one particular mangrove reserve and set up a payment scheme for preserving mangroves.

Hugo Moran, Secretary of State for the Environment of Spain, announced a new goal to achieve 25 per cent of protected marine areas as an interim step towards reaching the 30 per cent target by 2030.

A speaker from the Australian Seaweed Institute, who said she represents the Safe Seaweed Coalition, a network of 800 members across 75 countries, drew attention to scalable nature-based solutions to absorb phosphorous and carbon from the marine waters, as well as several seaweed innovations.  Among them, she noted that feeding cattle seaweed can reduce their methane emissions by 82 per cent.

Also speaking were senior officials from Timor-Leste, Indonesia, United States, Ireland, Cuba and Greece, as well as a speaker from French Polynesia.

Tanya Plibersek, Minister for the Environment and Water of Australia, and Ximena Fuentes, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Chile, co-chaired the meeting.

For information media. Not an official record.