UN Ocean Conference,
Interactive Dialogue 8 (AM)

Ocean Health Holds Key to Reaching All Goals across 2030 Agenda, Experts in Final Lisbon Dialogue Stress amid Calls for Faster Action on Energy, Shipping Reforms

Sustainably Managed Fisheries, Aquaculture Innovation Can Help Spare 170 Million People from Undernutrition, Panellists Says

LISBON, 1 July — The sustainable use of oceans cuts across the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, experts and delegates underscored at the eighth Lisbon dialogue, as they identified the interconnections and cross-influences between ocean health and food security, poverty eradication, clean energy, decent work and climate action.

The interactive dialogue — “Leveraging interlinkages between Sustainable Development Goal 14 and other Goals towards the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” — was the final in a series of eight such conversations that brought together Governments, United Nations officials, leading thinkers and civil society at the 2022 Ocean Conference.

The dialogue began with panel presentations by Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs; Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific; Teresa Moreira, Officer-in-Charge of the Division on International Trade and Commodities at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development; and J. Charles Fox, Executive Director of Oceans 5.

Mr. ZHENMIN said the drivers that have the greatest influence on the sustainability of the marine environment cannot be addressed through Goal 14 (life below water) alone, while conversely, progress towards Goal 14, or lack of it, also influences the ability to reach other Goals.  Noting that the COVID-19-related contraction in fisheries is a likely contributor to increasing food insecurity and hunger worldwide, he said that 660 million people will potentially face hunger in 2030 — 30 million more people than would have had the pandemic had not occurred.

At the same time, he reasoned, innovation and technology, both components of Goal 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), have helped the international community make progress on certain aspects of Goal 14 during the pandemic.  For instance, when marine protected area managers were unable to work on site, they turned to innovative new technologies such as remote monitoring and surveillance.  Acknowledging that many countries struggle with measuring progress, given that the existing indicators are not well set up to address interlinkages, he said the ocean must be placed at the heart of policymaking.

Ms. ALISJAHBANA, stressing that Governments alone will be unable to reach this Goal by 2030, said that accelerating action requires identifying interlinkages and finding relevant stakeholders.  She also called for the strengthening of ocean-based solutions, such as expanding the ocean’s capacity to absorb carbon dioxide and promoting low-carbon energy and shipping, which could provide one fifth of the carbon mitigation needed to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement on climate change by 2050.  These reductions equate to the emissions of all the world’s coal-fired power plants, she added.

She went on to call for strengthened scientific research, development and technology to harness ocean-based solutions, noting that only 1.7 per cent of national research budgets are allocated to ocean science.  For its part, the Commission is working to advance ocean accounting through its co-chairing of the Global Ocean Accounts Partnership and the development of national pilot activities within the region.  Going forward, it will support intergovernmental processes and initiatives to address important interlinkages, such as the correlation between Goal 12 (responsible consumption and production), marine pollution and Goal 8 (decent work and economic growth).

Ms. MOREIRA highlighted the remarkable success of the World Trade Organization (WTO) at its recent ministerial conference, where for the first time its members adopted a multilateral agreement on ending harmful fishing subsidies.  Describing it as the “first wave” of many more such actions, she outlined the vision of a “new blue deal”, built on global trade and innovation, that harnesses the ocean’s economic and social value.  Highlighting the uncharted potential of trade in ocean-based goods and services, which is currently only 3 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP), she highlighted the possibilities of sustainable fisheries, tourism, biotechnology and zero-emissions shipping.

Further, she noted, ocean energy, including offshore wind and tidal wave, supports Sustainable Development Goals 7 (affordable and clean energy) and 13 (climate action), she said, noting the potential for increasing its current modest proportion of 5 per cent of the world’s renewable energy output.  The ocean can also contribute nutritious food to meet the global food needs, she said, highlighting the almost non-existent carbon footprint of seaweed.

Mr. FOX, describing Oceans 5 as an international funders’ collaborative comprised of 23 philanthropic foundations from the United States and Europe that provides direct grants to civil-society organizations, said it focuses on strengthening fisheries management, combatting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, establishing marine protected areas and constraining offshore oil and gas development.  Over the past 10 years, it has provided $120 million to groups working in over 60 countries, he said, predicting significant new grant-making in regions like the high seas, Antarctica and among the Pacific islands.

Private philanthropy, he continued, is expressing greater interest in tackling issues related to social justice, which will have significant impacts on Goal 14 and others relating to poverty, hunger, equality and climate.  By way of example, he pointed out that five countries catch over 80 per cent of all fish on the high seas.  “I anticipate that we will see greater attention from private philanthropy to reversing these inequities,” he said, also noting that it will likely become much more involved in coastal fisheries and community-based conservation, as small-scale fisheries support the vast majority of jobs, food and people in coastal communities but are “notoriously poorly managed”.

Launching the interactive dialogue, lead discussant Charlina Vitcheva, Director-General in charge of Fisheries and Maritime Affairs at the European Commission, underscored the bloc’s integrated approach to sustainable development, highlighting the “European Green Deal” which aims to transform Europe into a more prosperous and inclusive society, while becoming carbon-neutral by 2050.  Citing expert opinion that there are more potential synergies than trade-offs between the Goals, she highlighted the Commission’s “system thinking approach,” illustrated by the publication of a handbook for voluntary review of the Sustainable Development Goals, which has been used by many cities.

Noting Goal 14’s relation to Goal 6 (clean water and sanitation), she said that fresh and marine waters are interlinked and should be coordinated to ensure a well-functioning hydrological cycle.  Wetlands protect water quality by tapping sediments and filtering pollutants, she said, adding that an internationally legally binding instrument on combating plastic pollution is a crucial element of this relationship.

The second lead discussant, Claire Jolly, Head of Unit of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Directorate for Science, Technology and Innovation, said that fish and other seafood products can play a significant role in improving global nutrition and achieving Sustainable Development Goal 2 (zero hunger) and are also increasingly linked to Goal 13 (climate action).  It is estimated that 170 million people worldwide could avoid undernutrition by 2030 by expanding sustainable seafood production through effective fisheries management, financial investments and aquaculture innovation.  However, with global heating being absorbed by the ocean, the productivity and geographic distribution of fish stocks are changing, which means that global warming may result in existing species disappearing and new species arriving in the exclusive economic zones of as many as 70 countries.

On this point, she said that, while the recent historic WTO deal is a positive development, it has its own challenges as many harmful subsidies — such as fuel costs — are not taken into account.  She emphasized, however, that effectively managed fisheries can not only maintain production, but can sustainably produce more fish.  Spotlighting the fact that taxes relevant to ocean sustainability generated at least $4 billion in 2018, she added that effective policy supported by science can be put into place to address the myriad pressures on the ocean.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, representatives from different Member States shared their experiences with cross-cutting implementation of the 2030 Agenda, while civil society stakeholders called on Governments to partner with scientists and the private sector.

The representative of Trinidad and Tobago, noting the urgent challenge of eradicating poverty and addressing climate change, highlighted the critical opportunity for ocean-related climate mitigation action.  Her country is undertaking studies to quantify carbon storage in mangrove forests, as well as promoting public awareness about the role of mangroves, she said.

Along similar lines, Brazil’s representative noted that, with 70 per cent of its territory covered by rivers and most inhabitants clustered on the coast, integrating Goal 6 and Goal 14 is crucial.  Highlighting environmental legislation and water resources management laws, he said the Government has invested significantly in the preservation of freshwater resources.

The representative of the Sustainable Ocean Alliance expressed concern, as a scientist, over the critical loss of biodiversity and climate change and appealed to Member States to connect with the young people at this Conference and beyond.  Governments must get to know the scientific community within their respective countries, she stressed, adding:  “Trust us.”  She went on to ask those delegations present if they could identify which species are important to preserving biodiversity in their respective nations.  If not, they should ask the experts, she said.

Oman overlooks three seas, that country’s representative explained, sharing the story of a humpback whale that was trapped in fishing nets along the coast and needed to be rescued.  Fishing tools can affect sea life if not used and disposed carefully, she cautioned.

The speaker from the International Seabed Authority, citing an independent report commissioned in 2021 assessing how the Authority’s work advances the 2030 Agenda, pointed out that it has already played a meaningful role in 12 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.  Among other efforts, the Authority works to strengthen the rule of law in ocean governance; develop deep-sea mineral resources to benefit all of humanity; ensure a rapid, safe transition to low-carbon economies; develop the institutional capacity of developing States; and contribute to marine science by advancing and sharing knowledge of the deep sea.

Nauru’s delegate, who spoke for the Pacific small island developing States, noted that most of the populations in her group of countries live near the coast, with their food systems and income security heavily dependent on oceans.  Stressing the need for a dynamic, interconnected global ocean system, she said Goal 17 (partnerships for the Goals) speaks to revitalizing global capacity building and expressed concern about the lack of investment in oceans.

The representative of Cabo Verde joined her in calling for specific funding for small island developing States, stating that the COVID-19 pandemic placed a “magnifying glass” over poverty, hunger, social inequality and lack of basic sanitation.  He went on to emphasize the need to manage maritime areas to ensure that human economic activities respect environmental values, also highlighting the importance of guaranteeing fishery policies that respect fish stocks.

Portugal’s delegate also called for intelligent management of fishing resources, noting that after limiting sardine fishing, her country saw a significant recovery of sardine stock, which translated into improved catches this year.  Highlighting the growing consumer demand for high-quality sea products, she said that aquaculture can be a viable complement for wild fishing.

The speaker from the National Ocean Policy Coalition pointed to skyrocketing prices, adding that every 1 per cent increase in food prices sends 10 million people into extreme poverty.  The ocean economy could double in value through responsible use, he said, stressing the importance of leveraging the private sector’s use of innovative marine technologies.

The speaker from APCO Worldwide LLC, highlighting the spirit of boldness and curiosity that animates companies such as hers, said that marine debris illustrates the saying “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure”.  As technology advances, recycled plastic has the potential to become one of the leading industries in a green economy, she said, also drawing attention to the potential of ecotourism.

Co-chaired by Molwyn Joseph, Minister of Health, Wellness and the Environment of Antigua and Barbuda, and Borislav Sandov, Deputy Prime Minister for Climate Policies and Minister of Environment and Waters of Bulgaria, the dialogue was moderated by James Leape, William and Eva Price Senior Fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Romania, Philippines, Zimbabwe, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Haiti and Bahrain, as well as speakers from Local Governments for Sustainability — Cities Biodiversity Center, Medical Impact and Acqua Mater.

For information media. Not an official record.