World Leaders Pledge Greater Action to Save Oceans from Existing, Future Threats, Adopting Sweeping Political Declaration as Lisbon Conference Concludes
LISBON, 1 July — The 2022 United Nations Ocean Conference concluded today with world leaders adopting an action-oriented Political Declaration to save the ocean from existing and future threats, including marine pollution, harmful fishing practices, biodiversity loss, and acidification.
Through the Declaration, titled “Our Ocean, Our Future, Our Responsibility”, Heads of State and Government and high-level representatives participating in the Conference — which focused on Sustainable Development Goal 14 (life below water) — said that greater ambition is required at all levels to address the dire state of the ocean.
“As leaders and representatives of our Governments, we are determined to act decisively and urgently to improve the health, productivity, sustainable use and resilience of the ocean and its ecosystems,” they said, expressing deep regret over their collective failure to achieve several of the targets of Goal 14 despite progress in some areas.
The week-long Conference brought together some 6,500 participants — including Heads of State and Government, officials of intergovernmental organizations, representatives of civil society organizations, and other stakeholders — under the theme “Scaling Up Ocean Action Based on Science and Innovation for the Implementation of Goal 14: Stocktaking, Partnerships and Solutions”. The outcome document will be forwarded to the United Nations General Assembly’s forthcoming seventy-sixth session for its endorsement.
“We know that restoring harmony with nature through a healthy, productive, sustainable and resilient ocean is critical for our planet, our lives and our future,” world leaders said in the 17-paragraph Declaration, calling upon all stakeholders to urgently take ambitious, concerted action to expedite implementation of Goal 14 without undue delay.
Highlighting the important role of science, technology and innovation in overcoming hurdles to achieving Goal 14 — a major theme throughout the week — they pointed to better understanding the impact of cumulative human activity on the ocean; shoring up fish stock to levels that produce at least maximum sustainable yield in the shortest time feasible; and mobilizing actions for sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, among other measure.
Also recognizing that developing countries — particularly small island developing States and least developed countries — face capacity challenges, they committed to strengthen scientific observation and data collection to inform decision-making and planning and to provide them with finance, technology transfer and capacity-building.
Drawing attention to marine pollution — another major issue of concern during the deliberations — they stressed the value of preventing and eliminating marine plastic litter, such as single-use plastics and microplastics, through resource efficiency and recycling, ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns and developing viable alternatives for consumer and industrial uses.
Miguel De Serpa Soares, Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and United Nations Legal Counsel, Special Adviser to the Presidents of the Conference on oceans and legal matters, delivered closing remarks on behalf of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, noting that many initiatives showcased at the Conference have demonstrated how stakeholders can come together to transition towards a sustainable ocean-based economy and, as a result, protect biodiversity, community livelihoods and climate resilience. The voluntary commitments made at the Conference must be implemented at pace and monitored, and their progress must be showcased. “It is not too late to break the cycle of biodiversity decline, ocean warming, acidification and marine pollution. But there is no time to lose,” he said.
Echoing that sentiment, Tobiko Keriako, Cabinet Secretary of Kenya’s Ministry for Environment and Forestry and one of the Conference co-chairs, said: “We are all in agreement that we cannot have a healthy planet without a healthy ocean.” The wide disparity in capacity, finance, and access to technology required for sustainable ocean action between developed and developing countries must be closed. Further, the transition to sustainable ocean action must be just and inclusive, ensuring that no one is left behind.
Marcelo Rebelo De Sousa, President of Portugal, who also co-chaired the Conference, stressing the need to fulfil promises made, said that his country, together with Kenya, wanted to make the Conference — during a time of pandemic and war — a sign of peace, both with nature and among people, a symbol of multilateralism in the face of alluring unilateralism and “a moment for mobilization and not contemplation”. Noting that expectations were lower than the outcome, he said that the Political Declaration is a sign of the spirit of the United Nations, urging more ambition, action and passion.
At the outset of the meeting, the following speakers presented summaries of the Conference’s eight interactive dialogues: Flavien Joubert, Minister for Environment, Energy and Climate Change of the Seychelles, on “Addressing marine pollution”; Abraão Vicente, Minister for the Sea of Cabo Verde, on “Promoting and strengthening sustainable ocean-based economies, in particular for small island developing States and least-developed countries”; Sally Box, Assistant Secretary for Climate and Environment Policy of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia, on “Managing, protecting, conserving and restoring marine and coastal ecosystems”; and Matthew Samuda, Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry for Economic Growth and Job Creation of Jamaica, on “Ocean acidification, deoxygenation and ocean warming”.
Also presenting summaries were Derek Klazen, Minister for Fisheries and Marine Resources of Namibia, on “Making fisheries sustainable and providing access for small-scale artisanal fishers to marine resources and markets”; Franz Tattenbach, Minister for Environment and Energy of Costa Rica, and Denis Robin, Secretary-General for the Sea of France, on “Increasing scientific knowledge and developing research capacity and transfer of marine technology”; Scott Loh, Deputy Director-General for Climate Change and Sustainable Development of Singapore, and Anna Pála Sverrisdóttir, Counsellor and Legal Adviser for the Permanent Mission of Iceland to the United Nations, on “Enhancing the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources by implementing international law, as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea”; and Molwyn Joseph, Minister for Health, Wellness and the Environment of Antigua and Barbuda, on “Leveraging interlinkages between Sustainable Development Goal 14 and other Goals towards the implementation of the 2030 Agenda”.
The following speakers then presented key points from discussions occurring during four special events that took place on the margins of the Conference: Luisa Salgueiro, Mayor of Matosinhos, on the Localizing Action for the Ocean with Local and Regional Governments, held on 25 June in Matosinhos; Abbas Mahmoud, Youth Delegate of Kenya, on the Youth and Innovation Forum, held on 24-26 June in Carcavelos; Duarte Cordeiro, Minister for the Environment and Climate Action of Portugal, on the High-Level Symposium on Water — Bridging SDG 6 and SDG 14, held on 27 June in Lisbon; and Peter Thomson, United Nations Special Envoy for the Ocean, on the Sustainable Blue Economy Investment Forum, held on 28 June in Cascais.
In other business, the Conference adopted the draft resolution titled “Credentials of representatives to the 2022 United Nations Conference to Support the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development” (document A/CONF.230/2022/13) and accepted the additional credentials from the Czech Republic, Indonesia, Kenya, Latvia, Palau, and Seychelles, as well as the European Union.
Before action on the text, the representatives of Palau, China, United States, Marshall Islands, Pakistan and the United Kingdom took the floor to express their position on whether participants holding a Taiwanese passport who were part of the delegations of Palau and Tuvalu should have been given credentials.
The Conference adopted its draft report and authorized the Rapporteur-General to finalize the document in conformity with the practice of the United Nations.
Also speaking today were the representatives Denmark and Grenada, as the co-facilitators of the intergovernmental negotiations for the draft Declaration, as well as the representatives of Azerbaijan, Armenia, United States, Iran, Venezuela and Costa Rica.
Action on Draft Resolution “Our Ocean, Our Future, Our Responsibility”
Following the presentation of summaries of the eight interactive dialogues and adoption of the report of the Credentials Committee, the Conference had before it the draft resolution titled “Our ocean, our future, our responsibility” (document A/CONF.230/2022/L.1), containing an eponymous Declaration.
By its terms, the United Nations Conference to Support the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development would adopt the Declaration as its outcome document and recommend that the General Assembly endorse, at its seventy-sixth session, the Declaration as adopted by the Conference.
Speaking before action, MARTIN BILLE HERMANN (Denmark), co-facilitator of the intergovernmental negotiations for the draft Declaration, said that while it was an intergovernmental process, a range of other actors participated, including civil society, youth and the private sector. The ocean is an issue that affects everyone and it is fundamental to life on the planet. It is also in trouble and facing a global emergency, he said, pointing to sea-level rise, acidification, degradation of ecosystems, overexploitation of fish stocks and species extinction. “We are running out of time. And we are running out of excuses,” he said. Noting that the Political Declaration adopted at the first Ocean Conference in 2017 was titled “Our ocean, our future”, he said the co-facilitators took the liberty to reuse that excellent title for the 2022 Declaration. “But we added two words — ‘our responsibility’ because the world is looking to us, to our Governments, to our Heads of State to work together to tackle these challenges,” he said.
KEISHA ANIYA MCGUIRE (Grenada), also co-facilitator, said in the Declaration, Member States emphasized deep regret at the collective failure to achieve the four targets under Goal 14 that matured in 2020. The Declaration further reaffirms that climate change is one of the greatest challenges today — also for the ocean and marine life. Climate change is already impacting the ability of marine and coastal ecosystems to provide, inter alia, food, income and decent livelihoods. And at stake is the survival of many islands and coastal nations. The Declaration is meant to be a source of hope. “It demonstrates our joint commitment to raise our ambitions,” she said, stressing that all are needed to work together across borders, regions, sectors and people to implement change, a vital component of the solution. Most importantly, with the Declaration, all 193 Member States commit to urgently take a number of different science-based and innovative actions to reach collective goals. The world is watching, she stressed.
The representative of Azerbaijan said his country is facing growing challenges linked to transboundary water management and pollution. One of the region’s environmental hotspots still under impact is the transboundary river Okhchuchay, polluted by heavy metals and hazardous substances. Copper and molybdenum plants in Armenia operated by a number of international companies are the main source of this pollution. Azerbaijan has asked the international community to urge Armenia to stop this harmful activity, which negatively effects the environment of the whole region. Unfortunately, up until now, international organizations have not reacted adequately to this serious transboundary issue, he said, adding the riverbed urgently needs rehabilitation from harmful substances.
The representative of Armenia said that, at this critical stage when those present are prepared to endorse a declaration resulting from successful intergovernmental discussions, the representative of Azerbaijan is spreading groundless, fictional scenarios, hindering the Conference’s proceedings and demonstrating a “pitiful effort” to falsify and distort developments in the region. Stressing that the Azerbaijani representative’s statement has no relevance to the scope of this Conference and is not linked to the text of the political Declaration, he urged the representative of that country to show “minimum respect” to the Conference’s participants.
“L.1” was then adopted without a vote.
Through the Declaration, Heads of State and Government and high-level representatives participating in the Conference noted that greater ambition is required at all levels to address the dire state of the ocean, declaring: “As leaders and representatives of our Governments, we are determined to act decisively and urgently to improve the health, productivity, sustainable use and resilience of the ocean and its ecosystems.”
Affirming the Declaration adopted at the 2017 Ocean Conference, they recognized that the ocean is fundamental to life on the planet and to the future and that it is an important source of the planet’s biodiversity and plays a vital role in the climate system, as a sink and reservoir of greenhouse gases. They further recognized that the ocean contributes to food security, nutrition and decent jobs and livelihoods, as well as provides a means for maritime transportation, including for global trade.
Deeply alarmed by the global emergency the ocean is facing, they warned: “Marine pollution is increasing at an alarming rate, a third of fish stocks are overexploited, marine biodiversity continues to decrease and approximately half of all living coral has been lost, while alien invasive species pose a significant threat to marine ecosystems and resources”.
Despite progress toward achieving some of the targets of Sustainable Development Goal 14 (life below water), it is not advancing at the speed or scale required to meet global goals, they said. “We deeply regret our collective failure to achieve targets 14.2 (protect and restore ecosystems), 14.4 (sustainable fishing), 14.5 (conserve coastal and marine areas) and 14.6 (end subsidies contributing to overfishing) that matured in 2020,” they said, renewing their commitment to take urgent action and to cooperate globally, regionally and subregionally to achieve all targets as soon as possible without delay.
Further, the leaders cautioned against the adverse effects of climate change on the ocean and marine life, including the rise in ocean temperatures, ocean acidification, deoxygenation, sea-level rise, shifts in the abundance and distribution of marine species, as well as coastal erosion. They emphasized the importance of implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change — including the goal to limit temperature rise to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5°C — as well as the Glasgow Climate Pact on mitigation, adaptation and the provision and mobilization of finance, technology transfer and capacity-building to developing countries, including small island developing States.
The leaders also called for an ambitious, balanced, practical, effective, robust and transformative post-2020 global biodiversity framework for adoption at the second part of the fifteenth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity — to be held in Canada in December 2022 — while also noting the voluntary commitments by more than 100 Member States to conserve or protect at least 30 per cent of the global ocean within marine protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures by 2030.
Welcoming the decision by the resumed fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly, held in February and March 2022, to convene an intergovernmental negotiating committee to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment, they also called on delegations to reach an ambitious agreement, without delay, on an international legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.
In addition, the leaders recognized the devastating impacts of the COVID‑19 pandemic on ocean-based economy and ocean health, including through increased medical plastic waste, which has disproportionately affected small island developing States. Conservation and sustainable use of the oceans and the advancement of nature-based solutions and ecosystem-based approaches play a critical role in ensuring a sustainable, inclusive and environmentally resilient pandemic recovery, they affirmed.
Noting 2022 marks the fortieth anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, they emphasized that actions to implement Goal 14 should be in line with existing legal instruments, arrangements, processes, mechanisms or entities. They called on participating delegations of the intergovernmental conference on an international legally binding instrument under the Convention on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction to reach an ambitious agreement without delay.
Actions, international cooperation and partnerships based on science, technology and innovation can help achieve Goal 14, they stressed, including by informing integrated ocean management, planning and decision-making, through improved understanding of the impact of cumulative human activities on the ocean; restoring and maintaining fish stocks at levels that produce at least maximum sustainable yield in the shortest time feasible; and mobilizing actions for sustainable fisheries and aquaculture.
Further, in that regard, they cited preventing, reducing and eliminating marine plastic litter, such as single-use plastics and microplastics, including through encouraging resource efficiency and recycling, ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns and developing viable alternatives for consumer and industrial uses.
The leaders also recognized that developing countries — in particular small island developing States and least developed countries — face capacity challenges, and committed to taking urgent science-based and innovative actions, including the strengthening of scientific observation and data collection to inform decision-making and planning as well as enhanced mechanisms for collaboration, knowledge-sharing and exchange of best practices.
They also expressed commitment to establish effective partnerships, including multi-stakeholder, public-private, cross-sectoral, interdisciplinary and scientific partnerships, as well as to promote innovative financing solutions to drive the transformation to sustainable ocean-based economies.
In taking these actions, the leaders pledged to empower women and girls, as their full, equal and meaningful participation is key in progressing towards a sustainable ocean-based economy and to achieving Goal 14, and vowed to ensure that people, especially children and youth, have relevant knowledge and skills to contribute to the health of the ocean, including in decision-making, by supporting quality education and life-long learning for ocean literacy.
Recognizing the important role of indigenous, traditional and local knowledge, innovation and practices, they committed to strengthen the science-policy interface for implementing Goal 14 and its targets, to ensure that policy is informed by the best available science and relevant indigenous, traditional and local knowledge, to highlight policies and action that may be scalable, through processes such as the Regular Process for Global Reporting and Assessment of the State of the Marine Environment, including Socioeconomic Aspects.
Further, they committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from international maritime transportation, especially from shipping, as soon as possible, noting the need to strengthen ambitions of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) initial strategy in that regard.
They also committed to implementing their respective voluntary commitments made in the context of the Conference and urged those who have made voluntary commitments at the 2017 Conference to ensure appropriate review and follow-up of their progress.
The Secretary-General was called upon to continue his efforts to support the implementation of Goal 14, in particular by enhancing inter-agency coordination and coherence throughout the United Nations system on ocean issues through the work of UN-Oceans.
“We know that restoring harmony with nature through a healthy, productive, sustainable and resilient ocean is critical for our planet, our lives and our future,” they concluded, calling upon all stakeholders to urgently take ambitious and concerted action to accelerate implementation to achieve Goal 14 without undue delay.
In explanation of vote after the vote, the representative of the United States emphasized her country’s commitment to implement Sustainable Development Goal 14 alongside other Goals and to take urgent action to combat rising sea levels, coastal erosion, biodiversity loss and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. She went on to say that, while the United States’ delegation joins others in adopting the legally non-binding Declaration that emphasizes the need to implement Goal 14, language in paragraph 4 presents as compulsory and threatens to undermine the aspirational nature of the document. Pointing out that strong intellectual-property protection and enforcement provides the incentives needed to foster innovation, she said that her delegation understands that references to the transfer or dissemination of, and access to, technology contemplates voluntary transfer on mutually agreed terms. Further, all references to access to information and knowledge are understood to refer to that which is made available with the authorization of the legitimate holder thereof.
The representative of Iran said that, while his delegation joined consensus in the spirit of constructive flexibility, there are several important issues not reflected in the document. Despite the important role played by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the consideration and sustainable use of the oceans and marine resources cannot be solely linked to ratification thereof. Iran’s Government has actively participated in negotiations regarding protecting marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, but this constructive engagement should not be construed as a change of national position with regards to the Convention. He added that coastal States must have due regard for the rights of adjacent coastal States.
The representative of Costa Rica confirmed the announcement made on 30 June by the President of France that France and Costa Rica will jointly host the third United Nations Ocean Conference in 2025. Further, the two countries commit to drive forward the blue agenda, along with action to implement conservation measures, and hope that the international community will support this effort.
The representative of Venezuela, pointing out that Caracas is not party to the Convention on the Law of the Sea, said that the Government is only bound by those provisions of the Convention that are present in national legislation. Conditions preventing Venezuela’s accession to the Convention still exist, and the Political Declaration does not constitute a change in the national position thereon.
MIGUEL DE SERPA SOARES, Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and United Nations Legal Counsel, Special Adviser to the Presidents of the Conference on oceans and legal matters, delivered closing remarks on behalf of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres. He said many initiatives showcased at the Conference have demonstrated how stakeholders can come together to transition towards a sustainable ocean-based economy and, as a result, protect biodiversity, community livelihoods and climate resilience. For instance, the shipping industry devised a comprehensive plan to achieve net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. Africa and the 54 Commonwealth countries shared examples of successful international cooperation to grasp the opportunities that ocean-based economies offer. The Seychelles launched the world’s first sovereign blue bond to mobilize private sector investment for marine protection and fishery management. “These success stories should rightly be replicated and scaled up,” he said, commending the new commitments made by so many countries and stakeholders during the Conference.
They include: protecting 30 per cent or more of national maritime zones by 2030; achieving carbon neutrality by 2040; reducing plastic pollution, including through bans on plastics and the development of circular economies; increasing renewable energy use; ensuring that 100 per cent of fish stocks are kept within biologically sustainable limits; and allocating billions of dollars to research on ocean acidification, climate resilience projects, marine protected areas and to monitoring, control and surveillance.
These commitments must be implemented at pace and monitored, and their progress must be showcased. “The United Nations Ocean Conference gives us great hope that there will be the necessary political will to safeguard the future of the ocean,” he said, adding: “It is not too late to break the cycle of biodiversity decline, ocean warming, acidification and marine pollution. But there is no time to lose.”
Outlining priorities for continued attention and action, he called for more investment in coastal ecosystem restoration and conservation, including mangroves, wetlands and coral reefs, which is needed to enhance ocean resilience. Women, who make up a significant percentage of the workforce in coastal and maritime sectors, must be central to these efforts. Sustainably managing 100 per cent of the ocean is a must, he stressed, pointing out that protecting at least 30 per cent of the ocean by 2030 would significantly advance this goal. Multi-stakeholder partnerships must be ambitious, transparent and accountable. “We need all hands on deck to stop the decline of ocean health,” he stressed, adding that the Political Declaration just adopted sends a strong signal on the need to act decisively and urgently to improve the health, sustainable use and resilience of the ocean.
TOBIKO KERIAKO, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry for Environment and Forestry of Kenya, declared: “We are all in agreement that we cannot have a healthy planet without a healthy ocean”. All agreed that there is unequivocal evidence that human interference has resulted in rapid change of the biological, physical, and chemical properties of the ocean in an unprecedented manner. During this Conference, Member States and stakeholders reported back on progress on commitments made during the first Ocean Conference in 2017, and some undertook even more commitments, he said, urging those that have not made commitments to do so in the spirit of solidarity for the ocean and the future. The wide gap and disparity in capacity, finance, and access to technology required for sustainable ocean action between developed and developing countries must be closed.
Further, the transition to sustainable ocean action must be just, inclusive and cognizant of the important role of indigenous communities, knowledge, innovations and practices; women; and youth and children; ensuring that no one is left behind. On the way forward, he called for keeping “the Glasgow spirit of 1.5 alive to keep our BLUE PLANET alive” and stop plastic pollution by adopting a legally binding global treaty on plastics. He also called for the conclusion of the overdue treaty on protection, conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdictions, and serious consideration to the plea to impose a moratorium on deep-sea mining. The outcomes of this Conference could be fed into the deliberations of the forthcoming United Nations conferences, respectively on climate change in Egypt and on post-2020 global biodiversity framework in Canada.
MARCELO REBELO DE SOUSA, President of Portugal, said that “the word in Lisbon was action”, because time is running against the international community. Action is needed in the form of fulfilling promises made, promoting science and technology, mapping the oceans, combating plastic pollution, improving maritime security, facilitating effective financing, protecting ecosystems, effecting carbon capture, concluding a binding treaty on the protection of biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, accelerating negotiation on a future treaty governing the high seas and fighting inequalities across the world. On that last point, he stressed that “this is also destroying the ocean”.
He went on to say that Portugal, together with Kenya, wanted to make this Conference — during a time of pandemic and war — a sign of peace, both with nature and among people, a symbol of multilateralism in the face of alluring unilateralism and “a moment for mobilization and not contemplation”. Noting that expectations were lower than the outcome, he said that the Political Declaration is a sign of the spirit of the United Nations. “But we want more,” he stressed, urging more ambition, more action and more passion. Emphasizing the need to live life and fight for the oceans with passion, he added: “Long live the United Nations and our common spirit; long live the oceans.”