Apologizing for His Generation’s Failure, Secretary-General Tells Ocean Conference Youth Forum They Will Be Essential in Reversing Worsening Trends, Rescuing Planet

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the United Nations Ocean Conference Youth and Innovation Forum, in Lisbon today:

Let me start by just following on the words of the Portuguese President [Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa] and to apologize, on behalf of my generation, to your generation, in relation to the state of the oceans, the state of biodiversity and the state of climate change.

In my generation, those that were politically responsible — that is my case — we were slow or sometimes unwilling to recognize that things were getting worse and worse in these three dimensions:  ocean, climate and biodiversity.  And that even today, we are moving too slowly in relation to the need to reverse the threat, of rehabilitating the oceans, rescuing biodiversity and stopping climate change.  We are still moving in the wrong direction.

There are some inflection points, but we are globally still moving in the wrong direction.  It's a generational responsibility and that goes far beyond political leaders; also, economic leaders that usually have put profit before sustainability, caring only about shareholders’ values.

The most obvious case is the fossil fuel industry.  For decades they have been spending millions and millions on false science, on public relations, trying to give the impression that the fossil fuels are not really contaminating the world and that climate change was not exactly what people would say.  It reminds me of the tobacco industry that did exactly the same, to say that tobacco was totally harmless, that there wouldn't be any problem for the health.

It's time for these behaviours to be seriously condemned.  We are now in a situation in which we live a triple crisis:  climate crisis, biodiversity crisis, pollution crisis.  And the ocean is the reception point of all these crises.

Because of climate change, we see the dramatic impacts in the oceans.  Oceans are warmer.  We see corals being destroyed.  We see storms becoming more and more devastating everywhere.  Overfishing is having a dramatic impact on biodiversity, but also, the destruction of corals has a dramatic impact on biodiversity.  And biodiversity, obviously, is something that is essential for us to preserve.  One day we will be alone on this planet without anything else.  It would be a total disaster.

And pollution.  Can you imagine that there is an area of plastics in the Pacific — covering the ocean that is as big as France — and we are still throwing 8 million tons of plastic into the oceans every year.  And then of course, all the other forms of pollution that make several coastal areas be what we call black areas, where no life is possible.

We see the quality of our oceans being put into question every day.  So, my generation must assume the responsibility of where we are.  And, as the President said, even if we will probably be able to do something to reverse it, your generation will inherit a planet in trouble.  We will need to do everything to reverse everything:  reverse political decisions; reverse economic decisions; and reverse individual behaviours.

Let's be honest.  When I look at myself and my own behaviour, my footprint on the planet is too big.  And if my footprint on the planet is too big, we have now the use of about 1.4 of our planet.  If the whole world would have the lifestyle and the living conditions of developed countries, we would now be using three planets, but we have only one.

So, we will need to reverse many things:  political decisions, economic behaviour [and] individual behaviours.  Your generation will be essential.  Now, to live already.  Tomorrow, to be able to manage and reverse this trend and rescue the planet.  And I wish you the best success — the success that, unfortunately, my generation was not able to have.

For information media. Not an official record.