Humanity’s Well-being Linked to Seas’ Health, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Ocean Summit, Calling for Global Action to Stop Environmental Catastrophe

Following is the text of UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks to the Economist’s tenth annual World Ocean Summit and Expo, in Lisbon, today:

It is an honour to address this gathering recognizing our ocean and life on Earth.  Our oceans harbor wonder and awe.  Marine organisms underpin a healthy functioning marine ecosystem, generating a third of the oxygen we breathe.  Our ocean also absorbs more than a quarter of the carbon dioxide we emit into the atmosphere.

Yet, the triple planetary crisis of climate change, loss of biodiversity, and pollution is pushing our blue horizons toward collapse.  Nutrient pollution, for example, has created some 700 coastal “dead zones”, where nature has become hostile to life.  If we continue on this track, by 2050 our seas could have more plastic than fish.

Our war on nature is leading us towards an environmental catastrophe, sinking any future prospect on this planet.  So, I ask, do we have the courage to confront challenges with change?  Can we pivot from crisis to development?

We do, and we must.  Building on the vast work undertaken by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the United Nations system has been advancing various areas of work.

In February 2022, countries adopted a landmark resolution to end plastic pollution, to achieve by 2024 an international legally binding instrument.   Last year, the United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon and the twenty-seventh session of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change both pledged to support the most vulnerable countries facing the adversity of climate change on marine life, human well-being and livelihoods.

And last December, in Montreal, countries adopted the Global Biodiversity Framework ushering actions and funding to protect 30 per cent of the world’s lands, inland waters, coastal areas and ocean by 2030.

As I speak, delegations are engaged in a resumed session in New York, to address the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, covering nearly two-thirds of the world’s oceans.

There has been progress, but considerable work remains.  In March, at the United Nations Water Conference, and in May, at the mid-term review of the Sendai Framework, we have opportunities to advance our mission to protect our blue and green planet for future generations and identify high impact initiatives to bring to the Sustainable Development Goals Summit in September.

 As we chart a new course to live in harmony with nature, the ocean must be among our key allies.  So, I have five points for action.  First, be bold.  Devise innovative solutions — with defined roadmaps — to achieve our targets under Sustainable Development Goal 14, and related targets to 2030.

Second, marshal the funding necessary, from all sources, to safeguard the ocean.  By mobilizing $200 billion annually by 2030 for biodiversity action, a portion should ensure the protection of our ocean.  Support an “SDG Stimulus” for developing countries to access debt relief and concessional financing when they need it most.

Third, build the evidence base to inform decisions that work for, rather than against, our ocean and keep companies accountable on their commitments to transition to a sustainable ocean-based economy.

Fourth, be prepared to rethink the status quo.  To save our seas, we must end the $21 billion in taxpayer subsidies annually to the large-fleet fishing industry.  We must also work to bring the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies into force.

Fifth, position our ocean at the heart of our decision-making. Because the health of humanity is inextricably linked to the health of our seas.  It needs our urgent global action now.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.