‘Let’s All Become the Champions the Ocean Needs’, Secretary-General Tells Race Summit, Calling 2023 Year of Super Action in Ending Seas’ Emergency

Following is UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the Ocean Race Summit, in Cabo Verde today:

Permitam-me que comece por exprimir ao senhor primeiro-ministro, Ulisses Correia e Silva, a minha profunda gratidão pela extraordinária hospitalidade do Governo e do povo de Cabo Verde que tornaram possível esta etapa da Ocean Race.

E também sobretudo, agradecer-lhe o seu compromisso e o compromisso do seu país, de Cabo Verde, quer com a conservação e a valorização sustentável dos oceanos, quer com a ação climática, com relevo particular para a sua liderança no conjunto dos Pequenos Estados Insulares, quer pela proteção da biodiversidade.

Senhor primeiro-ministro, muito obrigado.

We gather on the shores of the mighty Atlantic Ocean today to celebrate something special — the inspiring courage of women and men sailing this gruelling six-month race around the world.

And apparently, it was particularly tough — the movement from Alicante to Cabo Verde.  It’s also inspiring to know that every boat is carrying special equipment to gather scientific data to help ensure a healthy ocean for the future.  Because in the face of climate change and plastic pollution, humanity has its own race to win.  The race to protect our ocean for the future.

The ocean supports the air we breathe, the food we consume, the cultures and identities that define us, the jobs and prosperity that sustain us, the regulation of weather and climate and billions of animals, plants and microorganisms that call the ocean home.

The ocean is life.  The ocean is livelihoods.  And the ocean is in trouble.  Humanity has been waging a senseless and self-defeating war on nature.  And the ocean is on the front lines of the battle.  Which means small island developing States like Cabo Verde are, too, in that frontline.

Around 35 per cent of global fish stocks in the world are over-exploited.  Global heating is pushing ocean temperatures to new heights, fuelling more frequent and intense storms, rising sea levels, and the salinization of coastal lands and aquifers. 

Once-rich coral habitats are being bleached to oblivion.  Mangrove forests are being destroyed, taking the species they host with them.  And meanwhile, toxic chemicals and millions of tons of plastic waste are flooding into coastal ecosystems — killing or injuring fish, sea turtles, seabirds and marine mammals, and making their way into the food chain and ultimately being consumed by us.  By 2050, there could be more plastic in the sea than fish.

So, dear friends, the good news is that last year, the world took some important steps to correct our course.  This includes the historic agreement in Nairobi to negotiate a globally binding treaty to control plastic pollution.  It includes the World Trade Organization’s agreement to end harmful fisheries subsidies that so often result in illegal fishing.

At the United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon, countries have made hundreds of new voluntary commitments and pledges to protect the ocean — a positive trend we hope will continue at this year’s conference in Panama.  And at the United Nations Biodiversity Conference in Montreal, countries agreed on a target to protect 30 per cent of land, water, coastal and marine ecosystems by 2030.

Some have called 2022 the ocean’s “super year”.  But the race is far from over.  We need to make 2023 a year of “super action”, so we can end the ocean emergency once and for all.  From effectively implementing the many legal and policy instruments related to the ocean — such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which turned 40 last year — to concluding the long-overdue agreement on marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, which cover over two thirds of our ocean and whose last global gathering, unfortunately, did not manage to reach an agreement.

We also need urgent action in four other fundamental ways.  First, ending the ocean emergency requires sustainable maritime industries.  This means smart, sustainable fishing practices — including aquaculture — to guarantee a strong seafood industry into the future.  It means carefully managing and regulating development and resource extraction, with precaution, protection and conservation at the core of all activities. 

It means the reduction and prevention of marine pollution from both land and sea-based sources.  And it means public and private partners jointly investing in restoring and conserving coastal ecosystems, such as mangroves, wetlands and coral reefs.  In this regard, countries can emulate Cabo Verde, whose marine conservation and protection ambitions are firmly embedded in the national sustainable development strategy, “Ambition 2030”.

Second, ending the ocean emergency means delivering massive support for developing countries living with the first and worst impacts of the degradation of our climate and ocean.  Developing countries, and particularly the small island developing States, are victims of a morally bankrupt global financial system, designed by the rich countries to benefit the rich countries.

Bias is baked into the system.  It routinely denies developing countries — particularly vulnerable middle-income countries and small island developing States like Cabo Verde — the levels of concessional financing and debt relief that would be necessary.  And I will continue urging leaders and international financial institutions to join forces and develop creative ways to ensure that developing countries can access debt relief and concessional financing when they need it most.

And this must include re-allocating unused special drawing rights according to the needs of developing countries.  I will keep pressing for a Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Stimulus Package to help Governments of the Global South invest in the systems that support development and resilience.  And I will always stand with developing countries as they protect and restore their ecosystems following decades and centuries of degradation and loss.

Third, ending the ocean emergency means winning the race against a changing climate.  And this is another race that humanity is currently losing.  At a time when we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions to secure our future on this planet, we are on the verge of crossing the 1.5°C limit that a liveable future requires.

Now is the time to deliver real action on climate.  Deliver on the establishment of the loss and damage fund that the world committed to at Sharm El-Sheikh.  Deliver on the $100 billion commitment of developed countries to support developing States.  Deliver on the promise to double adaptation finance.  Deliver on closing the emissions gap, phasing out coal, and accelerating the renewable energy revolution.  And deliver on a climate solidarity pact in which all countries, and particularly the biggest emitters, work to keep the 1.5°C goal alive.

Together with international financial institutions and the private sector, developed countries must provide financial and technical assistance to help major emerging economies transition to renewable energy.  And I also call on ocean-based industries to follow the lead of the Ocean Race and limit their carbon footprints.

For example, the shipping sector must commit to net zero emissions by 2050, and present credible plans to implement such a commitment.  And I was very happy to learn that there is a solid programme in Cabo Verde in relation to the reduction of emissions in the harbour activities that it is also extremely relevant.

And fourth, ending the ocean emergency means deploying science, technology and innovation on an unprecedented scale.  We are now into the third year of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science.  By 2030, we must have achieved our goal of mapping 80 per cent of the seabed.

We must see new partnerships among researchers, Governments and the private sector to support ocean research and sustainable ocean planning and management.  We must see investment in state-of-the-art, climate-resilient coastal infrastructure — from towns and villages to port installations.

And to protect coastal communities and workers at sea from natural disasters, we must massively invest in technologies and capacities to reach our goal of ensuring universal global early-warning system coverage in the next five years.

Ending the ocean emergency is a race we must win.  And by working as one, it’s a race we can win.  Let’s rescue the Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG 14.  Let’s all become the champions the ocean needs.  Let’s end the ocean emergency and preserve and value this precious blue gift for our children and grandchildren.  Muito obrigado.

For information media. Not an official record.