UN Ocean Conference 2022: US and other parties pledge urgent action

Written by Dr. Florence Akano

At the UN Ocean Conference currently ongoing in Lisbon Portugal, US climate envoy John Kerry confirmed his country’s involvement in the Global Alliance against Acidification, emphasizing the inextricable relationship between climate change and sea-level rise.

“The percentage of oxygen in the oceans is declining, with impacts on the chemistry of the seas. Acidity is increasing. Rain carries greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to the sea, whose ph is dropping,” Kerry said.

The consequences, he said, “will touch all human beings,” and “little island states” would experience them sooner than the rest of the globe, he said during a multi-stakeholder conversation session at the United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon.

As a result, the United States will join the alliance that brings together governments and non-governmental groups in an endeavour to expand understanding of the effects of acidification and reduce sea-level rise, the primary cause of which is harmful gas emissions caused by human activities. The United States are well aware of the pull their involvement in the alliance will have on other nations committing to the measures agreed on in the conference and afterwards. This also comes as there is a clamour for more active, concerted and proactive plans toward a response to climate change. Activists have complained about inactivity and partial or even outright non-concern from governments and other parties. The alliance hence is a good sign and its widespread adoption is great news.

“We won’t succeed unless we go to the source.” Last year, emissions grew by 6%. That does not address the root cause. That is hardly progress toward a more sustainable way of living. “What matters most is that we transition to a low-carbon or zero-carbon future as soon as feasible,” he stated.

Kerry demanded “urgent action,” pointing out that “every tenth of a degree [of global temperature rise has a “massive, trillion-dollar cost.” “If we don’t reply, all of this will be empty talk, all of these gatherings will consign us to the trash of history,” he said. The severity of the issue and the need for immediate action to save the oceans, the climate, the world and even the world economy could not have been better emphasised.

Photo: genevaenvironmentnetwork.org

The fight against acidification also involves ocean-specific measures such as the construction of marine protected zones and the transition to less-polluting “green shipping,” which has already been agreed upon by nine governments, including the United States, a number that “is insufficient.”

Maersk, the world’s largest shipping business, “has already guaranteed that the next eight ships it builds would be ‘carbon-free,’ and if Maersk can do it, so can everyone,” he claimed.

Kerry also supported the rising installation of offshore wind and solar energy production platforms, stating that production capacity is expanding and that “all nations can strengthen their energy security with more renewable energy.”

Kerry has been in Portugal since June 27 to lead the United States delegation to the United Nations Ocean Conference, which is being convened by the United Nations General Assembly and co-hosted by the governments of Portugal and Kenya. The delegates are also among other dignitaries like the Presidents of Columbia, Ghana, Tanzania, etc, and of course the Presidents of the host nations, Portugal and Kenya. Already, the conference has featured some splashy promises from governments and the commercial sector, earning cautious applause from conservationists who caution that leaders must do more to conserve the ocean for mankind and marine life. President Biden has signed a memorandum to combat illicit, unreported, and unregulated fishing, which is a major source of global overfishing and frequently involves forced labour, human trafficking, and other human rights violations. According to a White House information sheet, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada will ally to increase fisheries surveillance and “bring bad actors accountable.” A working group of 21 federal agencies will announce a five-year strategy to combat illicit fishing, while the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published a draft regulation to eliminate forced labour in the seafood supply chain on Monday. Colombia’s outgoing President Iván Duque stated Monday that his country has conserved 30% of the ocean off its beaches, making it the first country in the Western Hemisphere to achieve this aim by 2030. (Duque will be succeeded by President-elect Gustavo Petro, a socialist who won a historic election on June 19 and has promised to restrict new oil exploration contracts in Latin America’s third-largest country).

Not only have governments made promises, but private organisations are also doing their bits; The Bezos Earth Fund, the environmental non-profit founded by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, announced its first contributions totalling $50 million on Monday. A total of $30 million in grants will be awarded to groups striving to establish a network of marine protected areas spanning more than 193,000 square miles off the coastlines of Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Panama. A $20 million award will finance the National Geographic Society’s Pristine Seas project, which will undertake research in the central and western Pacific Oceans, which have the richest marine biodiversity on the globe, during the next five years. Bloomberg Philanthropies and eight other generous partners have pledged $1 billion to fund the establishment, development, and maintenance of marine protected areas. The pledge is about equivalent to all charitable donations for marine protected areas and habitat conservation during the previous decade. 

At the conference, there is both hope and a sense of urgency to address climate change before it is too late. There is optimism that efforts made now would be smiled upon in future and the world would be a better place through these efforts. The conference will come to an end on the 1st of July.

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Dr. Florence Akano

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