The second much awaited United Nations Ocean Conference took place last week (June 27th – July 1st) in Lisbon, Portugal. The Conference gathered ocean stakeholders from all over the world, including Heads of Governments, leaders from the private sector, the scientific community and more, to implement Sustainable Development Goal 14 for the conservation and sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources. Mercator Ocean International was honoured to host and contribute to several events together with major partners.
Commitments to conserve and restore the oceans and seas
The conference was introduced by a unanimous political declaration by UN Member States: “We reaffirm that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and we are deeply alarmed by the adverse effects of climate change on the ocean and marine life” (read the whole declaration). At the opening of the Conference plenary, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres recalled the pressures to which the oceans are subjected, including the rise in ocean temperatures, ocean acidification, deoxygenation, sea level rise, the decrease in polar ice coverage, shifts in the abundance and distribution of marine species, including fish, decrease in marine biodiversity, as well as coastal erosion and extreme weather events. He offered four recommendations for addressing the ocean emergency:
- Invest in sustainable ocean economies for food and renewable energy
- Use the ocean as a model for how to manage global problems for the greater good
- Protect the ocean and people whose lives and livelihoods depend on them
- Invest in an early warning system to protect coastal communities.
Numerous governments pledged to take action to face the “Ocean Emergency”. Of note is Angola’s commitment to plant 1 million mangroves in 8 months. Greece has committed to establishing marine protected areas in 30% of its maritime territory, and to halving marine plastic waste and reducing microplastics by 30% by 2030. The Australian government has pledged nearly $1.2 billion to preserve and restore the Great Barrier Reef over the next decade. Many governments have pledged to strengthen the fight against IUU fishing (US, Canada, UK, Corome, Georgia, Venezuela, Benin, Spain and more) and to increase the size of their marine protected areas (Monaco, Benin, Oman, Greece, Israel and more). France also took stance against deep-sea mining: President Emmanuel Macron stated that conservation and the development of knowledge about such areas – which are still largely unknown – are the main priorities.
Ocean knowledge needs and digital ocean solutions
Increasing ocean knowledge by developing digital solutions was one of the main topics discussed throughout the UN Ocean Conference, beginning on the very first day, during the event organised by Mercator Ocean International in collaboration with IOC-UNESCO, the UNEP GEMS – Ocean, and the European Commission: Digital Ocean systems to support and strengthen the implementation of SDGs.
The event recalled the European Commission’s commitment to develop, with the support and constitution of an intergovernmental organisation, a digital twin of the ocean. It gathered a wide panel of lecturers, policy makers, EU Member States and marine experts. They all agreed on the importance and shared the will of proposing state-of-the-art digital solutions to tackle the impact of climate change in the frame of SDG 14.
As stated by Joanna Post from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), “We need to weave information between science and policy. There is a massive opportunity from the ocean observing community to bring in information directly to decision makers and provide indicators to evaluate progress on climate change targets.”
The topic was further discussed during the morning dialogue “Increasing scientific knowledge and developing research capacities and transfer of marine technology“, co-chaired by Amélie de Montchalin, Minister for Ecological Transition and Territorial Cohesion, and Franz Tattenbach, Costa Rican Minister for the Environment and Energy. The French minister stressed that science should underpin political decision-making for the protection of the environment.
Launch of the OceanPrediction Decade Collaborative Centre
The Decade Collaborative Centre for Ocean Prediction was officially launched at the Ocean Decade Forum on Thursday 30th June. Hosted by Mercator Ocean International, the OceanPrediction DCC will focus on mainly two areas. “We will build and operate a global forum for the ocean forecasting community, and we will have technical activities that will allow more and better integrated ocean forecasting services for the future,” explains Enrique Alvarez, Technical Coordinator of the OceanPrediction Decade Collaborative Centre at MOi.
Towards Integrated Marine Litter Monitoring to Inform Action
MOi, as the host the GEO Blue Planet European Office through the EU4OceanObs project together with GOOS, the AIR Centre and UNEP organised a side event on 29 June 2022 in Cascais to promote international action on monitoring marine litter. In the context of the SDG 14.1.1 targets and the UNEA-5 announcement to forge an international legally binding agreement by 2024, the event focused on marine litter observation, remote sensing and modelling as key pillars for supporting the establishment of realistic plastic litter reduction targets and developing policies to reach these targets. Welcoming 86 participants from 23 countries, the event also included the involvement of Early Career Ocean Professionals (ECOP) through the OceanBRIDGES initiative, and endorsed programme of the UN Ocean Decade promoting intergenerational dialogue. The event served to advocate the necessity of a global sustained Integrated Marine Debris Observing System (IMDOS) that will work hand in hand with the UNEP Global Partnership on Marine Litter to address critical knowledge gaps and other stakeholder needs, including by supporting the Digital Platform
The need for an International Panel for Ocean Sustainability (IPOS)
The event entitled The need for an International Panel for Ocean Sustainability (IPOS)was organised by the Ocean Climate Platform and supported by MOi. It introduced the project to establish an International Panel for Ocean Sustainability (IPOS) for the assessment of the current and future state of the ocean. Pierre Bahurel, Director General of Mercator Ocean International, intervened to demonstrate the complementarity of parties. Organisations such as MOi produce and disseminate ocean knowledge with organisations that interpret, deduce and derive recommendations from this knowledge – as the IPCC does and as IPOS would do – and those that produce laws, guidelines and legal commitments, based on the work of the two previous ones. This is the case for the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive at the European Commission, but also the UN Sustainable Development Goal 14, UN Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction and so on.
Ocean of Solutions to Tackle the Climate & Biodiversity
Hosted by the French Government and Ocean Climate Platform, in collaboration with French and international partners, including MOi, the event Ocean of Solutions to Tackle the Climate & Biodiversity built on the outcomes of the One Ocean Summit, held in Brest in February 2022. The discussions focused on international partnerships on Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), biodiversity and climate change, where ocean science has a significant role to play. As stated by Pierre Bahurel, the transition from a Digital Ocean to a Digital Twin Ocean will considerably change the way ocean knowledge is created and shared in support of the environmental SDGs.
Co-Designing the value chain from data to impact through a partnership approach
The event co-organised by UNEP, IOC-UNESCO, MOi, GOOS and the G7 Future of the Seas and Ocean Initiative intended to “act as a bridge or ‘missing link’ connecting existing ocean and coastal observing and monitoring systems to each other and to end users and stakeholders to create a continuous feedback loop that addresses needs and supports the development of innovative solutions to the problems our ocean and coasts are facing”. As explained by Pierre Bahurel, Mercator Ocean International is thoroughly committed in this field, both for the European Commission in the frame of the Copernicus Marine Service, and for the United Nations with the Decade Collaborative Centre OceanPrediction, where users’ feedback and requirements are the basis of our service. The same approach applies to the G7 Future of the Seas and Ocean Initiative, as explained by Maria Hood, head of the G7 FSOI European Office at MOi.
Speakers agreed on the vital importance of the mutual connection between Science and Policy, as they find a balance and adapt to the challenges of each country or region, which are very different from one another. Therefore, the new GEMS Ocean service (Global Environment Monitoring Service Ocean) that UNEP is setting up, presented by Hartwig Kremer makes this virtuous loop a condition for success.
Towards the next UN Ocean Conference
Mercator Ocean International’s interventions at this United Nations Ocean Conference were focused on improving dialogue and best practices between Science and Policy, echoing the One Ocean Summit held in Brest, France, in February. The next three years will be crucial to keep building in this area, directly in the activities of the Decade Collaborative Centre, the European office of the G7 FSOI and in the construction of an EU Digital Twin Ocean.
France and Costa Rica announced their candidacy to host the next UN Ocean Conference in 2025 in France, which was officially welcomed by Peter Thomson, UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean. It will be an excellent opportunity for MOi to measure the evolution of all these commitments as we move towards the transformation into an Intergovernmental Organisation.