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5 things to know about the Ocean Conference, a chance to save the largest ecosystem on the planet

With the participation of delegates from Member States, non-governmental organizations and universities, as well as entrepreneurs looking for ways to sustainably develop the “blue economy”, the UN hopes that this event, which will take place in Lisbon, Portugal, from June 27 to July 1, will mark a new era for the oceans.

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Peter Thomson, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Ocean.

1. It’s time to focus on solutions

The first conference, in 2017, was a game-changer by alerting the world to ocean issues. According to Peter Thomson, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, Lisbon “is going to be about finding solutions to these problems”.

The event is designed to provide space for the international community to push for the adoption of innovative, science-based solutions for the sustainable management of the oceans, including addressing water acidification, pollution, illegal fishing and loss of habitats and biodiversity.

This year’s conference will also set the level of ambition for the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030). The Decade will be a major theme of the conference and will be the subject of several important events, developing the vision of a healthier and more sustainable ocean.

The UN has set 10 ocean-related goals to be achieved in this decade, as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Organization’s blueprint for a fairer future for people and the planet. . These include measures to prevent and reduce pollution and acidification, protect ecosystems, regulate fisheries and increase scientific knowledge. During the conference, interactive dialogues will focus on how to address many of these issues.

The role of youth will be at the forefront in Lisbon, with young entrepreneurs, working on innovative, science-based solutions to critical issues, forming an important part of the dialogue.

From June 24 to 26, they will participate in the Youth and Innovation Forum, a platform aimed at helping young entrepreneurs and innovators to scale up their initiatives, projects and ideas, by offering professional training and connecting mentors, investors, the private sector, and government officials.

The forum will also include an “Innovathon”, where teams of five participants will work together to create and deliver new solutions for the oceans.

A fish in the middle of corals in the Red Sea.

© Ocean Image Bank/Brook Peters

A fish in the middle of corals in the Red Sea.

2. The stakes are high

The ocean provides us all with oxygen, food and sustenance. It nurtures unimaginable biodiversity and directly supports human well-being, through food and energy resources.

In addition to being a source of life, the ocean stabilizes the climate and stores carbon, acting as a giant sink for greenhouse gases.

According to UN data, around 680 million people live in low-lying coastal areas, and will reach around one billion by 2050.

Moreover, the latest analyzes estimate that 40 million people will be employed by ocean industries by the end of this decade.

3. Spotlight on Kenya and Portugal

Although the Conference is taking place in Portugal, it is co-hosted by Kenya, where 65% of coastal populations live in rural areas, working mainly in the fishing, agriculture and mining sectors to their livelihood.

For Bernadette Loloju, a resident of Samburu County, Kenya, the ocean is important to the people of her country as it provides them with much of the resources they need. “The ocean contains many living organisms, including fish. He also gives us food. When we go to Mombasa, we enjoy the beach and swim, adding to our happiness.”

Nzambi Matee, winner of the Young Champion of the Earth program of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), shares the same vision. Nzambi lives in Nairobi, Kenya, and is the founder of Gjenge Makers, which produces low-cost sustainable building materials from recycled plastic waste.

Mrs. Matee collects plastic waste from the ocean, scavenged by fishermen, and turns it into paving bricks – “my work recycling plastic waste from the ocean has enabled me to employ over 113 young people and women, which together produced 300,000 bricks. I make my living from the ocean, and therefore the ocean is life for me,” she said.

This passion for the ocean is shared by Portugal, the largest coastal Member State of the European Union with some four million kilometers of continuous coastline, and as such a country that plays a central role in the Atlantic basin.

“Our expectations for the UN Ocean Conference are that it will be a conference about action and not just commitment,” says Catarina Grilo, Director of Conservation and Policy at the Associação Natureza Portugal (ANP), a non-governmental organization working in agreement with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The ANP manages several projects in the areas of marine protection, sustainable fishing and ocean conservation.

“The previous conference in New York was a very good moment to raise awareness of the role of the oceans for the well-being of humanity. Back then, we had a lot of voluntary commitments from member states and non-state organizations, but now is the time to walk the talk,” she adds.

A fisherman in Kenya who depends on fishing for food.

© UNDP/Amunga Eshuchi

A fisherman in Kenya who depends on fishing for food.

4. The ocean and the global climate are intrinsically linked

The ocean and the global climate influence each other in many ways. As the climate crisis continues to pose an existential threat, scientists are keeping a close eye on some key metrics.

According to the latest climate change report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the global mean sea level has risen by an average of 4.5 mm per year between 2013 and 2021, due to the melting of the ice caps at an increasing pace.

The ocean absorbs around 23% of the CO2 generated by human activity, and when it does, chemical reactions occur, acidifying the seawater. This puts marine environments at risk and, the more the water becomes acid, the less it is able to absorb CO2.

Samuel Collins, project manager at the Oceano Azul Foundation, Lisbon, believes the conference will serve as a gateway to the upcoming UN Climate Conference, COP27, which is due to take place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in november.

“The ocean is fundamentally an integral part of the climate. It is home to 94% of the living space on the planet. I could spout statistics that shock us all,” says the 27-year-old Scotsman.

The reason the goods we buy from the shops are so cheap is that shipping carries 90% of the goods that end up in our homes, so there are many reasons why we are connected to the ocean, whether you are a landlocked country or not. There is no living organism on Earth that is unaffected by the ocean,” he adds.

Different species of fish in a marine protected area off Malta.

© FAO/Kurt Arrigo

Different species of fish in a marine protected area off Malta.

5. What can you do to help?

We asked a few experts – including Catarina Grilo and biologist Nuno Barros at the ANP, and Sam Collins at the Oceano Azul Foundation – what citizens can do to promote a sustainable blue economy, while we wait for policymakers and world leaders take action. Here are some ideas you can incorporate into your daily life:

1. If you eat fish, diversify your diet in terms of seafood consumption, do not always eat the same species. Also avoid consuming top predators and make sure what you eat comes from responsible sources.

2. Prevent plastic pollution: With 80% of marine pollution originating on land, help prevent pollution from reaching the sea. You can help by using reusable products, avoiding disposable products and making sure you also to place your waste in the appropriate bins.

3. Pick up trash from the beach and don’t litter. But also consider that any action you can take to reduce your environmental footprint will indirectly help the ocean.

4. Keep advocating for solutions, whether on the streets, by writing letters to decision makers, signing petitions or supporting campaigns to influence decision makers, nationally or globally.

UN News will be in Lisbon covering the Ocean Conference, so you can expect reports and interviews with UN experts, youth and voices.

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