Thoughts by Dr. Ion Jinga, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Romania to the United Nations, New York, published in Huffington Post on 26/04/2017
Oceans and seas are key to sustaining life on our planet. They connect people, markets and livelihoods, provide food security to over three billion humans and generate 350 million jobs. Oceans are essential for sustainable development and poverty eradication, particularly for people living in coastal communities who represent 37% of the global population. Coastal and marine resources contribute an estimated 28 trillion USD to the global economy each year. The sustainable use and preservation of marine and coastal ecosystems is essential to achieving the 2030 Agenda, in particular for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Least Developed Countries (LDC).
Oceans and seas mitigate climate change by capturing one third of the carbon dioxide released by human activities since the beginning of the industrial revolution, while half of the oxygen we breathe comes from their waters. Oceans also represent a fabulous hub of biodiversity, the natural habitat of more than 200,000 species. Finally, the World of Blue forms an essential part of our heritage and culture.
Yet, we humans who so much depend on oceans and seas, have put them at risk of irreversible damage. From marine pollution to increasing water temperatures and sea-level rise, from ocean acidification to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, the negative implications of human activity put the planetary ocean in deep trouble.
Indeed, if not stopped, by 2050 pollution will leave more plastic in the oceans than fish. Ocean acidification is occurring because too much carbon dioxide is being released into the atmosphere, and it is responsible for the destruction of coral reefs and of calciferous plankton, which are at the base of the oceans’ food chain. In the Caribbean Sea – a paradise area where the nature is still well-preserved – I have seen dead corals lying under the sea like artifacts from an ancient world. This phenomenon has a drastic impact on the upper levels of marine species, which provide food and jobs for local people.
The importance of fisheries as a source of food and employment to so many people has been recognized by the UN. Still, irrational overfishing, often stimulated by harmful subsidies, continues to contribute to depleting fish resources. According to a 2016 report of the Food and Agriculture Organization, more than 31% of global fish stocks are already at biologically unsustainable levels. IUU fishing is estimated between 11 and 26 million tons annually, with a value of 10 to 23 billion USD. The poor management of fisheries is considered responsible for the loss of 80 billion USD in economic potential every year.
For many SIDS and LDC, the word “Ocean” is synonymous to “Life”. As Peter Thomson, the first President of the UN General Assembly from the Pacific Islands region (PGA 2016-2017), who has had a lifelong involvement in the field of development, recently noted: “Human-induced problems have human-produced solutions. Thus it is that the time has come for us to act, to remedy the woes we have put upon the Ocean, to reverse the cycle of decline our cumulative habits have imposed upon the marine environment… So much of our culture, leisure and well-being derives from our joy in the beauty and bounty of the Ocean. Are we really prepared to surrender to the inexorable dead zones advancing along our shores, to greedy oil slicks decimating wildlife and ecosystems, to a cascading farewell for so many species forever, to the magical myriads of color and life-forms of the world’s coral reefs turning into ashen memorials of what was once so wonderful?”
These reflections are grounded in a bitter reality and the answer is in our hands. Recognizing that humanity’s current path is unsustainable, in September 2015 the world leaders unanimously adopted in New York the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Now we have got momentum and there is a global awareness on the need for action. We must transpose political commitments into concrete implementation. A turning point may be the first United Nations Conference to Support the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development – The Ocean Conference, which will take place at the UN Headquarters from 5-9 June this year.
Leaders of governments, international organizations, civil society, the private sector and the scientific and academic communities are expected to attend this event that may prove crucial for the process of reversing the cycle of decline of oceans and seas. As a riparian state to the Black Sea and host of the UNESCO protected Danube Delta, Romania is particularly interested in protecting biodiversity and in the sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources. The SDG 14 sets seven targets aiming to address, by 2020, 2025 and 2030, marine pollution, protection of marine and coastal ecosystems, ocean acidification, overfishing, conservation of at least 10% of coastal and marine areas, elimination of certain subsidies including those that contribute to IUU fishing, and the increase of economic benefits to SIDS from the sustainable use of marine resources.
The Ocean Conference must be one of commitments, solutions and partnerships. It will be co-chaired by Fiji and Sweden, while its preparatory process is co-facilitated by the UN Ambassadors of Portugal and Singapore, four countries whose history is intertwined with the oceans. An intergovernmental declaration entitled “Our Ocean, Our Future: Call for Action”, to be adopted as a political document of the conference, is under negotiation these days at the UN.
It is up to the Member States to make this declaration action oriented, grounded in science and empowered through finance and technology. In doing so, we may find inspiration in the Vision Statement of the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres: “Now that we know what, we must work on how. With clear priorities, tangible benchmarks and the power to mobilize all stakeholders, promoting national ownership and ensuring no-one is left behind. With the horizon of 2030 the focus is on action and the watchword is implementation, implementation, implementation.”
Finally, whether our countries have coastlines or not, whether we are rich or poor, young or old, the World of Blue is part of our life and the future of our mankind depends on it. As the 35th US President John J. Kennedy once said: “We all came from the sea. And it is an interesting biological fact that all of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea – whether it is to sail or to watch it – we are going back from whence we came.”