A year of ocean re­gen­er­a­tion

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

The im­por­tance of the world’s oceans can­not be over­stated. They sup­ply 50% of the oxy­gen we breathe, feed bil­lions of peo­ple, and pro­vide liveli­hoods for mil­lions more. They are the great bi­o­log­i­cal pump of global at­mo­spheric and ther­mal regulation, and the driver of the wa­ter and nu­tri­ent cy­cles. And they are among the most pow­er­ful tools for mit­i­gat­ing the ef­fects of cli­mate change. In short, the oceans are a crit­i­cal ally, and we must do ev­ery­thing in our power to safe­guard them.

This is all the more im­por­tant, given the un­prece­dented and un­pre­dictable threats that we cur­rently face. Though the ocean has been in­te­gral to slow­ing cli­mate change, ab­sorb­ing over 30% of the green­house-gas emis­sions and 90% of the ex­cess heat gen­er­ated since the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion, the cost has been huge. Ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion and warm­ing has been oc­cur­ring at alarm­ing rates, and are al­ready hav­ing a se­ri­ous im­pact on some of our most pre­cious marine ecosys­tems – an im­pact that will only in­ten­sify.

To­day, vast swaths of the world are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing what is likely to be the strong­est El Nino on record. The ad­verse weather re­sult­ing from the phe­nom­e­non – which orig­i­nates in the Pa­cific, but af­fects all oceans world­wide – is ex­pected to af­fect ad­versely over 60 mil­lion peo­ple this year, com­pound­ing the mis­ery wrought last year. It is a sober­ing re­minder of our vul­ner­a­bil­ity to both nat­u­ral and hu­manin­duced shocks to the earth’s sys­tems.

De­spite all of this, we con­tinue to de­grade our oceans through the re­lent­less de­struc­tion of habi­tats and bio­di­ver­sity, in­clud­ing through over­fish­ing and pol­lu­tion. Dis­turbingly, re­cent re­ports in­di­cate that the oceans may con­tain one kilo­gram of plas­tics for ev­ery three kilo­grams of fish by 2025. Th­ese ac­tions are fa­cil­i­tated by chronic fail­ures of global gov­er­nance; for ex­am­ple, one-fifth of all fish taken from the oceans are caught il­le­gally.

Ur­gent ac­tion must be taken not just to ad­dress cli­mate change broadly by re­duc­ing green­house-gas emis­sions, but also to en­hance the health and re­silience of our oceans. For­tu­nately, in 2015 – a wa­ter­shed year for global com­mit­ments – world lead­ers es­tab­lished con­ser­va­tion and restora­tion of the world’s oceans as a key com­po­nent of the new United Na­tions de­vel­op­ment agenda, un­der­pinned by 17 so-called Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals.

Specif­i­cally, SDG 14 com­mits world lead­ers to end over­fish­ing, elim­i­nate il­le­gal fish­ing, es­tab­lish more marine pro­tected ar­eas, re­duce plas­tic lit­ter and other sources of marine pol­lu­tion, and in­crease ocean re­silience to acid­i­fi­ca­tion. The Global Ocean Com­mis­sion cel­e­brated this strong en­dorse­ment of ur­gent ac­tion to pro­tect the oceans, which closely re­flects the set of pro­pos­als con­tained in the Global Ocean Com­mis­sion’s 2014 re­port From De­cline to Re­cov­ery: A Res­cue Pack­age for the Global Ocean.

So the world now has an agreed roadmap for ocean re­cov­ery. But how far and how fast we travel is yet to be de­ter­mined. And the task ahead – trans­lat­ing ad­mirable and am­bi­tious com­mit­ments into ef­fec­tive col­lab­o­ra­tive ac­tion at the lo­cal, na­tional, and in­ter­na­tional lev­els – is im­mense.

The chal­lenge is com­pounded by the weak and frag­mented state of global ocean gov­er­nance. Un­like other SDGs – such as those re­lated to health, education, or hunger – there is no sin­gle in­ter­na­tional body charged with driv­ing for­ward the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the ocean SDG. As a re­sult, it is not clear who will be re­spon­si­ble for mon­i­tor­ing and mea­sur­ing progress and en­sur­ing ac­count­abil­ity.

To en­sure that SDG 14 does not fall by the way­side, the gov­ern­ments of Fiji and Swe­den pro­posed con­ven­ing a high­level UN con­fer­ence on oceans and seas in Fiji, with Swedish sup­port, in June 2017. Their pro­posal was sub­se­quently co- spon­sored by 95 coun­tries and adopted unan­i­mously in a UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly res­o­lu­tion.

By draw­ing at­ten­tion to the progress be­ing made to­ward meet­ing SDG 14 tar­gets and shin­ing a spot­light on where re­sults are lag­ging, the con­fer­ence will pro­vide a much­needed “ac­count­abil­ity mo­ment.” At the same time, by bring­ing to­gether rel­e­vant stake­hold­ers, it will help to catal­yse deeper co­op­er­a­tion among gov­ern­ments, civil so­ci­ety, and the pri­vate sec­tor.

This is a promis­ing step for­ward, re­flect­ing the tremen­dous mo­men­tum that ef­forts to pro­tect the oceans have gained in re­cent years. As the Global Ocean Com­mis­sion’s work comes to a nat­u­ral con­clu­sion, its many part­ners and sup­port­ers will be work­ing hard to sus­tain this mo­men­tum, en­sur­ing that build­ing healthy and re­silient oceans re­mains a global pri­or­ity un­til it is a global re­al­ity. The key to suc­cess, ac­cord­ing to the Global Ocean Com­mis­sion’s fi­nal re­port, will be the cre­ation of an in­de­pen­dent, trans­par­ent mech­a­nism for mon­i­tor­ing, mea­sur­ing, and re­port­ing on the es­sen­tial ac­tions needed to achieve the SDG 14 tar­gets, as well as ad­di­tional UN con­fer­ences be­tween now and 2030.

Cur­rent and fu­ture gen­er­a­tions alike need – and de­serve – a healthy, re­silient ocean. Grow­ing aware­ness of – and strong com­mit­ments to re­solve – the chal­lenges fac­ing our oceans is heart­en­ing. But it is just the be­gin­ning. One hopes that 2016 turns out to be the year when the world en­ters a new era of ocean re­gen­er­a­tion.

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