Secretary-General António Guterres has declared that the world is in the middle of an ‘ocean emergency’ at the UN Ocean Conference, urging governments to restore ocean health. But four days into the conference, little progress has been made – environmentalists argue

UN Head opened the Ocean Conference on Monday by declaring an ‘emergency’ and urging governments to ‘turn the tide’. Attended by global leaders and heads of state from 20 countries, the summit – which this year takes place in Lisbon, Portugal – seeks to propel much-needed, science-based innovation solutions in a bid to restore the health of the world’s oceans.

We are at a crossroads: last year, sea level rise, ocean heating and acidification, as well as greenhouse gas concentrations, all reached record levels according to the World Meteorological Organization’s 2021 State of the Global Climate report. Marine pollution is out of control, with at least 8 million tonnes of plastic entering our oceans yearly. This is contributing to a rapid decline in marine species, with at least 37% of the world’s sharks and rays, 33% of reef corals, 26% of mammals (including marine), and 21% of reptiles currently threatened with extinction

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The situation is dire and governments’ failure to tackle the emergency and protect our oceans will have ripple effects across the entire 2030 Agenda, Guterres warned

While some progress has been made since the last UN Ocean Conference in 2017, most recently with the WTO agreeing to end fishing subsidies, hopes are fading for a long-awaited Global Ocean Treaty that would protect marine life on the high seas. In March, already into the fourth round of negotiations, world leaders failed yet again to reach an agreement on a blueprint for shielding the open seas against human exploitation. Asked about what is delaying the treaty to protect our oceans, Guterres blamed the nations’ ‘egoism’.

In the meantime, hundreds of climate activists and environmental organisations joined protests outside the UN Ocean Conference to tell leaders that they are failing to protect our oceans. Greenpeace has warned that, without a working treaty, it will bealmost impossibleto protect 30% of the oceans by 2030, the minimum scientists agree is needed to allow them to recover. 

The draft declaration of the conference acknowledges the world’s collective failure to achieve SDG14 and commits to reversing the health of the ocean – the Guardian reports. However, it does not provide details on how this will be achieved. The final draft of the political declaration is expected to be adopted on Friday, the last day of the conference.

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Featured Image by Karwai Tang/ Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)