U.N. Ocean Conference Concludes
The United Nations Ocean Conference draws to a close on Friday after a week of discussions among national leaders, diplomats, advocates, scientists and business executives about how to achieve a set of targets to restore the health of the ocean.
The seven targets are detailed in Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG 14), which the U.N.’s 193 member states agreed to in 2015. They seek to significantly reduce ocean pollution by 2025, sustainably manage fisheries and coastal and marine ecosystems by 2020, minimize the impact of ocean acidification from climate change and protect 10 percent of the ocean in reserves by 2020.
Unlike the Paris climate agreement negotiated in 2015 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the first-ever U.N. Ocean Conference did not seek to produce an accord to preserve the ocean. Rather, the conference will end with the approval of a “call for action” titled “Our Ocean, Our Future” that details the degradation of the ocean from climate change, overfishing, plastic pollution and other threats and reiterates the commitment of the member states to implement SDG 14 targets.
“I think progress is being made,” said Catherine Novelli, the undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment in the Obama administration. “What conferences like this can do is connect the dots and people can learn from each other.”
As of Friday, 1,161 “voluntary commitments” had been registered by governments, nongovernmental organizations and businesses to take specific actions to achieve the targets, from creating marine protected areas to eliminating plastic from supply chains to deploying technology to detect overfishing.
At plenary sessions throughout the week, representatives from island nations, Europe, Africa and Asia have pledged to take action to restore ocean health. On Wednesday, for instance, Chile announced plans to protect 200,773 square miles (520,000 square km) of the ocean in two new marine reserves by the end of 2018.
Big Seafood Companies Pledge to Fish Sustainably
The world’s eight largest seafood companies have signed an agreement to protect the ocean.
“We, as keystone actors in the global seafood industry, recognize that together we represent a global force, not only in the operation of the seafood industry, but also in contributing to a resilient planet with marine ecosystems continuing to produce food of high quality for present and future generations,” stated the new initiative, called the Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship.
“There is strong scientific evidence of growing impacts on marine ecosystems. Ocean temperatures and acidification are increasing; degradation of coastal mangroves and coral reefs is threatening critical life support systems; habitats are being destroyed; nutrient run-off and toxic substances are causing serious pollution; and the build-up of plastic waste in the oceans is a threat to many species and to human health.”
The companies said they would, among other things, cooperate to eliminate illegally caught fish from their supply chains, work to end slave labor on fishing boats, reduce their consumption of plastics and make an effort to curtail the use of antibiotics in aquaculture.
The signatories include the world’s two largest tuna companies and the two largest salmon companies.
Richard Branson Lobbies for Ocean Protection
Richard Branson, the billionaire environmentalist, appeared at the U.N. on Thursday to deliver a petition signed by more than 1 million people that calls for governments to protect at least 30 percent of the ocean in marine preserves by 2030.
”Our oceans are incredibly important to feed people, they’re beautiful to swim in and play in and with protection they can be sustainable for hundreds and hundreds of years to come,” Branson said before presenting the petition to Peter Thomson, the president of the U.N. General Assembly.
Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, said business was increasingly taking a role in protecting the environment and opposing U.S. president Donald Trump’s move to withdraw from the Paris agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“It was great to see the president of Disney stepping down from Trump’s business council in protest and great to see Elon Musk stepping down,” Branson said.