UN Ocean Conference opens with calls for united action

United Nations: UN chief Antonio Guterres has warned that the state of the oceans will continue to deteriorate unless nations overcome short-term territorial and resource interests.

“Improving the health of our oceans is a test for multilateralism, and we cannot afford to fail,” Secretary- General Guterres said, addressing the first UN conference on the health of the oceans and seas.

“We must jointly address the problems of governance that have held us back,” he said, calling for a new strategic vision on how to govern oceans and marine resources.

The Ocean Conference opened at the UN headquarters yesterday. Protecting the oceans is among the main objectives of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and conserving and sustainably using marine resources is the springboard for the Ocean Conference, taking place from June 5 to 9.

Guterres said one of the main challenges is to end “the artificial dichotomy” between jobs and healthy oceans: “The conservation and sustainable use of marine resources are two sides of the same coin”.

He called for strong political leadership and new partnerships, based on the existing legal framework, and concrete steps, such as expanding marine protected areas and reducing plastic waste pollution.

“I call on all member states to engage in the dialogue necessary to define a new model for the future governance of our oceans. Unless we overcome the territorial and resource interests that have blocked progress for far too long, the state of our oceans will continue to deteriorate. We must put aside short-term national gain to prevent long-term global catastrophe,” he said while addressing his first major UN conference since taking on his post.

Among other specific actions, Guterres urged governments to allocate the promised funding for the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, as well as improving data collection and sharing their best experiences.

These works are supported by the UN, he added, which among its work, is building partnerships with governments, the private sector, civil society and others, and working with international financial institutions to allocate resources.

Addressing the thousands of participants, including heads of State and Government, civil society representatives, business people, as well as actors, and ocean and marine life advocates, President of the General Assembly Peter Thomson said the “time has come for us to correct our wrongful ways”.

Thomson, who hails from the island of Fiji, which is co- hosting the event alongside Sweden, spoke out against “inexcusable” actions, such as dumping the equivalent of one large garbage truck of plastic into the oceans every minute of every day, driving fish stocks to the points of collapse, and destroying marine life through acidification and deoxygenation.

“We are here on behalf of humanity to restore sustainability, balance and respect to our relationship with our primal mother, the source of life, the Ocean,” he noted.

Secretary-General of The Ocean Conference Wu Hongbo pointed out that without oceans and seas, where would be no life on the planet.

Wu, who is also the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, noted that everyone must work together – not in silos – to achieve the goals of the Conference.

The Ocean Conference, which runs through Friday, focuses on the targets outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by Governments in 2015. In particular among the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Goal 14 highlights the need to conserve and sustainably use oceans, seas and marine resources to benefit present and future generations.