UN Secretary-General Declares "Ocean Emergency"

UN Secretary-General Declares "Ocean Emergency"

At the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal, Secretary-General António Guterres declared an “ocean emergency,” calling on the 20 countries in attendance to take immediate action to protect ocean health. The announcement comes in the wake of the international failure to agree on a blueprint for ocean protections at a general assembly meeting in March. Currently, only 1.2% of the high seas (areas of the ocean outside of the control of any country) are classified as protected, leaving the world’s oceans vulnerable to exploitation.

UN: John Kerry at UN Ocean Conference | "We can not separate the ocean from the climate crisis," June 28, 2022.

Guterres and many other world leaders at the conference hope to produce a final draft of the declaration that acknowledges the world’s failure to protect the oceans, commits to protecting 30% of the ocean by 2030, and provides financing mechanisms allowing low-income countries to support Marine Protected Areas. The final global ocean treaty will be negotiated in August.

The Climate Project India: Ocean warming, December 24, 2021.

NOAA Sanctuaries: International Partnership on Marine Protected Areas, Biodiversity, and Climate Change, June 2, 2021.

Economist Impact Events: Nature-based ocean solutions for climate change mitigation (highlight reel), December 22, 2021.

Deutsche Bank: Protecting our oceans | Towards a sustainable 'Blue Economy', July 6, 2021.

Why This Matters

Guterres' call for action comes amidst record-breaking warming and acidification of oceans, rates of sea level rise, glacial melt, the increased frequency of extreme weather events, and a critical weather-regulating ocean current begins to collapse. At least 8 million tons of plastic enter the oceans annually, and Guterres says that this could outweigh all of the fish in the seas by 2050 unless drastic action is taken.

As a result, coastal cities are already flooding and marine species are experiencing diversity and population declines. Food supply and economies are at risk, too. The diets of over 3.5 billion people are dependent on the oceans and 120 million people work directly in fisheries and aquaculture. Small island developing states (SIDS), with vulnerable coasts and ocean-reliant economies, are feeling these impacts most of all.

DW: Higher temperatures and plastic pollution threaten oceans, February 11, 2022.

UNCC: The Nature Conservancy | Blue carbon, December 7, 2020.

Caspian Report: The Ocean Economy will eclipse $3 trillion by 2030, July 15, 2020.

Marine Protection

At the conference, Guterres made several concrete recommendations for marine resilience based on science-backed solutions, calling for a goal of mapping 80% of the seabed by 2030 and for an end to harmful fishing subsidies. He also advocated for sustainable management of the world’s oceans in order to increase food supply by six times, generate 40% more renewable energy, and improve carbon sequestration, all while prioritizing the world’s most vulnerable.

The co-chairs of the conference -- Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa -- backed Guterres’ recommendations. “Oceans are the most under-appreciated resource on our planet,” Kenyatta told delegates. “Poor management has reduced the ocean’s natural ability to restore itself [and] I find it surprising that we should put such a critical resource at risk.”

Natural World Facts: The Marine Carbon Cycle Explained, November 16, 2021.

TED: The Ocean's Ingenious Climate Solutions | Susan Ruffo, March 13, 2022.

NowThis: What Is Ocean Acidification, January 21, 2020.

PBS: Melting of the Thwaites Glacier could rewrite the global coastline, December 15, 2021.

WW0 COP26 Talks: President of Palau, Surangel Whipps Jr., November 5, 2021.

Guardian: One of the greatest injustices' | Pacific islands on the frontline of the climate crisis, Oct 25, 2021.

Potsdam Institute (Earth System Analysis): Is the Atlantic Overturning Circulation approaching a tipping point?, March 21, 2022.

WW0 IG Live: John Kerry and Enric Sala | The Nature of Nature: Why We Need The Wild, Sep 30, 2020.