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A Tide of Pledges at the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon

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By Ramesh Jaura

BERLIN | LISBON (IDN) — The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has pledged to enable 100 coastal countries including all Small Island Developing States to realize the maximum potential of their blue economies through sustainable, low-emission and climate-resilient ocean action by 2030. (P09) FRENCH | JAPANESE TEXT VERSION PDF | PORTUGUESE

This commitment made at the five-day UN Ocean Conference, which concluded in the Portuguese capital on July 1, is particularly important because Official Development Assistance (ODA) to the ocean economy over the last ten years has averaged only US $1.3 billion per year. But the scale of public and private investment for ocean restoration and protection remains woefully inadequate.

UNDP’s Ocean Promise on June 28 underscores that every penny invested in achieving the Paris Agreement is a penny invested in ocean health—the foundation of the sustainable blue economy. The Promise outlines actions in key sectors to accelerate economic growth, create jobs and livelihoods, improve food security, reduce poverty and inequity, and promote gender equality.

“The Ocean Promise is our blue economy vision that emphasizes the restoration of the nearly $1 trillion in annual socioeconomic losses due to ocean mismanagement. The promise is also about helping countries to tap into new and emerging ocean sectors for increased ocean-related socio-economic opportunities,” stated Usha Rao-Monari, Under-Secretary-General and Associate Administrator at UNDP.

“We will continue to work across issues and scales, from local to global, in close partnership with governments, UN agency partners, intergovernmental organizations, NGOs, communities and the private sector, towards accelerating progress on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14. The ocean is a vital buffer against the impacts of climate change—saving our ocean means protecting our future.”

As the UNDP points out, SDG 14 remains the most underfunded goal yet holds immense potential to be a game changer in addressing the triple planetary crisis. In a business-as-usual fossil fuel use scenario, many ocean species and ecosystems, and the food security and livelihoods of billions of people face existential threats. With only 8 years to go until 2030, the time to act is now: UNDP’s Ocean Promise aims to catalyse significant progress on SDG 14 implementation.

More than 6,000 participants, including 24 Heads of State and Government from more than 150 countries, and over 2,000 representatives of civil society attended the UN Conference (June 27-July 1), advocating for urgent and concrete actions to tackle the ocean crisis. They decided to scale up science-based and innovative actions to address the ocean emergency.

This agreement, together with bold commitments from all sectors of society—youth, civil society, businesses and the scientific community—clearly demonstrates the centrality of a safe, healthy and productive ocean to food security, livelihoods and a safe planet, UN sources said.

Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and United Nations Legal Counsel Miguel de Serpa Soares said in his closing remarks: “The Conference has been an enormous success. It has given us the opportunity to highlight critical issues and generate new ideas and commitments. But it has also shed light on the work that remains, and the need to scale this up and raise ambition for the recovery of our ocean.”

From rising sea levels and marine pollution to ocean acidification and habitat loss, the planet’s largest biodiversity reservoir is in jeopardy, threatening to derail progress on SDG14, the key roadmap for global action on life below water. Moreover, there is threat of cumulative human impacts on the ocean—the lungs of our planet. If not curtailed, it will exacerbate the climate emergency, and hinder the aspirations of the Paris Agreement.

Ocean-based economies have also been deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and there were many setbacks in ocean management, monitoring and science. The multidimensional food, energy and finance crisis is further aggravating the fallout and weakening people’s ability to cope.

But restoring the health of our ocean can be part of the solution. Resilient and healthy oceans are the foundations of climate regulation and sustainable development, with the potential to produce food and energy for billions.

The Conference also heard many success stories with many initiatives showcased demonstrating how stakeholders can come together to transition towards a sustainable ocean economy and, as a result, improve biodiversity, community livelihoods and climate resilience.

In addition, the Conference succeeded in translating ideas into action with a host of new commitments made by many countries and stakeholders. Close to 700 commitments were registered, adding to the substantial commitments made at the 2017 UN Ocean Conference. These commitments showcase the critical need for innovation and science to revitalize the ocean.

2022 – Super Year for the Ocean

2022 has also become a super year for the ocean with a number of key breakthroughs with the Ocean Conference introducing a new chapter on ocean action. The UN Environment Assembly in March consensually agreed to begin negotiations for a binding global treaty to end plastic pollution.

UN sources note that last month, the World Trade Organization succeeded in reaching general consensus on banning harmful fisheries subsidies. This year’s Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction could also lead to strengthening governance of the high seas. Besides, later this year, the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 15) is an opportunity to achieve a new target to protect 30 per cent of the planet’s lands and seas by 2030. UNFCCC COP 27, to take place in November, will see a focus on climate adaptation measures and financing required to build ocean resilience.

Political Declaration

The Conference also saw the unanimous adoption of the Lisbon Declaration, a suite of science-based and innovative actions, taking into account the capacity challenges facing developing countries, in particular, Small Island Developing States and Least Developing Countries, at the frontline of the devastating impacts of the ocean emergency.

Countries agreed on actions ranging from strengthening data collection, recognizing the role of indigenous people in sharing innovation and practices to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from international maritime transportation, especially shipping. They also agreed to promote innovative financing solutions to achieve sustainable ocean-based economies and encourage women and girls’ meaningful participation in the ocean-based economy.

“Going forward, it will be important that we renew our focus on ocean action. We need to do this by focusing on improving the scientific basis for our decisions, by improving the science-policy interface, and by engaging in scientific partnerships that build capacity through mutual learning,” said UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and Secretary-General of the Conference, Liu Zhenmin.

Voluntary Commitments Snapshot


  • The Protecting Our Planet Challenge will invest at least USD 1 billion to support the creation, expansion and management of marine protected area and Indigenous and locally governed marine and coastal areas by 2030.
  • The European Investment Bank will extend an additional EUR 150 million across the Caribbean Region as part of the Clean Oceans Initiative to improve climate resilience, water management and solid waste management.
  • The Global Environment Facility approved a $25 million grant towards Colombia’s marine protected areas.
  • The Development Bank of Latin America announced a voluntary commitment of USD 1.2 billion to support projects to benefit the ocean in the region.
  • Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance announced a multimillion-dollar global search for the next generation of projects to build resilience of coastal communities and finance through finance and insurance products.

Marine Protected Areas and Pollution

  • Portugal committed to ensure that 100% of the marine area under Portuguese sovereignty or jurisdiction is assessed as being in Good Environmental State and classify 30% of the national marine areas by 2030.
  • Kenya is currently developing a national blue economy strategic plan, inclusive and multistakeholder-oriented. Kenya also committed to developing a national action plan on sea-based marine plastic litter.
  • India committed to a Coastal Clean Seas Campaign and will work toward a ban on single use plastics, beginning with plastic bags.

Science and Innovation

  • Sweden will support enhanced scientific cooperation, including by providing USD 400,000 in 2022 to IOC UNESCO for the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development in support of work on SDG 14 target 3.
  • The Alliance of Small Island Developing States launched the Declaration for the Enhancement of Marine Scientific Knowledge, Research Capacity and Transfer of Marine Technology to Small Island Developing States.

Climate Action

  • USA and Norway announced a Green Shipping Challenge for COP 27.
  • Singapore is also championing green shipping, encouraging carbon accounting by shipping companies, and research on low-carbon maritime fuels.
  • Chile is working with specialized centres to develop a network of green corridors for maritime transport in order to achieve zero-carbon shipping. [IDN-InDepthNews – 02 July 2022]

Image: The Red Sea’s reef is one of the longest continuous living reefs in the world. © Unsplash/Francesco Ungaro





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