12 January 2023 | 4 minutes.

No Healthy Planet Without a Healthy Ocean

Illustration: Dariana Guevara, REVOLVE

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Peter Thomson
UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean

Peter Thomson, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean

The UN Secretary General has pronounced a red alert for humanity. He says we have been engaged in a war against Nature and that it is time to make peace. Making peace means living in a world in which human hope and progress exist within parameters of utmost respect for Nature’s requirements.

As a loving grandfather, I assert a fundamental truth that we must strive with steadfast hope toward the bright prospects for a better world that lies ahead. That truth is anchored in reason, not the fantasy of superheroes or the politics of denial. It is anchored in the knowledge that humanity has ample reserves of genius capable of discovering the required solutions. And as the way ahead becomes clearer, we should be confident that leaders will emerge in politics and commerce with the courage to reallocate the world’s resources in the direction of sustainability, equity, and intergenerational justice.

When it comes to intergenerational justice, the call for suitably qualified young people to take their place at international negotiating tables relevant to their specialties is as logical as it is compelling. Who better than them to be part of the decisions that will shape the conditions through which their generation will live? This is not about advocacy – it’s about identifying workable solutions and resourcing their implementation. Thus, since the UN is a Member State organization, we should be actively encouraging countries to include suitably qualified young professionals in their delegations.

From the air we breathe to the food we eat, we are intimately connected with the good health of the Ocean. And the Sustainable Blue Economy, based upon circularity and adaptation to changing planetary conditions, is the basis of our future security. Everything is connected. From chemical and plastic pollution, to overfishing, habitat loss, ocean warming, death of coral and rising sea levels – all have the same anthropogenic origins, arising from our long record of flagrant disrespect for Nature and everything it provides. And so, yes indeed, it is time to reset the balance and give Nature the respect that is its due, at the very deepest of levels.

In many ways 2022 has been a good year for Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG14), our universal agreement to conserve and sustainably use the ocean’s resources. In February this year, the UN Environment Assembly agreed in Nairobi to commence negotiations for an internationally binding treaty to control the planet’s scourge of plastic pollution. And then in June in Geneva, after two decades of drawn-out WTO talks, agreement was reached to stop harmful fisheries subsidies. Then, following on from the great progress made on ocean action issues at the One Ocean Summit in Brest and the Our Ocean Conference in Palau, in Lisbon in late June at the UN Ocean Conference, we witnessed the launching of a great fleet of commitments in support of SDG14.

We look ahead now to a successful conclusion of the BBNJ negotiations in New York in the months ahead, so that we may have a robust treaty for the governance of the High Seas; to the full delivery of promised funds under the UNFCCC’s processes to enable developing countries’ adaptation to the challenges of the Climate Crisis; and to CBD COP15 in Montreal for the adoption of the Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework in order to halt the disastrous loss of species currently underway on Planet Earth.

We know there can be no healthy planet without a healthy Ocean, and the Ocean’s health is currently measurably in decline. And so, we all have much work to do. The time has come for humankind to exercise those capabilities of genius of which we are capable, for us to agree upon resilient, workable solutions, and for us to jointly undertake the transformations required.