Countries meet to end massive threats to the oceans
Panama City – Panama
From 1 to 03 March 2023, Panama was the first Central American country to host the “Our Ocean” conference, this was the 8ᵉ edition.
The oceans and the multiple threats to them, from climate change and pollution to overfishing and mining, were the focus of this global conference.
Some 600 representatives from governments, businesses, environmental groups and universities met in the Central American country on Thursday and Friday to discuss expanding marine protected areas (MPAs), building a sustainable “blue economy” from the oceans and reducing stressors on this invaluable but threatened resource.
The aim was to discuss the framework for a “blue economy” for the sustainable use and protection of the seas and oceans.
Covering three quarters of the Earth, the oceans are home to 80% of the world’s life, feed more than three billion people and are a vital conduit for global trade.
“We cannot commit to saving our ocean ecosystems without limiting the human activities that take place in them,” reads the website of the eighth edition of the Our Ocean international conference.
“This vital asset is threatened by global warming, unsustainable practices, illegal fishing, indiscriminate pollution and loss of marine habitat,” the website adds.
According to Courtney Farthing, political director of Global Fishing Watch, the conference “is essential to maintain the political will to act for the oceans”.
By bringing together governments, activists and industry, “we are able to improve our collective understanding of the issues facing our ocean and successful initiatives that could be adopted on a wider scale,” she told AFP.
Observers say the Our Ocean gathering is important because it is the only conference to address all ocean issues under one roof.
It also serves as a public stage for governments, through the high-ranking ministers present, to show their political will.
Fear for the seabed
The conference is taking place against a background of growing concern about multinationals lurking on the seabed.
These include “manganese nodules”, deposited on the seabed, which contain metals essential for battery production.
Environmentalists say their exploitation would be devastating to deep-sea ecosystems.
“There is no real significant extraction today, but there are significant advances in technology and machinery to eventually extract minerals, mainly rare minerals,” said Maximiliano Bello of the non-governmental organisation Mission Blue.
Delegates at the conference will not adopt agreements or vote on proposals, but will announce voluntary “commitments” to protect the oceans.
Host country Panama, for example, intends to announce the extension of the Banco Volcan protected area it created in 2015.
But activists, such as Juan Manuel Posada of the NGO MarViva, want these projects to be extended to “waters beyond national jurisdiction”, given that much illegal fishing takes place on the high seas, where lawlessness reigns.
“We would also like countries to declare 30% of their marine areas as protected areas by the 2030 deadline that was agreed at the COP15 biodiversity meeting in Canada last year.
John Kerry’s baby
The Our Ocean conferences were launched in 2016 at the initiative of John Kerry, former US Secretary of State appointed as the White House’s special climate envoy.
“Our Ocean is John Kerry’s baby,” said Bello.
Kerry is expected to attend the conference with US oceanographer Sylvia Earle, who has led more than 100 ocean expeditions in her nearly 60-year career and founded Mission Blue.
Kerry and Earle “have been trying to change the concept that there are many oceans, because in reality there is only one ocean that spans the entire planet,” said Bello.
At the conclusion of the global “Our Ocean” conference, nearly $20 billion was pledged on Friday 3 March 2023, including a $6 billion commitment from the United States announced on Thursday by White House climate envoy John Kerry. The US will also spend $665 million to promote sustainable fisheries, $200 million to combat pollution, $73 million on “blue economy” programmes (the marine equivalent of the green economy) and $11 million on marine protected areas.
For its part, the European Union (EU) has announced that it is committing €816.5 million ($865 million) this year to projects to protect the seas.
Of this, €320 million will be spent on research into marine biodiversity and countering the impact of climate change on the marine environment, while €250 million will go to the Sentinel-1C satellite programme to monitor the effects of climate change, including the melting of Arctic ice.
Humaniterre avec Agence France-Presse
Crédits photo AFP