The United Nations Ocean Conference recently held in Lisbon, Portugal from June 27 – July 1, 2022, and was co-hosted by the governments of Portugal and Kenya. It was poised to yield a political declaration at a time experts predict to be critical for the world`s ocean which is labouring under the weight of the climate crisis, rampant pollution and biodiversity loss.
The Blue planet
Oceans form the earth
s largest life support system. About 70% of the Planets surface is covered by water, and 97% of this water is found in oceans. Ocean currents also govern the world`s weather and its dependent biomes.
There are five oceans based on their geography. They are the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Artic and Southern. But it is in fact one body of water covering more than 70 per cent of the Earth. However, to think of the oceans as one body of water way instills a deeper appreciation of sustainable ocean management and enables a more lucid understanding of the fact that caring for any of the parts translates to caring for the whole.
In this wise, what happens on one side of the ocean like plastic pollution and sand harvesting is usually felt everywhere.
The Blue economy
According to the United Nations, every year, the ocean economy has an estimated turnover of between US$3 and 6 trillion which includes employment, ecosystem services provided by the ocean and cultural services. It is also estimated that fisheries and aquaculture contribute $US100 billion per year and about 260 million jobs to the global economy.This is quite staggering in a world increasingly stifled by unemployment and poverty.
There is no doubt that the World`s Ocean, interconnected as it is, is crucial to sustainable development and human kind by providing services that are vital for the health, well-being and survival of people on Planet Earth.
A blue economy is essentially a long-term strategy aimed at supporting sustainable economic growth through oceans-related sectors and activities, while improving human well-being and social equity and preserving the environment.
A broken equilibrium
For centuries, a planetary equilibrium in the oceans overturning circulation( the flow of warm, salty water in the upper layers of the ocean, and the opposite flow of cold water in the lower layers)created stable conditions for the atmosphere and made life possible below water – and on land. Today, that equilibrium has been broken: the growing emission of greenhouse gases, primarily due to human activities has interrupted the energy balance, heating the oceans and altering their ability to absorb these gases.
This is harrowing given that the ocean provides half the oxygen humanity breathes and plays a crucial role in climate stability and the weather patterns people rely on to grow food. The ocean has been central to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions and absorbing the extra heat in the atmosphere since pre-industrial times.
In 2005, World Leaders met and carved out 17 Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs) which were essentially markings in a roadmap designed to ensure the survival of people and the planet. SDG 14 supports Life Below Water, setting in the process ambitious targets for ocean protection and restoration.
SDG 14 holds the forceful promise of addressing the triple planetary crisis – which are climate disruption, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste – and underpin economic growth. It is then ironical and consequently inimical that the ocean which is the Earth`s largest ecosystem remains the least funded of all the SDGs.
It then goes without saying that investment In SDG 14 is the only way to safeguard the oceans ` myriad species while supporting tourism, trade, food security and the livelihoods of billions of people.
From pollution to solution
Plastics are the largest, most harmful and most persistent fraction of marine litter,accounting for at least 85 per cent of total marine waste. Marine litter is found in increasing volumes along coastlines and estuaries, in massive swirling mid-ocean currents, on remote islands, in sea ice, across the sea floor from polar regions down into the deepest darkest trenches, harming marine life and damaging habitats across its path.
Without urgent action, the estimated 11 million metric tons of plastic currently entering the ocean annually will triple in the next twenty years. This would mean between 23 and 37 million metric tons of plastic flowing into the ocean every year by 2040.That is equivalent to 50 kilograms of plastics per metre of coastline worldwide.
A report by the United Nations Environment Programme titled ´From Pollution to Solution: A Global Assessment of Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution,” recently spelt out with chilling clarity the problem marine litter and plastic pollution pose to the ocean.
Decades of relentless use of plastics across the world`s economies have led to a seeming unstoppable flow of plastics into the environment including out in the deep oceans. This is largely as a result of unsustainable production and consumption patterns and inadequate waste management. The challenge of plastics is also now being compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic. Large amounts of plastic waste from personal protective equipment and additional packaging are being discarded directly into the environment.
The key findings of the report included that the amount of marine litter and plastic pollution were growing rapidly; that marine litter and plastics present a serious threat to all marine life; that human health and well-being are at risk; that there are hidden costs for the global economy; that the main sources of marine litter and plastic pollution are land-based.
The report also found that the movement and accumulation of marine litter and plastics occur over decades; that technological advances and the growth of citizen science activities are improving detection of marine litter and plastic pollution; that plastic recycling rates are less than 10 per cent and plastics-related greenhouse gas emissions are significant, and that progress is being made at all levels with a potential global instrument in sight.
The resolutions retching up actions from the Ocean Conference will hopefully play an essential role in putting in place a new chapter of ocean action –one driven by science, technology, innovation and finance.
This is crucial because according to Leticia Carvalho, Principal Coordinator of the Marine and Freshwater Branch of the United Nations Environment Programme(UNEP), “Investment in our ocean is investment in our survival.”