President Uhuru Kenyatta has called for urgent global action to address challenges facing oceans, seas and the marine environment, saying the world needs to upgrade from proposals on the subject to tangible interventions.
“We, expect this conference to shift gear from proposals to action. Action that is driven by science, technology, and innovation. We expect to hear about sustainable examples of nature-based solutions. We expect to understand the linkages between the ocean, climate change and land- based actions, such as pollution,” the President said.
President Kenyatta spoke on Monday in Lisbon, Portugal where he co-chaired the opening plenary session of the second United Nations Ocean Conference with President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa of the Portuguese Republic and UN Secretary General António Guterres.
The Kenyan leader said time had come for world leaders to work together in the scaling up of conservation action“driven by science and innovation” to help solve challenges facing sustainability and health of global maritime resources.
“Our actions are not commensurate with the threat that faces the ocean. We urgently need to build an ocean-based economy where effective protection, sustainable production and equitable prosperity go hand-in-hand. These actions must be taken collectively because the ocean is a global common good,” President Kenyatta said.
He pointed out that two-thirds of global waters lie in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ) of Economic Exclusive Zones noting that inaction in one sea affects other seas, adding that oceans were the most under-appreciated resource in the world despite their centrality to human existence.
“The ocean covers 70 percent of the global surface and 3 billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity. The ocean is home to up to 80 percent of all life in the world; it supplies nearly half the oxygen we breathe; and around 90 percent of the world’s goods are traded across the ocean. The list goes on and on,” the President said.
Once again, President Kenyatta said that human action continues to put ocean systems under immense stress especially from indiscriminate dumping of plastic waste, pointing out that more than eight million tons of plastics are thrown into oceans each year.
On Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, the President said the crime was threatening the stability of fish populations while dumping of toxic waste into the water was altering and destroying marine ecosystems.
“Poor management of the ocean has reduced the ocean’s natural ability to restore itself. I find it quite surprising that we would put such a critical resource at risk," he said.
“We need to build political momentum towards ocean climate action as we head for the 27th Session of the UN Climate Conference in Sharma-Al-Sheikh, in Egypt in November. We can no longer continue to make commitments that we cannot honour,” the President added.
President Kenyatta noted that solutions to the challenges facing oceans lie with the people, saying that if managed sustainably, marine resources are able to produce as much as six times more food and generate 40 times more renewable energy.
“In the ocean lies great risk as well as great opportunity. The burden of choice lies with us. Over the last decade, we have accumulated sufficient knowledge of the risks and opportunities, and deepened our understanding of actions we should take,” he said.
On this year's UN Ocean Conference, the President said the meeting should yield a clear financing mechanism and regretted that Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 is the most underfunded of all the 17 SDGs.
In his opening remarks, UN Secretary General Antonio Guteress said it was time to “turn the tide” in conservation of oceans.
“We have taken the ocean for granted, and now we must face an ocean emergency. I am urging all participants at the UN Ocean Conference to right these wrongs and do our part for the ocean. We must take action and turn the tide,” Mr Guteress said.
On his part, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said the UN Ocean Conference was held at an appropriate time “because the oceans are central to geopolitical power, health, economic resources, mobility, migrations, scientific and technological development".
"This is the right time, the right place, the right approach. The urgency of the pandemic or war cannot be an excuse to forget about structural challenges and their effects on our daily lives," President de Sousa said.
About two dozen heads of state and government were present at the opening session conference that was attended by delegates from more than 120 countries.