One Ocean Summit
Taking action against the threats to the ocean
The ocean covers more than 70% of the surface of our planet and is a regulator of major environmental balances, and climate; in particular, a provider of resources, an important enabler of trade, and an essential link between countries and human communities. However, it is now seriously threatened by numerous pressures, such as the effects of climate change, pollution or the overexploitation of marine resources. So, in an effort to mobilise the international community and take tangible action to mitigate such pressures on the ocean, the French President Emmanuel Macron recently convened One Ocean Summit in Brest, a port city in northwestern France. The summit assumed far more importance as it was held at a time when leaders around the world seem keen to burnishing their environmental credentials, in the wake of recent climate change protest movements.
Why France convened the summit?
The three-day summit was convened by the French president as a highlight of France’s six-month EU presidency. France is the world’s second-biggest sea power after the United States, with exclusive economic zones totalling more than 11 million sq km.
Poivre d’Arvor, France’s ambassador for the North and South poles and marine issues, noted that the ocean covers more than 70% of the Earth’s surface, but “it’s routinely left aside in major summits, and is now under serious threat from a whole range of different pressures. So, this initiative is about raising international ambition and getting concrete, measurable commitments to tangible action.”
It focused on efforts to improve governance of the high seas and coordinating international scientific research.
The goal of this summit was to raise the collective ambition of the international community on threats faced by oceans and to translate our shared responsibility into tangible commitments. This was an unprecedented international political engagement to thrash out solutions to pressing maritime problems. In the words of Olivier Poivre d’Arvor, the chief organizer of the summit, it aimed to mobilise “unprecedented international political engagement” for a wide range of pressing maritime issues.
4 Main Topics
1. Protection of marine ecosystems
With the arrival of 30 new members in the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, 84 countries are now committed to protecting 30% of terrestrial and marine areas by 2030.
Among other states, Monaco is asking that the Mediterranean area be protected by limiting the speed of ships. On the other hand, the issue of degrees of protection was barely addressed, nor were financial resources or surveillance and management of protected marine areas.
Similarly, the problem of overfishing was not broached, despite being one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be assessed at the Lisbon conference on the ocean at the end of June this year. Fourteen countries did, however, commit to fighting against illegal fishing and France called on the WTO to ban any subsidies that contribute to it in 2022.
2. Commitment against plastic pollution
Many states are calling for the adoption of a legally binding treaty on plastic pollution. The 5th United Nations Environment Assembly examined and approved this proposal, in Nairobi.
With the launch of the Clean Oceans Initiative, the French Development Agency and the European Investment Bank are also committed to reducing plastic pollution in the ocean. Four billion euros will fund waste-reduction projects by 2025.
3. The fight against global warming
Leaders highlighted the importance of restoring and conserving coastal ecosystems to mitigate and adapt to global warming, The summit announced an international blue carbon coalition to fund these operations.
The transition to carbon-free economies through the development of renewable energies at sea was also widely discussed, as was “greening” marine activity. Several countries promised to invest in the development and use of alternative energies.
4. Strengthening ocean science and governance
To better understand how ecosystems function and evolve, France intends to carry out major scientific missions to explore the seabed, and create a foundation for the poles. The European Union is also committed to supporting science, complementing UNESCO’s announcement to map 80% of the seabed by 2030.
The 27 member states of the European Union and 16 third-party states have announced the launch of the “High Ambition Coalition for a High Seas Treaty”. The aim is to find an operational agreement for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdictions.
During the summit, representatives from more than 100 countries committed to measures aimed at preserving the ocean from human harm, including stepping up the fight against illegal fishing, cutting plastic pollution and better protecting international waters. As many as 30 more countries also signed up to the so-called 30×30 coalition, which was launched in January 2021 and aims to protect 30% of the world’s land and sea by 2030.
In an effort to further curb illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, which accounts for almost a fifth of global catches, six more countries committed to ratifying the International Maritime Organization’s Cape Town agreement setting safety standards for fishing boats.
Two more said they would ratify an agreement controlling fishing activities at ports where catches were landed, and several EU member states agreed to deploy their navies in overseas operations to step up surveillance of illegal fishing.
Meanwhile, 22 European ship-owners committed to new targets to cut underwater noise, emissions, residues and oil discharge, 18 ports around the world undertook to reduce dockside emissions, and Mediterranean countries together with the EU said they aimed to turn the Mediterranean into a low sulphur emission zone by 2025.
France and Columbia announced a global “blue carbon” coalition to help finance the restoration of coastal ecosystems such as salt marshes, seagrass beds and mangroves that are capable of absorbing and storing large quantities of carbon.
Costa Rica, France and Britain launched an intergovernmental environmental group in 2019 to set a target of protecting at least 30 percent of land and sea by 2030.
In addition, 14 nations participating in the Brest summit committed to strengthen the fight against illegal fishing via different actions including better controlling activities in ports and at sea.
Also in Brest, the UN cultural agency, UNESCO, announced that at least 80 percent of the world’s seabed will be mapped by 2030, compared to 20 percent currently which will help improve scientific knowledge.
The United States and France in a joint statement recognized the transboundary aspects of plastic pollution and the importance of curbing it at its source.
The health of the oceans is intricately linked to all life forms on the planet. The oceans are facing threats from multiple sources. Though dumping of plastic is widely known as a major threat, industrial pollution, destruction of fragile coral reefs, climate change, unbridled tourism and overexploitation of marine resources are causing irreversible damage that may lead to the emptying of life in the ocean by 2048.
Another colossal threat to the ocean is industrial fishing. Huge ships with trawlers scoop the sea for targeted fish like tuna and in the process, cause collateral damage that is called ‘by catch’ killing 6,50,000 marine mammals like sharks and dolphins that enhance. Ironically, developed countries like the USA and those in the European Union provide an annual subsidy of $40,000 to this fishing industry. With powerful vessels and the backing of their governments, these shipping lines are decimating marine life at a staggering speed, leading to the destruction of coral reefs. While coastal countries in Africa face starvation due to the lack of marine catch, the illegal fishing industry supported by powerful countries have stolen the fish harvest to meet the ever-growing fish market worldwide. Shockingly, 50 million sharks are killed every year, which never gets media attention. In addition to this, the seabird population has decreased by 70% over the last four decades.
Deep-sea mining is another grave threat to the ocean. This is done to explore and exploit mineral resources lying beneath the seabed.
The summit did address some of these problems and there were commitments by nations and companies to implement policies that will protect biodiversity. Nevertheless, most of these were individual assurances of voluntary action rather than commonly agreed goals.
The One Ocean Summit has inaugurated the year 2022, which should be rich in international conferences for the protection of marine ecosystems and the sustainable use of ocean resources. In a logic of continuity between these major meetings, the Summit was positioned as the first step to mobilize states and the international community around marine and maritime issues. Accordingly, the announcements made and commitments undertaken should take shape ahead of the second United Nations Conference on the Ocean, in June in Lisbon, whose purpose is to assess the achievement of the targets of Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG14) – Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. The intrinsic links between ocean, climate, and biodiversity received special attention during this One Ocean Summit, and “needs a global response, bold actions, accessible financing, equitable partnership to enable communities to build resilience” – as Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. reminded us. To this end, the COP15 of the Biodiversity Convention (scheduled for this summer in Kunming) and the COP27 of the Climate Convention (November, Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt) will be opportunities to strengthen these synergies in favour of an integrated governance of environmental issues.
The writer is a member of staff.