Lisbon-The UN conference on how to restore the faltering health of the global oceans began in Lisbon on Monday, with thousands of policymakers, experts and advocates on the matter.
Humanity needs healthy oceans. They generate 50 percent of the oxygen we breathe and provide essential proteins and nutrients to billions of people every day.
Covering more than two-thirds of Earth’s surface, the seven seas have also mitigated the effects of climate change on life on land.
But at a terrible cost.
Absorbing nearly a quarter of CO2 pollution – even though emissions have increased by half in the past 60 years – has acidified ocean waters, threatening aquatic food chains and the ocean’s ability to draw carbon down.
And absorbing more than 90 percent of the excess heat from global warming has created massive ocean heatwaves that are killing precious coral reefs and expanding dead zones devoid of oxygen.
“We are only beginning to understand the extent to which climate change is wreaking havoc on ocean health,” said Charlotte de Fontabert, the World Bank’s global lead for the blue economy.
According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), making things worse is an endless stream of pollution, including a garbage truck worth of plastic every minute.
According to a recent report by the OECD, at current trends, plastic waste will almost triple to one billion tons annually by 2060.
wild fish stock
Microplastics found inside Arctic ice and fish in the deepest ocean trenches are estimated to kill more than one million seabirds and more than 100,000 marine mammals each year.
Solutions on the table range from recycling to a global cap on plastic production.
Global fisheries will also be in the limelight during the five-day UN Ocean Conference, originally scheduled for April 2020 and jointly organized by Portugal and Kenya.
“At least a third of wild fish stocks are lost and less than 10 percent of the ocean is protected,” Catherine Mathews, chief scientist at the US-based NGO Oceana, told AFP.
“Destructive and illegal fishing vessels operate with impunity in many coastal waters and high seas.”
One culprit is about $35 billion in subsidies. Experts said the baby steps taken by the World Trade Organization (WTO) last week to reduce handouts to the industry will hardly make any dent.
The conference will also emphasize a ban on deep-sea mining of the rare metals needed for rapid electric vehicle battery manufacturing.
Scientists say poorly understood marine ecosystems are fragile and once disrupted, it can take decades or more to recover.
Another major focus will be “blue food”, the new watchword to ensure that marine crops from all sources are sustainable and socially responsible.
Rising aquaculture yields – from salmon and tuna to shellfish and algae – have been on track to overtake wild marine crops in the fall since the 1990s, each producing about 100 million tons per year.
If managed properly, “wild saltwater fish could provide a climate-friendly, micronutrient protein source that could feed a billion people a healthy seafood meal every day — forever,” Mathews said.
The Lisbon meeting will be attended by ministers and even some heads of state, including French President Emmanuel Macron, but it is not a formal negotiating session.
But participants will push for a stronger ocean agenda at two important summits later this year: the COP27 UN climate talks in November, hosted by Egypt, followed by the long-delayed COP15 biodiversity talks, most recently from China in Montreal. transferred to
The oceans are already at the center of a draft biodiversity treaty to stop what many scientists fear is the first “mass extinction” event in 65 million years.
Nearly 100 nations support a cornerstone provision that would designate 30 percent of the planet’s land and oceans as protected areas.
For climate change, the focus will be on carbon sequestration: boosting the ability of the ocean to absorb CO2, whether by increasing natural sinks such as mangroves or through geoengineering schemes.
At the same time, scientists warn that a drastic reduction in greenhouse gases is needed to restore ocean health.