As the Second Global Ocean Conference opens tomorrow in Lisbon, governments in Asia and the Pacific must seize this opportunity to enhance cooperation and solidarity to address a host of challenges that endanger what is a lifeline for millions of people in the region.
An estimated 50 to 80 per cent of all life on Earth is found under the ocean surface. Seven out of every 10 fish caught around the globe come from Pacific waters. And we know that the oceans and coasts are also vital allies in the fight against climate change. Coastal systems such as mangroves, salt marshes and seagrass meadows are at the frontline of climate change, absorbing carbon at rates of up to 50 times those of the same area of tropical forest.
But the health of the oceans in Asia and the Pacific is in serious decline: rampant pollution, destructive and illegal fishing practices, inadequate marine governance and continued urbanisation along coastlines have destroyed 40 per cent of coral reefs and approximately 60 per cent of coastal mangroves, while fish stocks continue to decline and consumption patterns remain unsustainable.
These and other pressures exacerbate climate-induced ocean acidification and warming and weaken the capacity of oceans to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Global climate change is also contributing to sea-level rise, which affects coastal and island communities severely, resulting in greater disaster risk, internal displacement and international migration.
It’s not too late, however, to rescue the situation. But this will require working in concert on a few fronts.
Areas of ‘ocean action’
First, we must invest in and support science and technology to produce key solutions. Strengthening science-policy interfaces to bridge practitioners and policymakers contributes to a sound understanding of ocean-climate synergies. This enables a better policy design—an important priority of the Indonesian Presidency of the G20 process. Additionally, policy support tools can assist governments in identifying and prioritizing actions through policy and SDG tracking and scenario development.
We must also make the invisible visible through ocean data: just three out of ten targets for the goal of life below water are measurable in Asia and the Pacific. Better data is the foundation of better policies and collective action. The Global Ocean Accounts Partnership (GOAP) is an innovative multi-stakeholder collective established to enable countries and other stakeholders to go beyond GDP and to measure and manage progress towards ocean sustainable development.
Solutions for low-carbon maritime transport are also a key part of the transition to decarbonisation by the middle of the century. Countries in Asia and the Pacific recognised this when adopting a new Regional Action Programme last December, putting more emphasis on such concrete steps as innovative shipping technologies, cooperation on green shipping corridors and more efficient use of existing port infrastructure and facilities to make this ambition a reality.
Finally, aligning finance with our ocean, climate and broader SDG aspirations provides a crucial foundation for all of our actions. Blue bonds are an attractive instrument both for governments interested in raising funds for ocean conservation and for investors interested in contributing to sustainable development in addition to obtaining a return for their investment.
Role of ESCAP and other UN agencies
These actions and others are steps towards ensuring the viability of several of the region’s key ocean-based economic sectors, such as seaborne trade, tourism and fisheries.
To promote concerted action, the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), in collaboration with partner United Nations agencies, provides a regional platform in support of SDG14, aligned within the framework of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030).
Through four editions so far of the Asia-Pacific Day for the Ocean, the UN also supports countries in identifying and putting in place solutions and accelerated actions through regional dialogue and cooperation.
It is abundantly clear there can be no healthy planet without a healthy ocean. Our leaders meeting in Lisbon must step up efforts to protect the ocean and its precious resources and to build sustainable blue economies.
If done right, ocean action can also become a vital part of climate action.
Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana is United Nations ESCAP’s Executive Secretary. Views are personal.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)