After a week of discussions and events in Lisbon, Portugal, the United Nations (UN) Ocean Conference ended with governments and heads of state endorsing a new political declaration to save marine ecosystems. Among the commitments reached by the representatives were to produce better-informed ocean management, restore fish stocks, and mobilize action for sustainable fisheries and aquaculture to achieve sufficient, safe and nutritious food.

More than 6,000 participants, including 24 heads of state and government, and over 2,000 representatives of civil society attended the conference, calling for urgent and concrete actions to address the ocean crisis. At the closing, UN Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Miguel de Serpa Soares praised the co-hosts, Portugal and Kenya, for the great success of the conference.

After acknowledging the “collective failure” of the past, in the final declaration of the conference, world leaders called for more ambition to ensure that the dire state of the oceans is addressed, and candidly admitted to being “deeply alarmed by the global emergency facing the sea.” In addition, the leaders renewed their commitment to take urgent action and cooperate at all levels to fully achieve the goals as soon as possible.

“Among the problems facing the Ocean are coastal erosion, rising sea levels, warming and acidification of waters, marine pollution, overexploitation of fish stocks and declining marine biodiversity.”

The declaration also recognizes that climate change is “one of the greatest challenges of our time,” and attests to the need for “decisive and urgent action to improve the health, productivity, sustainable use and resilience of the ocean and its ecosystems.” The senior policymakers gathered in Lisbon stressed that innovative and science-based measures, together with international cooperation, are essential to provide the necessary solutions.

“Calling for transformational change, the leaders stressed the need to address the cumulative effects of global warming on the oceans, including ecosystem degradation and species extinction.”

The document reaffirms that the ocean is fundamental to life on our planet and to our future, the signatories highlighted the particular importance of implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement, and last November’s Glasgow Climate Pact to help ensure the health, productivity, sustainable use and resilience of the ocean.

“We are committed to halting and reversing the decline in the health of marine ecosystems and ocean biodiversity, and to protecting and restoring their resilience and ecological integrity,” they noted.

Protecting Our Planet Challenge

The commitments include the ‘Protect Our Planet Challenge’ initiative, which will invest at least USD 1 billion to support the creation, expansion and management of marine protected areas by 2030. The European Investment Bank will extend an additional EUR 150 million to the entire Caribbean region as part of the Clean Oceans initiative to improve climate resilience, water management and solid waste management.

In addition, Portugal committed to ensure that 100% of the marine area under Portuguese sovereignty or jurisdiction is assessed as being in good environmental status and to classify 30% of national marine areas by 2030.

“Kenya committed to develop a national action plan on marine plastic debris. Meanwhile India committed to a clean coastal seas campaign and will work to ban single-use plastics.”

“We call for an ambitious, balanced, practical, effective, robust and transformative post-2020 global biodiversity framework,” reads the Lisbon declaration.

Resilient and healthy marine environments are the basis for climate regulation and sustainable development, with the potential to produce food and energy for billions of people.

At the conference, more than 150 member states voluntarily committed to conserve or protect at least 30% of the world’s oceans within marine protected areas, and other area-based conservation measures by 2030.

“[The Conference] has given us the opportunity to uncover critical issues and generate new ideas. It has also made clear the work that remains to be done and the need to continue working on the recovery of our oceans,” said Serpa Soares.


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