Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland today urged the world to take action to protect the ocean environment and safeguard the future of nations who depend on the marine economy for national development.
“We hold as paramount the health of our oceans, the protection of its ecological integrity, and restoration of its resilience,” she said in her address to the Ocean Conference at UN Headquarters in New York.
The Secretary-General joined heads of government and representatives from civil society, business, academia and science to call for measures to reverse the deterioration of the ocean, stressing the need for a regenerative model of sustainable development to “preserve ocean health while relying on ocean resources.”
“Sustainable development of national maritime industries, and securing a proper return to a nation for the exploitation of its marine resources, can be a game-changer,” said the Secretary-General, speaking on day two of the conference.
More than 700 voluntary commitments to take action to improve the health of the ocean have been lodged by member states and participants at the conference, which runs until Friday.
The Commonwealth Secretariat, which the Secretary-General leads, will continue to advocate for and support small and vulnerable member states in an effort to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals and the landmark Paris accord on climate change, she said.
“Our shared goal, along with the United Nations, is to help Commonwealth member countries access the support they need to achieve development aspirations for their people, which must prioritise a healthy planet. Only together can we deliver on the Paris Agreement to safeguard an enduring and positive legacy, especially for the smallest and most vulnerable countries among us.”
The conference was opened on Monday with a traditional Fijian ‘Kava’ ceremony. In his opening address, Fiji’s Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, who is co-chair alongside the government of Sweden, offered a stark warning.
“Climate change poses the biggest threat the world has ever known. And the quality of our oceans and seas is also deteriorating at an alarming rate. They are interlinked, because rising sea levels, as well as ocean acidity and warmer waters have a direct effect on our reefs and fish stocks and the prosperity of our coastal communities,” the Prime Minister said.
During her address to the United Nations General Assembly, the Secretary-General offered “hearty congratulations on a job well done” to Fiji. “This is a small island developing state accomplishment for which we are bursting with pride and offer our wholehearted support.”
The President of the UN General Assembly, Peter Thomson, said in the opening session that “in most probability this conference represents the best opportunity we will ever have to reverse the cycle of decline that human activity has brought upon the Ocean.”
UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the conference that threats to the ocean which are created by human activity can be reversed and prevented with decisive coordinated action. “The health of our oceans and seas requires us to put aside short-term national gain, to avoid long-term global catastrophe,” he said.
At the conclusion of the conference, on Friday, governments are expected to formally adopt a joint ‘call for action’ stressing the need to implement Sustainable Development Goal 14 on the oceans. This will include commitments to develop adaptation and mitigation measures to ward against ocean and coastal acidification, sea-level rise and other harmful impacts of climate change.
“I have been heartened to hear the emphasis on partnerships during the conference,” the Commonwealth Secretary-General added in her address. “Global issues, confronting interconnected stretches of ocean, need collaborative action.”
Find out more: thecommonwealth.org/oceanconference