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Key takeaways from the UN Ocean Conference

Members of the ISC Network gave us their take on the conference, including videos, events, and statements, all of which underline the need to build on the momentum of the United Nations Ocean Conference to move from words to action on ocean protection. Hear from Martin Visbeck, Patricia Miloslavich, Leopoldo Cavaleri Gerhardinger, Corrine Almeida, and Maritza Cárdenas.

The UN Ocean Conference, which concluded on 1 July after five days of discussion online and in-person in Lisbon, Portugal, resulted in a new Declaration by Heads of State and Government and other high-level representatives re-affirming the importance of action to improve the health of the ocean and its ecosystems.

The Declaration notably stresses the importance of science-based action and partnerships to contribute towards this goal, and to delivering on Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG14). In particular, the Declaration notes that ocean science is urgently needed to contribute to:  

  • Improving understanding of past, present and planned human activities on the ocean; 
  • Restoring and maintaining fish stocks, recognizing that a healthy ocean is an important part of the food system; 
  • Preventing, reducing and controlling marine pollution of all kinds, including plastic pollution; 
  • Supporting planning and implementation of marine protected areas and other area-based management measures; 
  • Developing and implementing measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change, to reduce disaster risk, to address loss and damage, and to enhance resilience.  

The Declaration also commits to strengthen systemic observation and data collection efforts, supporting inclusive scientific exchange, capacity building and respect for different sources of knowledge. It commends the work of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, for which the ISC is a partner.

The level of commitment on display has been widely praised, with momentum around action for a sustainable ocean showing no signs of slowing down. However, concerns remain about whether the kind of finance required to support a step-up in ocean science will materialize – SDG14 was recently revealed as the least well-funded SDG. In addition, deep sea mining looks set to be a contentious issue for the years to come.

We caught up with members of the ISC Network who had attended the conference to get their reflections:

Martin Visbeck of the GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research Kiel and Kiel University, and the ISC’s Governing Board, gave statements on the opportunities of Digital Twins of the Ocean, and on the interlinkages between SDGs and how SDG 14 on the Ocean contributes to advancing other goals.

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Martin Visbeck at UNOC2022 – Statement on the opportunities of Digital Twins of the Ocean
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Martin Visbeck at UNOC2022 – Statement on how SDG 14 contributes to advancing other goals

In a radio interview, Visbeck noted that the importance of the ocean was often not that well known in policy circles and so such conferences were important for raising awareness. Listen to an interview (in German) with Martin Visbeck.

Patricia Miloslavich, Executive Director of the International Science Council’s Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR), said:

“The 2022 United Nations Ocean Conference (UNOC 2022) had an impressive program of activities providing opportunities to learn and network on scientific, technical, policy, socio-economic, cultural, and other topics within the common goal of achieving SDG 14. From the formal platforms provided by the plenaries and the interactive dialogues to the multiple side events taking place in Lisbon either inside or outside the venue as well as those happening online, ocean stakeholders had the opportunity to participate, contribute and have their voices heard. It was encouraging to see the strong involvement and participation of indigenous communities and of citizen science. At different levels, multidisciplinary and multi-stakeholder dialogues were initiated, partnerships were established, and voluntary commitments were made. The UNOC 2022 political declaration “Our ocean, our future, our responsibility” by Heads of State and Government high-level representatives recognizes the urgency to act upon the multiple problems affecting the ocean and therefore human wellbeing and reaffirms their voluntary commitments for the implementation of science-based and innovative actions to achieving SDG 14.

Overall, the conference was a step forward to strengthen the dialogue between multiple stakeholders, however, thematic silos are still evident and more efforts towards multi-thematic integration and across stakeholders needs to be further encouraged and facilitated. Following up on progress of the voluntary commitments including resource mobilization will be critical to accomplish the goals.” 

Watch the statement given by Patricia Milosevic on behalf of the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR) at the 7th Plenary Session of the conference:

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SCOR, in partnership with the ISC, also held a side event on “Developing the capacity we need for the ocean we want”, which brought together international experts on capacity development in ocean science to inform about the existing training opportunities and to provide examples of international engagement and multi-thematic networking across stakeholders through case studies. The event invited participants to take advantage of these opportunities and to get involved in developing an integrated ocean community aimed at strengthening capacity in ocean sciences from regional to global scales.

Leopoldo Cavaleri Gerhardinger, Institute for Environmental Science and Technology – Autonomous University of Barcelona, liaised with several ocean science (ISC, Ocean Knowledge-Action Network and its International Project Office, Future Earth project, Brazilian Future Ocean Panel, The Oceanographic Society and Nova FCSH: Portugal) and human rights-based organizations (International Collective in Support of Fishworkers) for the collaborative crafting of a shared statement promoting the voices of the global ocean humanities and social sciences communities, entitled “Bridging Shades of Blue”. This highlighted one shade of ‘Blue’ deserving more attention – the ocean’s past, which is often not given enough credit for innovating towards ocean sustainability. It is a call for the global ocean community to fully embrace ocean citizens’ knowledge and collective action to help bridge the divide between alternative (often conflicting) visions of ocean-based development, e.g., blue economy vs blue justice.

For Gerhardinger, the Lisbon conference was an unparalleled opportunity for networking and envisioning new, critical collaborations between these institutions and ocean research communities across the globe. For instance, Leopoldo highlights that he was also able to share some social science perspectives during a side event on “Ocean Observing for Ocean Sustainability” – where he explored potential applications of participatory network mapping methodologies to mobilize ocean citizens’ knowledge about ocean governance systems into long-term ocean observing systems. 

Corrine Almeida, Biological Oceanographer Atlantic Technical University Institute of Engineering and Marine Sciences, who gave a statement on the need to support third countries by sharing and making accessible the best scientific knowledge available to support sustainable fisheries, said:

Maritza Cárdenas, Professor & Researcher at the University of Guayaquil in Ecuador and Researcher at the BioElit Foundation, noted:

“The 2022 United Nations Ocean Conference represented an excellent start for the members of the BioElit Foundation in Ecuador. It was an event full of opportunities to make connections between institutions at the international level, broaden the horizon of the issues to work on related to SDG 14, find strategic allies, join efforts to take action in the conservation of our oceans and look beyond our borders. Many thanks to the United Nations and the International Science Council for the opportunity and support they gave me to participate in this important event”

While re-affirming the importance of action to improve the health of the ocean and its ecosystems is a compelling message, the international community must now take advantage of the momentum from the United Nations Ocean Conference to move from affirmations to action on ocean protection. The ocean is increasingly under serious threat with climate change increasing sea levels and making the ocean warmer, more acidic and depleted in oxygen, compounded by the catastrophic impacts of overfishing, biodiversity decline and pollution from land. As underlined by the scientists and researchers in the ISC Network, SDG 14 cannot be considered in isolation, for the ocean and its ecosystems are an indispensable dimension to act on if we hope to be able to mitigate climate change.

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