What progress has been made following the United Nations Conference on the Ocean in Lisbon?

The 2nd United Nations Ocean Conference ended in Lisbon on Friday 1 July 2022. Like the rest of the entire Ocean community, the Tara Ocean Foundation went to the conference to ensure the ambition of the actions taken by the Member States.

Conférence des Nations Unies sur l’Océan de Lisbonne

Hundreds of new commitments for the Ocean registered

Last February, the One Ocean Summit initiated by President Macron in Brest launched a year 2022 that can be described as a “Super Year for the Ocean”.

After the positive outcomes of the General Assembly of the UN Environmental Program in Nairobi in March (UNEA-5.2), where states agreed to launch negotiations on a legally binding agreement to combat plastic pollution, and the 12th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO), where members reached an agreement to regulate subsidies to harmful and illegal fisheries after 20 years of negotiations, the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon was halfway through this year 2022. 

The conference opened with the powerful words of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres :

We have taken the Ocean for granted. But today we are facing what I would call a state of emergency.
Antonio Guterres
Salle plénière de la conférence des Nations Unies sur l’Océan à Lisbonne
Plenary room of the United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon © Martin Alessandrini/ Tara Ocean Foundation

Faced with this state of emergency, the States came to present their commitments made and to come, always based on science, to fight against this decline of Ocean health. More than 700 commitments were listed and the Lisbon Declaration was adopted at the end of the conference. In this declaration, the signatory states commit to act to improve the management, protection and restoration of marine ecosystems and biodiversity in their exclusive economic zones but also in the high seas within the framework of the future BBNJ treaty (Biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction), to improve the compliance of fishing practices and aquatic food production with environmental standards, to accelerate the transition to the blue economy, to fight against marine pollution, to encourage and share science and innovation as well as to mobilize finance for a sustainable ocean.

This last point is particularly critical to achieving these goals. Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG14) is the least funded of the SDGs. Peter Thomson, the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, made it clear during this conference:

Massive and innovative funding for actions to conserve marine ecosystems and transform our ocean systems is now part of humanity’s future.
Peter Thomson

A growing role for civil society in the dialogues for a healthy ocean…

To achieve these goals, the UN Ocean Conference brought the Ocean community together for the first time since the beginning of the covid crisis. After having been moved by a year, more than 6,000 participants came, including 24 heads of state and government. But what stands out strongly, and was the strength of this UN conference, is that it did not simply bring together nations. More than 2,000 representatives of civil society were present: scientists, NGOs, etc. The richness of the themes addressed and the ambition of the proposed actions owe much to the massive mobilization of a civil society that is now fully part of the dialogue, as evidenced by the many side-events led by civil society representatives.

The growing debate on deep sea mining embodies this mobilization. Through a moratorium project initially supported by Peru and some Pacific island states, the subject has been massively taken up by NGOs and scientists present in Lisbon. So much so that President Macron, who came directly from the NATO summit to announce the joint candidacy of France and Costa Rica to organize the next Ocean Conference in January 2025, ended up taking a stand against this deep-sea exploitation.

The Foundation welcomes France’s recognition of the need for in-depth scientific knowledge of an ecosystem before engaging in any industrial activity. Deep waters, still unknown, represent a key element in the oceanic carbon pump. As stated in all our advocacy commitments, decision-making must always be enlightened by scientific knowledge.

… in contrast to a marine microbiome that is still forgotten!

As part of this mobilization of civil society, the Tara Ocean Foundation was in Lisbon to present the need for better comprehension of the marine microbiome. Once again, the discussions related to carbon fixation by the Ocean, or blue carbon, focused on coastal ecosystems: mangroves, marshes and sea grass beds. This hegemony can be explained by the in-depth knowledge we have of these ecosystems, and the fact that, unlike the marine microbiome, for the moment, they represent quantifiable and easily achievable actions for States.

Nevertheless, the climate services provided by the Ocean are essentially driven by its microbiome and its incredible biological activity. Invisible to the eye, this “forgotten” ecosystem in the negotiations was once again the subject of debate by the Foundation. Co-hosted by the OFB (French biodiversity agency) and the FFEM (French facility for global environment), we organized a side-event to present the scientific advances being made to understand the microbiome. More importantly for the “UN” audience present at the event, a round-table discussion was held on how these scientific advances could feed into ocean governance processes: the negotiations of the future high seas treaty (BBNJ), the post-2020 agenda of the Convention on Biological Diversity and future area-based management tools based on this complex science of the microbiome. Alejandro Maass, mathematical researcher at the University of Chile, presented a pilot project to be launched this year in Chile: a project to identify key ocean planktonic areas. The production of these data and the dialogue with the states will eventually allow us to better manage and protect the climatic services that the Ocean provides.

Florian Botto (représentation monégasque à l'ONU), Haydée Rodriguez (Projet SARGADOM) et Loreley Picourt (Plateforme Océan & Climat) échangent sur l'importance de la science du microbiome pour une gouvernance effective de l'Océan
Florian Botto (Monegasque representation at the UN), Haydée Rodriguez (SARGADOM Project) and Loreley Picourt (Ocean & Climate Platform) discuss the importance of microbiome science for effective ocean governance © Chloé Sartena / Tara Ocean Foundation

The Foundation thus brought to Lisbon its vision of a shared, high-level and innovative science for a better understanding of the Ocean in its entirety. This notion of innovation was also at the heart of a Varda Group event, co-organized by the Tara Ocean Foundation, Bertarelli Philantropy and MedPan. Entitled “Welcome out of the box!”, the ten panelists of this side-event presented the results of several workshops held previously this year on the Ocean governance:

All of these proposals are detailed in a document, the Lisbon Addendum, but it is certain that the issue of Ocean conservation requires the mobilization and ambition this project was able to initiate.

What to expect after Lisbon?

After Lisbon, this “super year for the Ocean” will continue its course. Its next stop will be in August, during which the Intergovernmental Conference on a treaty on marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction will be held. The Tara Ocean Foundation will be there to support this shared desire to conclude negotiations that have been underway since 2015, but most importantly to ensure that the final text is compatible with a facilitated, shared and equitable fundamental research.

© Noélie Pansiot / Tara Ocean Foundation

In November, Sharm El-Sheikh will host the UN Climate Conference (COP27) to continue to affirm the Ocean as our number one ally in the mitigation and adaptation to global warming. Subsequently, the COP15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in December should allow finalizing the modalities of the 30×30 objective. This agreement, which aims to protect 30% of the planet’s marine and terrestrial ecosystems by 2030, must be finalized this year, or else the prospects of reaching this objective will be drastically reduced.  France has already officially protected 33% of its EEZ, but the levels of protection and the geographical homogeneity of this coverage remain very limited.

Peter Thomson couldn’t stop repeating it during this Ocean Conference:

There is no healthy planet without a healthy Ocean and the health of the Ocean is undeniably in decline.
Peter Thomson

However, if we seize the opportunities that this year 2022 offers us, we can stop it”. Countries have already made the right choices twice this year, and it’s up to them to keep up the momentum. It is up to us to ensure they do so.

By Martin Alessandrini, Advocacy and International Cooperation Officer

To go further:

The Tara Oceans consortium published this June on the cover of Nature Microbiology an article on the priorities for research on the ocean microbiome. This line of study must now be heard and understood by policy makers and different scales of managers as a key to better protect and manage the Ocean.

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