93% of the world’s oceans are unprotected. It can cost more than three billion people

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The ocean is a vital life support system for the planet and we are running out of time to conserve the marine biodiversity it harbors and on which we all depend.

Our blue ally, which has played a key role in climate protection so far, is quickly running out of breath. With rising water temperatures and sea levels, acidification, pollution, unsustainable exploitation of marine resources, depletion of fish stocks, the near disappearance of coral reefs and the destruction of delicate ecosystems, the ocean is being disproportionately stressed by human activities.

Now more than ever we need to consider the potential impact of its demise.

The ocean plays an indispensable role in providing and regulating resources vital to sustaining life on Earth – from rainwater to drinking water and as the source of our food, the weather and the oxygen we breathe.

Secure the future of our oceans

Recognizing the key role the ocean plays for people around the world, the United Nations has adopted a Sustainable Development Goal that focuses on ocean conservation and includes targets for action to address a range of issues. While some progress has been made, more is needed to secure the future of our oceans.

Scientists have called for at least 30% of ocean waters to be secured as fully or highly protected protected areas, free from harmful human activities such as bottom trawling and seabed mining. This is how we can give the ocean a chance in the face of climate change.

Today, only 7% of the world’s oceans are protected and only 3% are highly protected. Furthermore, there is no legal mechanism to establish fully protected marine areas in the high seas and deep seas, our common international waters, which make up nearly two-thirds of the global ocean.

2.4 billion people live on seacoasts – about 40% of the world’s population. More than three billion people depend on the ocean for their livelihood, most of them in developing countries. The degradation of coastal and marine ecosystems threatens the physical, economic and food security of communities around the world.

Continuing our current path of ocean destruction will impact human life and livelihoods.

The role of the oceans and coastal and marine ecosystems in climate protection is often overlooked. Protecting and restoring marine habitats such as seagrass beds, salt marshes and mangroves and their associated food webs can remove up to five times more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than tropical forests.

Choosing not to prioritize protecting our oceans deprives us of the tools we desperately need to meet our climate change goals.

Commitments are required

With several high-level ocean negotiations planned for 2022, this year is filled with opportunities for the conservation of our oceans. Our only hope for a brighter future lies in accepting unprecedentedly bold commitments to protect the oceans.

Science agrees: to maximize the health and resilience of the global ocean, at least 30% of it must be protected by a network of high and full marine protected areas (MPA) by 2030.

Achieving this goal will require a new agreement for the conservation and management of marine life on the high seas to ensure human activities are managed in a way that prevents significant adverse impacts, with robust oversight mechanisms and provisions to establish fully protected MPAs high seas seas.

Governments that have joined the Blue Leaders campaign are calling on all countries to get behind them at the upcoming Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CoP15), expected to be held in August 2022 in Kunming, China to make commitments.

Another important moment is the UN Ocean Conference scheduled to take place from June 27 to July 1 in Lisbon, Portugal. Each of these gatherings offers countries an opportunity to come together, join the Blue Leaders and take the action our ocean desperately needs.

The ocean knows no borders: it unites us all as the physical link between coastal countries, communities and individuals and as the source of our food, water and air. We all face similar challenges and similar opportunities. Let’s be brave for the ocean together.

Sharon Ikeazor is Minister of State for Environment, Government of Nigeria and Vincent Van Quickenborne is Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Justice and the North Sea in the Belgian government

That article previously published in the World Economic Forum.


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