UN chief asks nations to 'change track' in protecting ocean from climate change

The ocean is becoming warmer and more acidic, affecting its ecosystems, warned UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. PHOTO: REUTERS

UNITED NATIONS (XINHUA) - United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday (Feb 11) called on the international community to "change track" in protecting the ocean from the climate crisis.

Global warming, biodiversity loss and pollution are a triple crisis facing the planet, he said at the One Ocean Summit, warning that the ocean "shoulders a great deal of the burden".

As the ocean serves as a giant carbon and heat sink, it is becoming warmer and more acidic, affecting its ecosystems.

"Polar ice is melting and global weather patterns are changing," Mr Guterres said in his video message to the conference, which took place this week in the northern French coastal city of Brest.

The communities who rely on the ocean are hurting as well, he added.

"More than 3 billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods."

He painted a grim picture of dwindling marine species; bleached coral reefs; coastal ecosystems that are dumping grounds for sewage; and nutrient-poor seas choked by debris.

Additionally, fish stocks are under threat from overfishing, destructive fishing practices, and illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.

"We must change track," underscored the secretary-general.

It is 40 years since the signing of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

"The importance of legal certainty in the ocean is paramount," said Mr Guterres.

He said that the second UN Ocean Conference, which will be held in Lisbon from June 27 to July 1 this year, is "an opportunity to cement the role of the ocean" in global efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and implement the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The UN chief emphasised the need to intensify efforts to protect the ocean, saying a "sustainable blue economy can drive economic progress and job creation" while protecting the climate.

"We need... more effective partnerships to address land-based sources of marine pollution... urgency in the deployment of offshore renewable energy, which can provide clean power and employment, and... (less) fossil fuels in the ocean economy," he said.

In his remarks, Mr Guterres praised the "encouraging steps" taken by some countries, including France, to end single-use plastics and urged others to follow suit.

About 90 per cent of world trade is transported by sea, he said, which contributes to nearly three per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

"The shipping sector needs to contribute to the necessary 45 per cent cut in emissions needed by 2030, and zero emissions by 2050, in the effort to keep alive our hopes of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 deg C," the UN chief said.

A breakthrough on adaptation and resilience for coastal communities whose lives, homes and livelihoods are at risk is also imperative.

"We must capitalise on the opportunities that nature-based solutions, such as mangroves and seagrasses, provide," he added.

Warmer temperatures mean melting sea ice, increasing ocean temperatures, and warmer water - affecting ecosystems and global weather patterns.

The secretary-general stressed the need for global partnerships and investment in order to promote a sustainable ocean economy, along with increased support for ocean science "so that our actions are informed by the knowledge and understanding of the ocean". "Too much remains unmapped, unobserved and unexplored," he said.

Throughout the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, Mr Guterres encouraged concerned citizens everywhere to "deliver on our collective promise of a healthy blue planet for future generations".

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