World faces ‘oceanic emergency’, UN warns as activists push for action

by Barbara R. Abercrombie
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The five-day United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal, aims to restore ocean health.

The world is facing an “oceanic emergency”, United Nations head Antonio Guterres warned as thousands of activists, scientists, and leaders gathered at the UN Oceans Conference in the Portuguese capital to call for measures to be strengthened—Protection of the sea.

“We’ve taken the ocean for granted,” Guterres told policymakers, experts, and advocates, during Monday’s plenary opening in Lisbon, describing how seas were ravaged by climate change and pollution.

“I urge alUN Ocean Conference participants to correctht these mistakes and do our part for the ocean. We need to take action and turn the tide,” he said.

The five-day Ocean Conference, attracting people from more than 120 countries, aims to restore the oceans’ health, covering 70 percent of the Earth’s surface and providing food and livelihoods for billions of people.

Oceans are home to an estimated 700,000 to a million species and produce more than half of the world’s oxygen. However, they have faced the effects of climate change, including global warming, pollution, and acidification.

On a beach in Lisbon, activists from the Ocean Rebellion group held a demonstration on Monday with placards reading: “If the sea dies, we die”.

“The largest ecosystem in the world … is still unprotected and dying as we watch,” the group said.

The five-day event has attracted leaders, scientists, and activists from around the world [Armando Franca/AP Photo]

The UN said the conference, co-hosted by Portugal and Kenya, will adopt a statement that, while not binding on the signatories, could help implement and facilitate the protection and conservation of oceans and their resources. The information will be confirmed on Friday.

At the event, Guterres called on governments and businesses to increase funding to create a sustainable economic model for managing the oceans.

oceanic emergency

Scientists warn that drastic reductions in greenhouse gases are needed to restore ocean health.

Activists also say climate change is pushing ocean temperatures to record levels and making them more acidic. Absorbing about a quarter of CO2 pollution — although emissions have skyrocketed over the past 60 years — has made seawater acidic, threatening the food chains in the water and the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon.

“We are just beginning to understand the extent to which climate change will harm ocean health,” said Charlotte de Fontaubert, the World Bank’s global leader for the blue economy.

According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), what makes it worse is.

Global fisheries will also be in the spotlight during the five-day event.

“At least a third of wild fish stocks are overfished, and less than 10 percent of the ocean is protected,” Kathryn Matthews, chief scientist at the United States-based nonprofit Oceana, told AFP.

The European Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans, and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevicius (standing, center) during a cleaning session on the beach of Carcavelos, Oeiras, on the outskirts of Lisbon [Tiago Petinga/EPA-EDE]

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