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Inspiring Action at the Heart of the Ocean Crisis

Updates from 2022’s Our Ocean Conference in Palau

OceanImageBank_TraceyJennings_04
©  Tracey Jennings / Ocean Image Bank

Earlier this month, ocean leaders from governments, businesses and expert organizations around the world gathered for the seventh annual Our Ocean Conference in the island nation of Palau. Jointly sponsored by Palau and the United States, the theme of the conference “Our Ocean, Our People, Our Prosperity” focused on islander perspectives, traditions and approaches to ensure the health of our ocean. As United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, said, “We need the full-throated voice of all Island States to help make the difference, because there are big developing nations that are not cutting enough.”

From our work on shipping emissions, plastic pollution, ocean climate justice and ghost gear, the need for greater action is clear to us at Ocean Conservancy. Launched in 2014 by then Secretary of State John Kerry, the Our Ocean Conference is a rallying platform for nations, companies and civil society to come together and jointly commit to actions that can help improve and conserve the health of our ocean. After being postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s conference was a key opportunity to build on past commitments and step up with new approaches to ocean protection.

For example, in 2019 Norway and SeaBOS joined the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI). And indeed, at this year’s Our Ocean Conference, we saw two new governments join the GGGI: The Government of Spain and the Government of the Republic of Korea—bringing our total number of Government partners to the GGGI to 20.

Our Ocean conference
© Felipe Victoria(Ocean Conservancy)

At this year’s conference, 410 commitments amounting to $16.35 billion were made, bringing the total to more than 1,800 total commitments worth approximately $108 billion since 2014. Each commitment from Our Ocean is publicly tracked and updated in a database which builds a layer of accountability into the process.

At this year’s conference, the Ocean Conservancy team was busy announcing new commitments from the GGGI and highlighting how we can eliminate emissions from the maritime shipping industry.

Global Ghost Gear Initiative

Ingrid Giskes, Director of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative at Ocean Conservancy, highlighted in her plenary speech on day two how both climate change and ghost gear stress marine environments, threaten the wildlife that live there and harm the communities reliant on these ecosystems. Ocean Conservancy also hosted a side event about ghost gear which brought together a number of GGGI Governments and private sector actors to discuss how multi-stakeholder partnerships are key to addressing ghost gear holistically.

The GGGI made three major commitments: to procure new GGGI member governments; to add more than half a million data records for the GGGI Data Portal; and to secure significant financial investment by 2023.

South Korea, the first Asian government to join the GGGI, has already begun their efforts to address ghost gear by working on the research and development of new fishing gear material sources, real time tracking and reporting of gear to support effective retrieval, a deposit-return scheme for retrieved gear, and implementation of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization’s Voluntary Guidelines on the Marking of Fishing Gear.

Ingrid Giskes sits on Our Ocean panel
© Felipe Victoria(Ocean Conservancy)

Spain, the first Mediterranean GGGI partner government, will work closely with the GGGI and regional bodies like the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR) on setting ambitious national and regional targets on recycling and extended producer responsibility (EPR). The Sub-Directorate General for Marine Protection will lead implementation of Spain’s commitment to the GGGI.

Shipping

The maritime shipping industry’s greenhouse gas emissions remain one of the key contributors to global climate change, roughly on par with every coal fired power plant in the United States. At a side event— The Clean, Resilient Maritime Sector of the Future: Turning Commitments into Action sponsored by the UN Foundation—Ocean Conservancy’s shipping emissions campaign manager, Dan Hubbell launched our new report on alternative shipping fuels. To stay in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement, the shipping industry needs to transition away from fossil fuels and towards green hydrogen-based fuels as soon as possible.

During the conference, 17 additional countries joined the Danish Declaration and publicly committed to zeroing out shipping emissions by 2050 at the latest. Three new green corridor projects in the Baltic region, Chile, Australia and southeast Asia were also announced, along with a new framework defining what a green corridor will mean in practice. These commitments indicate a clear path for further action in the transition to green shipping.

What’s Next?

With the United Nations Oceans Conference coming up in June 2022, countries must continue to build on this momentum for ocean protection, follow through on the commitments they’ve made and continue to increase our shared ambition to maintain a healthy ocean for all. Like Special Envoy Kerry said in his closing remarks “We need to do more, plus.”

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