Three days spent discussing a number of interesting topics to bring into focus the need for actions on the means of implementations-finance, technology and capacity building:
- Trade and Climate Change: Bringing SIDS into focus
- Oceans economy, climate and harmful fish subsidies
- Circular Economy, Oceans and Plastics Pollution
During the first day, the attention was on the climate change impact, with specific lens on Small Development member States (SIDS). SIDS are unable to change the political course of efforts to mitigate climate change, thus what the international community does or does not will significantly influences their fate.
With this focus on islands and coastal communities, the agenda has oceans as its overriding theme, being people of SIDS ocean people. They depend on oceans and seas for their livelihoods; their culture and history are deeply interwoven with oceans and seas.
The inspiring opening from Patricia Janet Scotland, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth during the second day sums up the action-oriented theme of the forum:
On the front line of climate change – at the ocean-land interface – coastlines and coastal communities are among the first and most affected. Their climate, location and geomorphology, as well as their reliance on coastal transport infrastructure, increase these vulnerabilities, including their susceptibility to climate variability and change (CV&C) factors. Those climate risks include sea-level rise, cyclones, increasing air and sea surface temperatures, and changing rainfall patterns.
Just few days prior to the meeting, Hurricane Dorian killed at least 65 people in the Bahamas – leaving more than 70,000 people homeless with an estimated 13,000 homes completely destroyed, with clear tagline: #THEREISNOMORETIME.
As a result of such increased frequency and magnitude of storms, flooding, erosion, sea-level rise, fisheries and ecosystem exploitation, SIDS lives and livelihoods is threatened. Sea-surface temperature rise results in increased coral bleaching and reef degradation with multiple social, economic and environmental impacts for a range of services, including coastal protection and subsistence fisheries and tourism.
Healthy, productive and resilient oceans are critical to their survival and prosperity. Their economic mainstays are based on fishing, subsistence agriculture, handicrafts and tourism. On top of that, oceans and seas are also crucial sources of food and nutrition – not only for SIDS, but indeed for global food security and human health.
In a world approaching 9 billion people, where agriculture already uses 40% of the Earth’s land surface, increased utilisation of the ocean as a human food provider seems inevitable. Solutions are available-but they need political commitment, technological innovation and behavioural change. Simple “protection” will not be a solution.FAO, Vera Agostini
At a global level, oceans are likewise a critical part of the global economy. Three billion people depend on marine and coastal areas for livelihoods.
Ninety percent of the world trade in goods, is seaborne.
We know that oceans cover three quarters of the Earth’s surface, contain 97 per cent of the Earth’s water, and represent 99 per cent of the living space on the planet by volume. Indeed, our very survival depends on oceans and seas, as they are the primary regulator of the climate and an important sink for greenhouse gases. Oceans contain nearly 200,000 identified species, but actual numbers may lie in the millions.
SIDS host high concentrations of endemic species, which in some SIDS range from 19% to as high as 50%. From a social development perspective, oceans and seas provide critical livelihoods for women, who often assist in artisanal fishery, aquaculture and tourism.
Immersed in such topics, I was back forwarding my unique experience in Rodrigues island, the smallest of the Mascarene Islands with an area of 109 km2 situated 570 km to the northeast of Mauritius, in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
A chapter in my journey when I learned to love and appreciate even more the beauty of nature. While jogging alongside the ocean featuring marvellous sunrises every day, I was astonished by discovering mainly women in the sea for fishing at 5.30am. They represent the backbone of the island’s economy. Courageous and determined, I could find them everywhere: in a family setting, in the fields, at daily market and at the sea.
Yet despite our dependence on oceans and seas, we are not doing a good enough job in conserving, protecting and sustainably managing their resources. Human activity and climate change are causing numerous local and global threats hampering the conservation and sustainable use of oceans, seas and their related ecosystems. Among these are over-exploitation, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, destructive fishing practices, alien invasive species, marine pollution, as well as increased sea temperatures, sea-level rise, ocean acidification and criminal activity.
In general, SIDS show a greater awareness for the conservation of biodiversity for the mentioned reasons. Severe degradation of the environment and loss of considerable areas of forests gives conservation of biodiversity and environmental conservation higher priority in their local policy decisions. The willingness to make the necessary changes exists but capacity and resources are lacking.
I believe that my encounter with the island touched me not only through its remarkable beauty, but also through the passion of people for their surroundings…much more that in developed countries-where we have the arrogance to think there would always be a safety net for us.
Couldn’t suppress the urge to digress on my island experience….Just spend a moment thinking about future generations being unable to privilege from such paradises as we did: global warming will almost certainly lead to the demise of these islands which are predicted to submerge in thirty years’ time. Disappearing into the rising sea, Maldives will become the first country having to relocate all its population as refugees due to global climate change.
Coming back to the Forum, below a prospective on the Paris Agreement and Climate Action Act from a policy angle by Ms Simone Borg, Ambassador of Malta for climate change engaged in negotiations and Paris Agreement implementation.
An integrated approach requires the streamlining of the effects of climate change upon the ocean to enable comprehensive law-making exercise in this complex relationship between climate and the ocean.
International law is an appropriate tool to ensure climate and ocean governance in a manner that is responsive to the current issues surrounding the environmental concerns and the socio-economic development of all States, with the valuable involvement of non-State actors.Prof. Borg
A change of scenery was the impactful intervention by Mr. Julian Hector, Head of BBC Natural History Unit, reminding the audience of our planet’s remarkable beauty and why we must fight for it.
Surely, everyone must have come across at least once the spectacular nature documentaries, including The Blue Planet and Planet Earth, in association with David Attenborough’s authored documentaries, called Life on Earth.
In 2017, the broadcast of Saving Planet Earth, a conservation-themed series helped to raise over £1.5 million for the BBC Wildlife Fund.
A dense agenda and extremely engaging topics didn’t fail to inform, educate, and motivate a very diverse audience sharing the same commitment around this unprecedented challenge humanity faces. A session on the role of the Department for International Development (DIFD) explored the Sustainable Manufacturing Environmental Pollution (SMEP) research programme: a research portfolio on environmental degradation, climate change and renewable energy.
Manufacturing pollution is an international challenge, but for developing countries it’s often a trade-off between what’s green and what stimulates growth. Such trade-offs are not always necessary, and research can demonstrate how to bridge the gap between economy and environment.
This is the goal of a £24.6 million ($31.2 million) five-year plan supported by UK-DFID in collaboration with UNCTAD.
In the next few decades we need to do something superior, achieve a sustainable existence on earth, create a future where both people and nature can thrive.
And yet, the plan for our planet is remarkably simple: reduce our impact by making sure that everything we do, we can do forever.
If we make these changes we will have taken an exceptional journey from a million people struggling to survive to several billion people living long healthy lives on a stable planet able to provide for all our needs.
Only at that point will the Anthropocene, the age of humans be truly underway. At that point, we will be proud to call it our planet.
I wish to end with a powerful call for action from Ms P. Scotland:
“…Because the burden and responsibility hasn’t been putting in anybody else’s hands and I want everybody sitting in this room asking themselves.-what am I going to do? and not what someone else is going to do”.Secretary General, The Commonwealth