Fourteen countries have pledged to sustainably manage all national ocean areas in the next five years to curb climate change and accelerate economic recovery.
“These world leaders understand that the ocean is central to life on earth, peoples’ livelihoods and the economy, but also recognize that the ocean’s health is at risk from pressures such as pollution, overfishing and climate change,” read a news release from the High Level Panel for Sustainable Ocean Economy.
Canada, with over five million square kilometres of ocean area, is one of the countries to put forward a new ocean action agenda on Wednesday.
According to the release, the new agenda could result in the production of up to six times more food from the ocean.
It can also “generate 40 times more renewable energy, lift millions of people out of poverty, and contribute one-fifth of the GHG emissions reductions needed to stay within 1.5°C,” the release said.
The panel said more than three billion people around the world rely on food from the ocean.
“The ocean provides food, energy and medicine. It is the source of recreation, discovery, identity and culture for billions of people,” read the release.
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in the release that oceans are at the heart of many Canadian communities as well.
“Having the world’s longest coastline, Canada recognizes that our economy and our well-being are deeply connected with the health of our oceans, and that we have a responsibility to protect them,” Trudeau said.
Boris Worm, a professor of marine ecology at Dalhousie University, was the scientific advisor to the Canadian government and reviewer of papers written for the newly proposed oceans agenda.
Worm says the world’s oceans are at a critical turning point, as some estimate a decline of 50 per cent in marine resources.
“In Canada, only one-quarter of fish stocks is considered reliably healthy,” Worm says.
“There’s a road to recovery we need to engage in, and we’re willing to engage, and that’s what this panel is all about — to make sure it actually happens.”
The ocean panel worked on a new set of recommendations for the last two years. Now, the 14 member nations hope to have 100 per cent of oceans under national jurisdiction sustainably managed by 2025.
That panel includes the following countries:
Worm says the panel was formed from a collective agreement that people have not been treating oceans fairly.
“We’ve been taking what we want and putting back in what we don’t want.”
These countries will balance “protection, production and prosperity” in a holistic approach to managing oceans. The commitment will affect nearly 30 million square kilometres of national waters.
The Sustainable Ocean Plan recommendations focus on five areas: ocean wealth, ocean health, ocean equity, ocean knowledge and ocean finance. Members of the panel plan to implement actions in these recommendations by 2030 or sooner.
In addition, the panel supports a global target to protect 30 per cent of the ocean by 2030, “where each country’s contribution will depend on national circumstances.”
Worm says co-ordination of efforts globally has been lacking in climate actions to protect oceans.
“The ocean connects us all… I think there is a recognition now in policymaking that wasn’t there before, that the ocean does play a pivotal role in our life support system and that no one nation can tackle this by itself, just like climate change.”
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He says having these 14 countries commit to sustainable ocean action is a big step.
“There’s a real new focus on rebuilding things, not just preventing things from getting worse, but actually having them get better over time,” says Worm.
Worm says Canada is lucky to have a large ocean space, but 60 per cent of the world’s oceans is in the high seas, meaning it doesn’t belong to any particular country.
“In fact, legally, it belongs to every single person on the planet so we all have to look after it.”
In the news release, Trudeau said he is calling on more world leaders to join the panel in achieving these goals.
“Together, we can restore the health of our oceans in a sustainable way, build stronger and more resilient blue economies, and create a healthier, cleaner, and prosperous future for current and future generations,” Trudeau said.
Worm says he hopes to see new U.S. leadership join the panel as well, as he says current President Donald Trump was not interested.
“(Joe) Biden has made clear he’s bringing America back to the international stage in terms of collaborating and working together with other countries.”
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Worm says oceans have long been an afterthought and now, that is changing.
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