Earlier this month, ocean leaders from governments, businesses and expert organizations around the world came together in the island nation of Palau for the seventh annual Our Oceans conference. Co-hosted by Palau and the United States, the conference, “Our Oceans, Our People, Our Prosperity,” focused on Islander perspectives, traditions and ways to ensure the health of our oceans. As the US President’s special envoy for climate, John Kerry, said, “We need the full force of all island nations to help change the status quo, because some large developing countries are not doing enough to cut emissions.”

From our work on shipping emissions, plastic pollution, ocean climate justice and ghost gear, it’s clear that the Marine Conservancy needs to take more action. Launched by then-Secretary of State John Kerry in 2014, Our Ocean Conference is a rallying platform where nations, companies and civil society come together to work together on actions that help improve and protect the health of our oceans. After being postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s meeting is an important opportunity to build on past commitments and take a new approach to ocean conservation.

For example, in 2019 Norway and SeaBOS joined the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI). In fact, at this year’s Our Oceans conference, we saw two new governments join the GGGI: Spain and the Republic of Korea – bringing the total number of GGGI’s government partners to 20.

Our Ocean ConferenceOur Ocean Conference
© Felipe Victoria (Marine Conservation Society)

At this year’s meeting, 410 commitments were made, totaling $16.35 billion, bringing the total since 2014 to more than 1,800 commitments worth about $108 billion. Each of Our Ocean’s commitments is publicly tracked and updated in a database that establishes a layer of accountability process.

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

Global Ghost Gear Initiative

Ingrid Giskes, director of the Ocean Conservancy’s Global Ghost Gear Initiative, highlighted how climate change and ghost gear are stressing the marine environment, threatening the wildlife that lives there, and harming the communities that depend on these ecosystems in a plenary speech on day two. Ocean Conservancy also hosted a side event on ghost gear, bringing together some of the GGGI government and private sector participants to discuss how multi-stakeholder partnerships can be the key to a comprehensive solution to ghost gear.

GGGI has made three main commitments: securing new GGGI member governments; adding over half a million data records to the GGGI data portal; and securing significant financial investments by 2023.

South Korea, the first Asian government to join the GGGI, has begun to address the ghost gear problem, working on research and development of new sources of gear material, real-time tracking and reporting of gear to support efficient retrieval, deposit-recovery gear return programs, and enforcement Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Voluntary Guidelines on the Marking of Fishing Gear.

Ingrid Giskes sits on our ocean panelIngrid Giskes sits on our ocean panel
© Felipe Victoria (Marine Conservation Society)

Spain is the first Mediterranean GGGI partner government and will work closely with regional bodies such as the GGGI and the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR) to set ambitious national and regional recycling targets and expanded producer responsibility (EPR). The Marine Conservation Authority will lead the implementation of Spain’s commitment to the GGGI.

shipping

Greenhouse gas emissions from the shipping industry remain one of the major contributors to global climate change, roughly as much as every coal-fired power plant in the United States. In a side event – A Clean, Resilient Maritime Sector of the Future: Turning Promise into Action, sponsored by the United Nations Foundation – Dan Hubbell, Marine Conservation Society’s Shipping Emissions Campaign Manager, released our new report on Alternative Shipping Fuels. In line with the goals of the Paris Agreement, the shipping industry needs to move from fossil fuels to green hydrogen as soon as possible.

During the meeting, another 17 countries joined the Danish Declaration and made a public commitment to zero shipping emissions by 2050 at the latest. Three new green corridor projects in the Baltic region, Chile, Australia and South East Asia were also announced, as well as a new framework to define what green corridors mean in practice. These commitments point to a clear path for further action in the transition to green shipping.

What’s next?

With the United Nations Ocean Conference in June 2022, it is imperative that nations continue to build on the momentum for ocean protection, deliver on the commitments they have made, and continue to strengthen our shared ambition to maintain healthy oceans for all. As the Crete Envoy said in his closing remarks, “We still need to do more.”

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