United NationsDepartment of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development

Race to Zero: Fighting Climate Change: Ocean as Part of the Solution/Nature-Based Solutions

Closing Remarks by Ambassador Peter Thomson

Greetings to everyone and thank you for your attention to this vital subject. In the Pacific Islands, we have long been saying that Ocean change and Climate change must not be separated in the interests of bureaucratic processes. It has long been obvious to us that their connection is too intricately entwined for them to be dealt with in siloed processes. Thus, it is good to see that our calls for a more integrated approach are now being heard and acted upon.

As you know, considerable progress has been made within the UNFCCC’s processes for recognition of the Ocean’s role in regulating the global climate system, and I look forward to participating early next month in the SBSTA Ocean-Climate Dialogue. But in my experience of multilateral processes, vigilance will be required if the Ocean’s legitimate interest and its hard-won place at the table are to be maintained. Political power resides in terrestrially focussed organisations and governments, and until Nature is given the vote, that will always be the case. Here let me note that if Nature were to be given the vote, the Ocean would indeed prevail; for an estimated 50-80% of all life on Planet Earth is found under the Ocean’s surface.

I won’t preach to the choir by setting out all of the solutions the Ocean offers, for both adaptation and mitigation, in the face of the Climate Crisis. Marine ecosystems offer a myriad of Nature-based solutions to tackle Climate Crisis and you’ve already covered most of these in your discussions today; so let me just emphasise again that protection of marine ecosystems will allow the Ocean to carry on its role as the great regulator of Climate. That is one of the chief reasons we pursue SDG14’s implementation so rigorously; for were we to ignore the Ocean’s role, we would do so at our peril. Should we allow its health to continue its current decline, through habitat destruction, rampant pollution, and harmful fisheries policies and practices, the Ocean’s ability to perform that great role would steadily diminish and life on planet Earth would suffer in untold ways. I say again, no healthy Planet without a healthy Ocean.

‘Anthropogenic greenhouse gases’, the expression rolls off the tongue too easily these days. The poor old dinosaurs didn’t have the luxury of extinction foresight; they had no chance to spread the words, ‘Look out everyone, there’s a massive meteor heading our way.’ In our case, the best of human science has made it very clear to us, and we cannot unknow this, that anthropogenic greenhouse gases building up since the commencement of the industrial age, have been heating our planet and in the process have been acidifying the Ocean, deoxygenating it, and warming it, causing such global marine phenomena as rising sea levels and the death of coral. Make no mistake, the Ocean-Climate nexus is at the crux of human security on this planet, and no one who cares for the future of our children and grandchildren should underestimate that fact.

We are seeing light at the end of the tunnel. Big governments, big economies, big polluters are seeing that light. They have begun to appreciate that their futures are at risk. One by one they are joining the ‘Race to Zero’, one by one they are committing to a world of Net Zero Carbon, one by one they are accepting that the choice of Blue-Green recovery is the smart choice.

The United Nations, yes that is all of us, the multilateral, global community of ‘We the Peoples”, is at the forefront of the Race to Zero. We have stood together for the Paris Climate Agreement and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. We have through the UN family of UNFCCC, WMO, IOC-UNESCO, UNEP, FAO, UNDP, and so many other agencies and programmes, never resiled from the great challenges of the 21st Century, chief amongst which is the deterioration of conditions for life on this planet. The UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development gets underway next year, as does the UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration. Prepare yourself for the good works ahead and be a part of them!

Above all do not lose faith in the ability of humanity to create a world of Net-Zero Carbon by 2050. After all, it was the ingenuity of humankind that in the face of wars, droughts, famines, natural disasters and pandemics, always carried us through. From the Stone Age to the Space Age, in the face of crisis we have shown that our powers of innovation are prodigious. We know that we are facing crisis now as never before in the shape of loss of biodiversity, a deteriorating Ocean and Climate Change. We know that anthropogenic greenhouse gases are our chief enemy and we have the opportunity in 2021 to set about a campaign to turn the tide against them. That campaign embraces biodiversity’s demise which we’ll tackle at the CBD Conference in Kunming, along with the Ocean’s decline for which we’ll find solutions at the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, and both of these waves of committed action will then converge on Glasgow in November at the UNFCCC’s COP26 to create there the great wave of change required.

We now have a real opportunity to establish a regular workstream to address Ocean-Climate issues within the UNFCCC’s work, so let us take the current while it serves. Dear colleagues, my basic message to you on this journey is to commit firmly to the case; for it is rational, it is just, and it is central to the Blue-Green future in whose cause we are working.

I thank you for your attention.