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Third Asia-Pacific Day for the Ocean, ESCAP, Bangkok

Video Script for UNSEO Ambassador Peter Thomson’s Closing Remarks

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Sah wah dee khrap and ni bula vinaka. Greetings to you all and I hope that you and your families are safe and well during these troubled times. My special thanks to the ESCAP Executive Secretary and the dedicated staff of the ESCAP Secretariat for the invitation to address you today.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We can’t have a healthy planet without a healthy Ocean, and in any global discussion on Biodiversity’s plight, the Ocean must be front and centre. Why? Because the Ocean hosts the great majority of Biodiversity, in other words Life, on this planet.

I’m sure you know by now that the Ocean’s health is in deep trouble. Its ailments of acidification, deoxygenation and warming are principally due to our burgeoning levels of anthropogenic greenhouse gases, but they are also due to our long-standing harmful fisheries practices and policies, our wanton destruction of natural habitats, and our unconscionable levels of pollution. To reverse that decline in the Ocean’s health, we have to implement SDG14’s principles of sustainability, at the heart of which is the Sustainable Blue Economy.

We can no longer pollute the Ocean with impunity, destroy its natural habitats and ecosystems without existential repercussions; nor can we exercise harmful fisheries practices and other damaging extractive activities without serious consequences for people and planet. These are not idle words, they are the environmental and humanitarian imperative of our times, and they emanate from the global spirit of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda universally adopted by the Member States of the United Nations in 2015.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I recently joked to some colleagues that when the going gets tough, the tough get virtual. But I said that only partly in jest, for it has been my experience over the past eight months that we have been able to maintain the momentum on SDG14’s implementation by conferring through the connectivity of the Internet. Yes, anecdotally there may have been backwards movement in areas like plastic pollution and IUU fishing, but overall, I judge the momentum to be positive.

There is a growing acceptance that humanity has been pushing the planetary boundaries too far and hard, and that we must get back into balance with Nature by following a Blue-Green Recovery Road out of the inevitable economic hardships caused by this pandemic. May I say here, that SDG14 has always stood for that balance – to conserve and sustainably use the Ocean’s resources.

On a daily basis, I am participating in virtual events around the world in support of SDG14 and I’m witness to this positive momentum. I’ve seen it through the SDG14 webinars organised by UN DESA, and I thank the ESCAP Secretariat for its involvement in these very successful events.

I saw it in the Virtual Ocean Dialogues organised by the Friends of Ocean Action and the World Economic Forum. These dialogues were held during the first week of June, the week in which the UN Ocean Conference was to have been held. Their main sessions attracted over 60,000 participants, equating to football stadiums filled with people keen to support the Ocean’s well-being.

It may be unfair on others for me to single out events in which I’ve had the privilege of participating, but let me give just two other examples to demonstrate the momentum underway.

I recently addressed the Global Mangrove Alliance, which since its launch in 2016, has grown to 22 members, all leaders in the field, such as IUCN, WWF, Wetlands International, The Nature Conservancy, and Conservation International, working together across more than 50 countries on more than 200 projects, across thematic areas including mangrove policy, science, and implementation of restoration on the ground.

I wanted to address the Alliance in order to express my deep appreciation of their development of a science-based, methodological approach to mangrove conservation and restoration for the benefit of all. And I wanted to congratulate them for the launch of Global Mangrove Watch, giving universal access to real-time data on where and what changes are occurring to mangroves around the world. I encourage ESCAP’s membership to get involved in the work of the Global Mangrove Alliance.

Another address I gave recently was to a virtual event organized by the Malaysia-based Infofish organization. In that address I gave a shout-out to the Global Tuna Alliance that is operating with the support of the World Economic Forum and the Friends of Ocean Action. The Global Tuna Alliance is an independent group of retailers and tuna supply chain companies, who are committed to realising harvest strategies for the world’s tuna fisheries.

The Alliance believes that harvest strategies, which include pre-agreed frameworks for making fisheries management decisions, including changing limits to catch or effort, would help move beyond the current political gridlock too often seen in the tuna Regional Fisheries Management Organisations. I commend such efforts to ESCAP members with a view to cooperation by all stakeholders in restoring and maintaining fish-stocks at biologically sustainable levels.

Like the two organisations I’ve just mentioned, I know that many participants in our event today are representatives of NGOs and Civil Society. I want to underline here the partnership message that is central to the implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, and to thank you for your amazing efforts in support of the SDGs. It is clear that the continuation of your efforts will be critical to our achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I applaud ESCAP for adopting Resolution 76/1 in May 2020, encouraging concrete actions to remedy marine pollution, especially plastic pollution; to enhance cooperation on ecosystem restoration; on sustainable management of fisheries, aquaculture and tourism; along with coastal habitat restoration. I’m very encouraged to see that regional cooperation, strengthening policy coherence, and promoting public-private and civil society partnerships, are at the heart of this resolution.

And I applaud the ESCAP Secretariat for continuing to demonstrate leadership in the region’s Ocean action agenda, as mandated by Member States, including creating such platforms as the Asia-Pacific Day for the Ocean. The celebration of the third edition of this event is timely, as we prepare ourselves for the launch of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. 

The Ocean Decade offers a unique opportunity to give us the science we need for the Ocean we want. Considering the major role the Ocean plays in the lives of the people of Asia and the Pacific, SDG14’s attainment is fundamental to us all, and the UN Decade of Ocean Science is what will give SDG14 the firm foundations it needs to succeed. As I said at last year’s Asia-Pacific Day for the Ocean, our region must become intimately involved in the workings of the Ocean Decade in order to reap full benefits for our societies.  

I’m therefore very happy to learn of the current development of ESCAP’s Decade Programme to support the regional implementation of the Ocean Decade by optimizing common resources and securing the engagement of all stakeholders in our region. In this you will have the support of the UN system, and may I say that I’m also very happy to witness many of the UN agencies working together as one UN big family committed to our common goal of conserving and sustainably using the Ocean’s resources.

In conclusion, Ladies and Gentlemen,

As I’m sure you know the holding of the next UN Ocean Conference, to be held in Lisbon, has been postponed until 2021; with confirmed dates to be announced once the course of the Covid pandemic is clearer.

In the meantime, step-by-step preparations for the conference are proceeding, and there are many things about it which are already certain. One is that science, innovation, partnerships and solutions will be infused into the work of the conference. This is guaranteed, as the UN Member States in their wisdom decided as such in designating the conference theme.

A second is the fact that the co-hosts are determined to oversee a conference that will emulate its 2017 predecessor by being a global game-changer for Ocean action, all in support of SDG14’s successful implementation.

I hope to see you in Lisbon next year, either in person or virtually, that we may gather together once more in our common purpose of scientifically managing the resources and well-being of the Ocean.

I thank you for your kind attention to my words today, and wish you happy Asia-Pacific Ocean Day!