By Robin Gomes
The world’s oceans – their temperature, chemistry, currents and life – drive global systems that make the earth habitable for humankind. Our rainwater, drinking water, weather, climate, coastlines, much of our food, livelihoods, transport, trade, and even the oxygen that we breathe, are all ultimately provided and regulated by the sea.
This is why the United Nations is urging the international community to commit itself to the conservation and sustainability of the world’s oceans through innovation and science. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made the appeal in a video message for World Oceans Day, Monday.
The idea of a World Oceans Day was first proposed by the world’s leaders in 1992 at the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In 2008, the UN General Assembly designated 8 June as World Oceans Day, to raise awareness about the crucial role the ocean plays in our lives and the important ways people can help protect it.
The theme of this year’s observance is “Innovation for a Sustainable Ocean”, to which the UN chief is urging the commitment of the international community.
Build back better with nature
“The COVID-19 pandemic is a sharp reminder of how we are all intimately connected to each other and to nature,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a video message for the occasion.
“As we work to end the pandemic and build back better,” he said, “we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity - and responsibility - to correct our relationship with the natural world, including the world’s seas and oceans.”
Oceans, human life under threat
The UN chief underscored the importance of oceans for human life, saying they provide us “food, livelihoods, transport, and trade”. “As the lungs of our planet and its largest carbon sink,” which absorbs more carbon dioxide than it releases, “the oceans play a vital role in regulating the global climate”.
According to the UN, over 3 billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihood.
In his message, Guterres warned, “sea levels are rising due to climate change, threatening lives and livelihoods in low-lying nations and coastal cities and communities around the world”.
The oceans are becoming more acidic, putting marine biodiversity and essential food chains in jeopardy, and plastic pollution is everywhere.
According to the UN Environment programme, around 300 million tonnes of plastic waste is produced every year, nearly equivalent to the weight of the entire human population.
Decade for a sustainable ocean
Drawing attention to the theme of World Oceans Day, "Innovation for a Sustainable Ocean", the UN chief called for better understanding of oceans to conserve fish stocks and discover new products and medicines.
This year’s theme is especially relevant in the lead-up to the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, set for 2021 to 2030. The Decade intends to strengthen international cooperation to develop the scientific research and innovative technologies that can connect ocean science with the needs of society.
Hoping that the Decade will provide impetus and a common framework for action, Guterres urged governments and all stakeholders to commit themselves to the conservation and sustainability of the oceans through innovation and science.
In a separate message for World Oceans Day, Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), also underscored the importance of the Decade.
She says that many secrets of the oceans, which are largely unknown, need to be learnt. Human imagination and innovation are needed to salvage the oceans from their worrying situation. Mankind needs to realize that no technical solution can replace a widespread, personal understanding of the threats to the oceans, their mysteries and their beauty.
SDG #14 - life below water
Conserving the oceans, seas and its marine resources and using them sustainably is the central focus of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 14. It is one of the 17 targets of the UN’s Agenda for Sustainable Development that the world's leaders committed themselves to achieve by 2030, to end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone, everywhere.