Environmental groups urge world leaders on final day of UN ocean conference

On Friday, environmental groups urged world leaders to keep the promises they made at the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon this week, to do everything in their power to save the world’s seas.

“The ocean, climate and coastal communities around the world need real progress, not promises, in ocean health,” said Marco Lambertini, chief executive of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Among the 7,000 delegates attending the conference were heads of state, scientists and NGOs, including from Canada. Many feared that the energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine could undermine efforts to combat climate change. Others, including French President Emmanuel Macron, have expressed concerns about deep sea mining and some have called for a moratorium.

Participants at the conference, which ran from June 27 to July 1, assessed progress in implementing a UN directive to protect marine life.

WWF called on leaders to seize the momentum and address long-standing issues related to the protection of the high seas, such as plastic pollution, by quickly enacting and ratifying « strong global treaties ».

Greenpeace chief says words are not enough

UN Special Envoy for the Ocean Peter Thomson, on video screen, addresses the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Friday, July 1, 2022. (Armando Franca/Associated Press)

Lisbon is the last major political gathering before member states come together in August to try to hammer out a long-awaited treaty to protect open seas beyond national jurisdictions. Hundreds of activists gathered outside the conference venue in Lisbon on Wednesday in a blue march aimed at saving the world’s seas.

Greenpeace’s Laura Meller said the success of the Lisbon conference will be measured in August.

« We’ve seen a lot of declarations already, we’ve heard a lot of pledges, pledges and voluntary commitments, » said Meller, who leads the environmental group’s Protect the Oceans campaign. « But if declarations could save the oceans, they wouldn’t be on the brink of collapse. »

Negotiations on the treaty began in 2018 after a decade of talks at the UN, but member states failed to reach consensus in March.

Deep sea mining was a hot topic at the conference, with Macron saying on Thursday that a legal framework was needed to prevent deep sea mining from going ahead.

There is growing interest in deep sea mining, as well as pressure from some environmental groups and governments to ban it or at least adopt appropriate regulations.

Several nations, such as the Pacific islands of Palau and Fiji, have called for a global moratorium on all deep-sea mining, citing environmental concerns and a lack of sufficient scientific data.

« The momentum created this week (…) is a tipping point for the deep ocean, the blue heart of our planet, » said Sian Owen, director of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition. « President Macron has indeed echoed the countless calls…to press ‘pause’ on all ambitions to exploit the seabed. »


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