Dire state of ocean’s health met with tide of pledges at UN Ocean Conference, as Lisbon Declaration launches new chapter for ocean action


The five-day UN Ocean Conference ended today with more than 150 countries collectively agreeing to scale up science-based and innovative actions to address the ocean emergency. This agreement, together with bold commitments from all sectors of society — youth, civil society, businesses and the scientific community — clearly demonstrates the centrality of a safe, healthy and productive ocean to food security, livelihoods and a safe planet.

“The Conference has been an enormous success,” stated Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and United Nations Legal Counsel Miguel de Serpa Soares in his closing remarks. “It has given us the opportunity to highlight critical issues and generate new ideas and commitments. But it has also shed light on the work that remains, and the need to scale this up and raise ambition for the recovery of our ocean.”

More than 6,000 participants, including 24 Heads of State and Government, and over 2,000 representatives of civil society attended the Conference, advocating for urgent and concrete actions to tackle the ocean crisis. From rising sea levels and marine pollution to ocean acidification and habitat loss, the planet’s largest biodiversity reservoir is in jeopardy, threatening to derail progress on Sustainable Development Goal 14, the key roadmap for global action on life below water. Additionally, cumulative human impacts on the ocean — the lungs of our planet — if not curtailed, will exacerbate the climate emergency, and hinder the aspirations of the Paris Agreement.

Ocean-based economies have also been deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and there were many setbacks in ocean management, monitoring and science. The multidimensional food, energy and finance crisis is further aggravating the fallout and weakening people’s ability to cope.

But restoring the health of our ocean can be part of the solution. Resilient and healthy oceans are the foundations of climate regulation and sustainable development, with the potential to produce food and energy for billions.

The Conference also heard many success stories with many initiatives showcased demonstrating how stakeholders can come together to transition towards a sustainable ocean economy and, as a result, improve biodiversity, community livelihoods and climate resilience.

In addition, the Conference succeeded in translating ideas into action with a host of new commitments made by many countries and stakeholders (see snapshot below). Close to 700 commitments were registered, adding to the substantial commitments made at the 2017 UN Ocean Conference. These commitments showcase the critical need for innovation and science to revitalise the ocean.

2022 – Super Year for the Ocean
2022 has also become a super year for the ocean with a number of key breakthroughs with the Ocean Conference introducing a new chapter on ocean action. The UN Environment Assembly in March consensually agreed to begin negotiations for a binding global treaty to end plastic pollution. While last month, the World Trade Organization succeeded in reaching general consensus on banning harmful fisheries subsidies. This year’s Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction could also lead to strengthening governance of the high seas. Later this year, the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 15) is an opportunity to achieve a new target to protect 30 per cent of the planet’s lands and seas by 2030. UNFCCC COP 27, to take place in November, will see a focus on climate adaptation measures and financing required to build ocean resilience.

Political Declaration
The Conference also saw the unanimous adoption of the Lisbon Declaration, a suite of science-based and innovative actions, taking into account the capacity challenges facing developing countries, in particular, Small Island Developing States and Least Developing Countries, at the frontline of the devastating impacts of the ocean emergency.

Countries agreed on actions ranging from strengthening data collection, recognizing the role of indigenous people in sharing innovation and practices to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from international maritime transportation, especially shipping. They also agreed to promote innovative financing solutions to achieve sustainable ocean-based economies and encourage women and girls’ meaningful participation in the ocean-based economy.

“Going forward, it will be important that we renew our focus on ocean action. We need to do this by focusing on improving the scientific basis for our decisions, by improving the science-policy interface, and by engaging in scientific partnerships that build capacity through mutual learning,” said UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and Secretary-General of the Conference, Liu Zhenmin.

The deliberations at the Conference saw the meaningful engagement of all segments of society. Civil society representatives together with corporate leaders, scientists and other partners spotlighted challenges, shared initiatives, and recommendations across a myriad of areas including marine pollution, ocean acidification and preservation of coastal and marine systems.

Voluntary Commitments Snapshot Investments
• The Protecting Our Planet Challenge will invest at least USD 1 billion to support the creation, expansion and management of marine protected area and Indigenous and locally governed marine and coastal areas by 2030.
• The European Investment Bank will extend an additional EUR 150 million across the Caribbean Region as part of the Clean Oceans Initiative to improve climate resilience, water management and solid waste management.
• The Global Environment Facility approved a $25 million grant towards Colombia’s marine protected areas.
• The Development Bank of Latin America announced a voluntary commitment of USD 1.2 billion to support projects to benefit the ocean in the region.
• Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance announced a multimillion-dollar global search for the next generation of projects to build resilience of coastal communities and finance through finance and insurance products.

Marine Protected Areas and Pollution
• Portugal committed to ensure that 100% of the marine area under Portuguese sovereignty or jurisdiction is assessed as being in Good Environmental State and classify 30% of the national marine areas by 2030.
• Kenya is currently developing a national blue economy strategic plan, inclusive and multistakeholder-oriented. Kenya also committed to developing a national action plan on sea-based marine plastic litter.
• India committed to a Coastal Clean Seas Campaign and will work toward a ban on single use plastics, beginning with plastic bags.

Science and Innovation
• Sweden will support enhanced scientific cooperation, including by providing USD 400,000 in 2022 to IOC UNESCO for the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development in support of work on SDG 14 target 3.
• The Alliance of Small Island Developing States launched the Declaration for the Enhancement of Marine Scientific Knowledge, Research Capacity and Transfer of Marine Technology to Small Island Developing States.

Climate Action
• USA and Norway announced a Green Shipping Challenge for COP 27.
• Singapore is also championing green shipping, encouraging carbon accounting by shipping companies, and research on low-carbon maritime fuels.
• Chile is working with specialized centers to develop a network of green corridors for maritime transport in order to achieve zero carbon shipping.