Sea ecologists after the UN conference: “Time is running out”

Disguised Ocean Rebellion activists protest outside the site of the United Nations Ocean Conference. Photo: Ana Brigida / AP / dpa

According to the unanimous opinion of environmentalists, five-day debates, attended by some 7,000 participants in the second United Nations Conference on the Ocean in Lisbon, were in vain.

It was a “missed opportunity,” criticized by organizations such as WWF, BUND, Misereor and Brot für die Welt on Friday at the end of the conference in a joint communiqué. Marine expert Till Seidensticker from Greenpeace Germany was also “disappointed”. He warned, “We’re running out of time.”

Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke understands the criticism and concerns. “Of course I understand,” said the green politician in an interview with a German news agency on the sidelines of a conference in the Portuguese capital. It’s “absolutely true that far too little has happened in recent decades to protect the oceans.” Much more needs to be done. “So it’s a good thing that the protests are giving the impetus for greater government involvement,” emphasized Lemke.

About 30 heads of state and government, other politicians, scientists and representatives of companies and non-governmental organizations attended the conference. They discussed ways to better protect the world’s oceans, which are increasingly affected by littering, overfishing, climate change and acidification, and to use ecosystem resources as sustainably as possible.

“Collective failure” is acknowledged

Finally, there was the “Lisbon Declaration”, in which, inter alia, at least the ‘collective failure’ in protecting the seas and the ‘damaging’ effects on the ecosystem of man-made climate change are recognized. Greater “ambition” is also needed in the search for solutions.

Problem with explaining? It only offers “non-binding obligations”, states are shirking their responsibility, according to a press release from BUND, WWF & Co. It remains open to whether voluntary measures will be implemented. There is neither a report on the achievement of the goals of the first conference in New York in 2017, nor a procedure for controlling the implementation of the new declaration.

Only a large number of individual initiatives announced in Lisbon “which give impetus to areas such as deep-sea mining, fishing and underwater noise” should be assessed positively. Meanwhile, Lemke is convinced that the list of positive points is longer. The “big sign” is that “so many heads of state and ministers have made a commitment to protect the oceans.”

Final statement not watered down by lobbyists

The minister stressed that there is great commitment in Lisbon. An unusual and “very good sign”, for example, was the fact that the previously negotiated Final Declaration was not weakened by lobbying or political pressure, as was the case with other conference formats.

Lemke admitted, among other things, that French President Emmanuel Macron, when he arrived in Lisbon, even called for the introduction of legislation against deep-sea mining. “That’s a very strong statement.” The G7 “agreed on the main obstacles to possible deep sea mining, also on my initiative.”

Young activists who held posters with the words “Politicians say, oceans are dying” or “Listen to science, immediate climate revolution!” at the show on Wednesday night. wore, see everything completely different. “Politicians talk and talk and talk, but they do nothing,” said 21-year-old Michael from London.

Warning of an ocean apocalypse

Even seasoned environmentalists are unhappy and sound the alarm: respected Portuguese marine biologist Emanuel Gonçalves warned of an “apocalypse” for the oceans and even criticized the goal of protecting at least 30 percent of the seas by 2030 – more than three times as many as before. It’s still too late and too little, complains Gonçalves. Sylvia Earle, 86, agrees. A legendary US marine biologist has suggested following the footsteps of countries like Chile and Panama that have announced plans to protect at least 40 percent of their coastal waters in the coming years.

The world’s oceans cover more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface and are home to more than 80 percent of life on Earth. For billions of people, they are the basis of work and nutrition. Oceans are also a key component of the global climate system. They produce more than half the oxygen we breathe and absorb around a quarter of all CO2 emissions.

Federal Minister for the Environment Lemke

Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke (The Greens) showed a positive balance of the second UN Ocean Conference. Photo: Sina Schuldt / dpa

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