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Looking back at the One Ocean Summit: What commitments for the ocean?



After two days of discussions and debates, some 40 Heads of State and Government responded positively to the invitation of the President of the French Republic to commit for the ocean at the One Planet Summit for the Ocean in Brest. Addressing 4 main themes: the protection of marine ecosystems, the fight against pollution, the fight against climate change, and ocean governance – political and private sector representatives met to discuss the future of our global ocean. A promising dynamic ahead of the many ocean-related international meetings to come in 2022. Here is a retrospective of the summit’s main announcements. 


Protecting marine ecosystems and promoting sustainable fishing 

  • New Marine Protected Areas to achieve the goal of 30% of marine space under protection by 2030

Ahead of the COP15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Kunming, where the upcoming Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework will be negotiated, many States have reaffirmed their intention to protect 30% of their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) by 2030. More than 30 new countries have joined the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, co-chaired by Costa Rica, France and the United Kingdom. There are now 84 countries that committed to the goal of protecting 30% of land and marine areas under national jurisdiction by 2030. French Polynesia announced the creation of a new 500 000 km2 marine protected area in the southeast of the archipelago, and recalled the need for the Polynesian territory to be recognized as a “Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas” (PSSA). France – together with Italy, Spain and Monaco – requested the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to create a PSSA in the Mediterranean Sea, where ship speed would be reduced to protect marine biodiversity. Colombia announced the protection of 30% of its EEZ by the end of the year. Meanwhile, France claimed that it has reached 33% of marine protected areas on its territory – in particular through the extension of the natural reserve in the French Southern and Antarctic Lands. If on paper the objectives seem to have been reached, the question of protection levels – essential to ensure ecological benefits – was hardly addressed during the summit. France assumes that its protection levels do not correspond to the high and full protection advocated by NGOs and the scientific community, which emphasize the proven ecological and socio-economic benefits. Although France has announced moving from 2% to 4% of strong protection, the 10% of high and full protection by 2030 called for by civil society and scientists is still far off.. In addition, except for the renewal of the Pew-Bertarelli Ocean Legacy program for the next 5 years to support the creation of MPAs in the Mediterranean, Antarctica and Pacific, no measures for financing, monitoring or management were announced.


  • Ending overfishing and verifying, controlling and sanctioning illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing  

During this high-level segment, the Heads of State recalled the importance of strengthening control and sanction tools and measures to fight illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Fourteen countries attending the One Ocean Summit have committed to step up the fight against illegal fishing: six of them by ratifying the Cape Town Agreement of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) on safety standards for fishing vessels; two new countries will also ratify the FAO Port State Measures Agreement, which allows for better control of fishing activities during landings. Several EU member states have committed to mobilize their state navies to strengthen surveillance of illegal fishing, in accordance with the 2008 European regulation.

While the twelfth inter-ministerial conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) will be held in 2022, Emmanuel Macron has called on the WTO to ban all subsidies contributing to illegal fishing in 2022. A call that does not address overfishing, despite target 6 of SDG 14 on the conservation and sustainable use of marine ecosystems – which will be assessed at the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon – aiming to ban all subsidies contributing to overfishing and overcapacity fishing.


Commitments to fight plastic pollution

The fight against pollution was also at the heart of the discussions. This scourge, which affects the entire ocean, has direct consequences on marine ecosystems and human populations. Hage Geingob, President of Namibia, spoke on behalf of developing countries, the first victims of this pollution: 

“We do not pollute much in Africa, it is you, the developed countries, that pollute more. We do not produce plastic and yet we are the first to suffer its consequences.”

Aware of these issues, many states have called for the adoption of a legally binding treaty on plastic pollution, under discussion for several months, and whose importance was reinforced at the COP 26 for Climate in Glasgow and the COP 22 of the Barcelona Convention. These negotiations will be initiated at the 5th United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA), which will be held from February 28th to March 2nd, in Nairobi. An initiative that “will provide a binding international framework to make this commitment a real treaty for the end of single-use plastic” according to Emmanuel Macron.

The French Development Agency (AFD) and the European Investment Bank (EIB) also committed to reducing plastic pollution in the ocean with the launch of the Clean Oceans Initiative, as well as providing 4 billion euros in funding by 2025 to support projects to reduce plastic waste alongside Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP), the German Development Bank (KfW), the Instituto de Crédito Oficial (ICO) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

Along those lines, Mark Schneider, CEO of Nestlé, announced a reduction of one third in its use of plastics as well as a commitment to reach 100% of their packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025.


An ocean of solutions to fight climate change

  • Preserving marine ecosystems for climate mitigation and adaptation 

The potential of ocean-based solutions to effectively mitigate and adapt to climate change was highlighted by many Heads of State and business representatives. While Large Ocean States (Fiji, Tonga, Palau) recalled the dramatic consequences of sea level rise and extreme events on their way of life and cultures, the restoration and conservation of coastal ecosystems were emphasized as necessary measures for climate mitigation and adaptation. This is the message sent by Henry Puna, Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, who mentioned the call from Heads of State of the Pacific Islands in the “Declaration on preserving maritime zones in the face of climate change-related sea level rise” signed in August 2021. Prior to this high-level segment, the Sea’ties Forum was also held as part of the One Ocean Summit, and brought together more than 30 mayors and governors of coastal cities from around the world – from Stockholm to Bangkok, Jakarta and Lagos. On this occasion, they signed the Sea’ties Declaration, urging national governments and the international community to intensify mitigation and adaptation measures to limit the impacts of sea level rise on coastal cities, their territories and communities. 

The economic valuation of marine and coastal ecosystem services through the structuring of a blue carbon market was also mentioned during the summit. An international coalition for blue carbon was announced by France, Colombia and the NGO Conservation International to finance the restoration of these ecosystems.


  • Accelerating the transition toward low-carbon industries

The transition to low-carbon economies through the development of marine renewable energy was widely discussed during this segment. John Kerry recalled the commitment of the United States of America to deploy 30 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind power by 2030. Similarly, Micheál Martin, Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland, stated that he wanted to increase the share of renewable energy in the energy mix up to 80% by 2040. 

The challenges of decarbonization and “greening” of maritime activities were also central. Electrification and investment in the development and use of alternative energies were the promises made by many countries. This is the case in particular of the United States, recalling its commitment to achieve zero emissions in the international shipping sector by 2030. This is also the message conveyed by four of the world’s largest shipping companies (CMA-CGM, Hapag-Lloyd AG, AP Moller-Maersk and MSC) present at this high-level segment. They recalled their efforts alongside 22 European shipowners to comply with new standards as promoted by the Green Marine Europe Label. In this respect, MSC has set itself with the objective of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.


Strengthening ocean science and governance 

  • Increasing our knowledge and understanding of the ocean

The need to strengthen ocean research was discussed several times during the summit. Arguing that “we cannot protect what we do not know,” Emmanuel Macron asserted France’s intention to launch major scientific missions to explore the deep sea, as well as the creation of a foundation for the poles to better understand the changes they face. The European Union has also pledged to create a “digital twin of the ocean” to gather knowledge and test scenarios for action, in the service of European blue growth and global governance. This support for science was reinforced by UNESCO’s announcement to map 80% of the ocean floor by 2030, and by the transformation of Mercator Ocean International into an Intergovernmental Organization. These commitments to knowledge are evidence of a willingness to enhance the dialogue between science and decision makers, thus enabling a multilateral governance of the ocean. 


  • Revitalizing global ocean governance

In the eve of the fourth intergovernmental session on an agreement for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdictions (BBNJ), to be held in March in New York, the Heads of State stressed the urgency of finding an operational agreement by the end of the year. With this in mind, the 27 Member States of the European Union and 16 non-EU countries launched the “High Ambition Coalition for a High Seas Treaty”

During this high-level segment, the President of French Polynesia, Edouard Fritch, reminded Emmanuel Macron of his commitment to organize a high-level summit for island countries in the Pacific. It was therefore announced that a One Island Summit would be held in Tahiti in September 2023. In the meantime, John Kerry has invited the States and ocean community to travel to Palau in April 2022 to attend the Our Ocean Conference. 


The One Planet Summit for the Ocean, in Brest, has thus inaugurated the year 2022, which should be rich in international conferences for the protection of marine ecosystems and the sustainable use of ocean resources. In a logic of continuity between these major meetings, the One Ocean Summit was positioned as the first step to mobilize States and the international community around marine and maritime issues. Accordingly, the announcements made and commitments undertaken should take shape ahead of the second United Nations Conference on the Ocean, in June in Lisbon, whose purpose is to assess the achievement of the targets of Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG14) – Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General, called for cementing the ocean’s role in global action to achieve the SDGs and implement the Paris Agreement.

The intrinsic links between ocean, climate, and biodiversity received special attention during this One Ocean Summit, and “needs a global response, bold actions, accessible financing, equitable partnership to enable communities to build resilience” – as Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. reminded us. To this end, the COP15 of the Biodiversity Convention (scheduled for this summer in Kunming) and the COP27 of the Climate Convention (November, Sharm el Sheikh) will be opportunities to strengthen these synergies in favor of an integrated governance of environmental issues.


Photo credit: Joachim Claudet

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