Acknowledging the Role of the Ocean During World Water Week

The recently issued Report titled “The Role of the Ocean: Driving the Transition to a Resilient and Inclusive Future1” indicates that a sustainable ocean is critical to the economy and human wellbeing, globally and locally, supporting resilience and recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic. This theme is mirrored in the recently issued 2021 Sustainable Development Goals Report3, which indicates that the global community is at a critical moment in its pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

More than a year into the global pandemic -- which produced immense PPE waste—more than 4 million lives have been lost, the human and economic toll has been unprecedented, and recovery efforts so far have been uneven, inequitable, and insufficiently geared towards achieving sustainable development. The pandemic is threatening decades of development gains, further delaying the urgent transition to a sustainable green recovery that necessitates understanding the links between climate change, health, and inequality and implementing ambitious climate change policies that align with the Paris agreement. 

The United Nation's 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) are a call for action by all countries to promote prosperity while protecting the planet.  These goals are more important than ever to provide a critical framework for a COVID-19 green recovery and more inclusive economies. However, sadly the pandemic has hindered progress on the SDGs.

As we celebrate World Water Week, which is the leading conference on global water issues where participants from more than 130 countries discuss a broad array of water-related topics, ranging from health to waste, technology, biodiversity, and the climate crisis, the 2021 SDG Report points out that:

“more than 3 billion people rely on the ocean for their livelihoods, and over 80 percent of world merchandise trade is carried out by sea. Oceans contribute to poverty eradication, sustained economic growth, and food security. However, the benefits they provide are increasingly undermined by human activities. Rising CO2 emissions are driving ocean warming, acidification, and deoxygenation, which threaten marine ecosystems and the people who depend on them and are overwhelming the capacity of oceans to moderate climate change.

Overfishing depletes fish stocks, a third of which are already overexploited. Land-based pollutants, including plastic pollution (PPE) and nutrient and sewage runoff, adversely affect coastal habitats and communities. These changes have long-term repercussions that require urgent scaling up of protection of marine environments, investment in ocean science, and support for small-scale fishing communities, and the sustainable management of the oceans.

[….]. Achieving SDG Goal 14 requires the implementation of international instruments, through legal and institutional frameworks, for the conservation and sustainable use of oceans in a cross-sectoral and integrated manner. While progress has been made, implementation varies among the instruments, highlighting the need for renewed effort and increased support.”

World Water Week is an important catalyst for change as it attracts leading researchers, decision-makers, business representatives, NGOs, students, and international organizations who come together to get new inspiration and form alliances that can influence other international processes such as the global climate talks.  This year’s Thematic Scope was written by the distinguished water experts and is Building Resilience Faster, with a focus on concrete solutions to the world’s greatest water-related challenges, starting with the climate crisis and including water scarcity, food security, health, biodiversity, and impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Here is how SDG 14 is implemented around the world:

Climate Crisis and Biodiversity

Central to climate and biodiversity interactions, the ocean plays a key role in regulating the climate system and in providing life support to all species on Earth. In 2019, the conclusions of the IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere clearly put forth the interconnection between the ocean, climate, and biodiversity, specifically highlighting the crucial role marine ecosystems play in mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change.

The very same year, the IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services identified climate change as one of the five direct drivers of change in nature, noting that its effects “are accelerating in marine [...] ecosystems,” including, for example, coral reefs. There is no getting around it: climate change is ocean change. As a result, we must simultaneously address the decline in ocean health, climate change, and biodiversity loss to overcome the greatest challenges of our time successfully2. For these reasons, UNESCO established

Water Scarcity/Health

The mayor of Orlando, FL, asked residents to stop watering their lawns and washing their cars for at least a week, saying water usage needed to be cut back because of the recent surge of Covid-19 hospitalizations.  Because the Orlando Utility Commission treats the city’s water with liquid oxygen and supplies that ordinarily go toward water treatment have been diverted to hospitals for patients suffering from the virus.

Plastic Pollution

On September 1-2, 2021, the Ministerial Conference on Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution will be jointly convened by the Governments of Ecuador, Germany, Ghana, and Vietnam, with technical and logistical support from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to commit to establishing a framework for international collaboration and cooperation that provides a level playing field in terms of the global economy. This framework would include coordinated actions to address the challenge of plastic pollution. It would also establish commitment and accountability with respect to realizing a common vision.

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