Our relationship with the ocean is at a crossroads. The decisions we take in the next five years will determine our future, our security, our very existence. They will make or break whole economies and dictate how and where we live. And there will be many more losers than winners should we ignore the stark signs of warming that the ocean is presenting.
You might care about the 100,000 marine mammals that die annually from plastic and you may be one of the 25 million viewers of the infamous straw-up-the-sea turtle nose video. Or it may simply be that you don’t want to eat and drink plastic, swim in trash or witness more shoreline devastation from flooding and hurricane force damage.
Let’s start with the good news. Humankind is living longer than ever before. Fewer of us are going to bed hungry. Improvements in diets and modern medicine have contributed to a 20-year increase in the average global life expectancy since 1960. The number of undernourished people has fallen from 1 billion in 1991 to 815 million today, even as world population has grown by over 2 billion.
Biodiversity is life, all life on earth. The air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink are all only possible as long as we have healthy biodiversity - rich species diversity. The remarkable diversity of flowers filling the house on special occasions, trees and birds that help make us restful. They all exist and give us life every day thanks to well-functioning ecosystems.
The ocean has shaped my life, from my beginnings in the outer islands of Fiji to my appointment last year as the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy for the ocean. Like millions of others before me who have taken sustenance and succour from Neptune’s world, I know there is so much for which we should give thanks. And yet, over the intervening decades of my life, a quickening cycle of decline has been imposed on the ocean’s health by the ever-accumulating effects of harmful human activities.
Our oceans provide everything from food for billions around the world, to protecting communities and economies from storms—bringing it at least $1.5 trillion to the global economy every year. But they also face a barrage of threats, from marine pollution and dwindling fish stocks, to the dramatic effect of climate change on coastal communities. Such challenges require new ways of thinking and innovative financing tools that address both the health and economic wealth of our oceans.
In 2017, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Norway launched a new, state-of-the-art marine studies vessel, among the most advanced of its kind. Its mission: To investigate some of the planet's least-explored ocean using cutting-edge technology and sophisticated equipment to help developing countries assemble scientific data critical to sustainable fisheries management, and study how a changing climate is affecting our oceans.
Digital technologies have spread rapidly in much of the developing world. However, the development and environmental benefits from using digital technologies are yet to be fully captured. The GEF launched the Sustainable Cities Integrated Approach Pilot in 2015. A key characteristic of the program is innovation – leveraging the latest in technology and connectivity to make better decisions and achieve the urban aspirations of its residents.
When I try to explain the importance of the GEF when it comes to protecting the world’s biodiversity, I end up with two main arguments.
While working towards gender equality may be business as usual in many countries, in much of the world massive disparities in education, empowerment and opportunities remain a daily reality for women and girls.