UN Ocean Conference 2022

27 Juni - 1 Juli 2022, Lissabon

UN Ocean Conference, a missed opportunity – individual initiatives give hopeful impulses

Contribution: Nadja Ziebarth, Dr. Bettina Taylor, Dr. Jannis Kuhlmann

With the establishment of the Ocean Conference, the UN wants to initiate a global process for the protection of the world's oceans and thus advance the implementation of the Agenda 2030, in which the United Nations agreed on goals for sustainable development, the so-called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One of these goals, SDG14, is to restore the world’s oceans, stop pollution and more closely align their use with natural limits and ecological sustainability.

As part of the APOC project, two BUND staff members travelled to Lisbon from 27 June to 1 July for the UN Ocean Conference. The aim was to exchange with representatives of governments, politics and civil society to highlight the importance of the oceans as a carbon sink in addition to the SDG14 goals. With an impressive 7,000 participants, there were many opportunities to do this.

Unfortunately, the UN ocean conference did not produce any binding decisions. Nor did it deliver concrete actions. Other international marine agreements still to be concluded this year, for example on the protection of biodiversity on the high seas and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), must therefore show how serious the UN states really are about marine protection.

On the positive side, a large number of individual initiatives were launched at the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon. These set impulses in various areas, including fisheries, deep-sea mining and underwater noise.

Fisheries played a weighty role at this year's conference. The importance of small-scale fisheries for food security and employment in the Global South was emphasised many times. Lack of access to fishing grounds, overfishing, illegal fishing and poor fisheries management were named as the main problems. The situation is exacerbated by the impact of the climate crisis on marine ecosystems. An end to overfishing and destructive fishing methods could make a major contribution to climate protection and must therefore be the focus of international political discussions.

The Pacific Island states of Palau and Fiji set the tone for the rest of the conference with a bang on the first day of the conference. They demanded a moratorium on deep-sea mining. The International Seabed Authority (ISA) should not issue any permits for seabed mining for the time being. The mining industry must be prevented from irretrievably destroying the almost completely unexplored deep-sea ecosystems and from violating human rights. Observers from Germany and many other countries around the world are calling for a complete ban on deep-sea mining.

The reduction of underwater noise must be put on the political agenda. A speed limit for commercial ships is one possibility. A speed reduction by a mere 20 per cent would decrease the noise input by 60 per cent. A simple measure with an immediate effect. Representatives of the shipping industry, the UN Maritime Organisation (IMO) and the Swedish government have stated that they are aware of the problem of underwater noise and support concrete regulations.

The link between climate protection and marine conservation, as well as references to the key function that healthy oceans have for climate regulation, were only represented to a limited extent at the conference. Nevertheless, we were able to place the important issues of sedimentary carbon sinks and the integrity of the seabed at many events and discussions and thus draw attention to the topic.