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State of ocean will ‘ultimately determine human survival’




Healthy oceans — where marine life thrives — is crucial to the survival of the planet. / Photograph courtesy of UN

The health of the ocean will ultimately determine the survival of humankind on Earth, according to the UN Special Envoy for the Ocean, Peter Thomson.

Marking the opening of the International Decade for Ocean Science, the former top Fijian diplomat and General Assembly president, said that a healthy planet is inextricably linked to a healthy ocean.

At the moment, only around 10 percent of the ocean’s make-up is understood by science. In the years ahead, we will have some very important decisions to take on our relationship with this planet and we will need to make them on the basis of solid science. With the ocean covering 70 percent of the planet, full scientific knowledge of its properties is clearly required. It is for this reason that the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development assumes such great importance for us all.

Throughout the Decade, the ocean science community will be called upon to play a central role in global efforts toward meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), especially SDG 14 which focuses on conserving and sustainably using the ocean’s resources.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on global warming tells us that once global temperatures increase beyond 2˚C above pre-industrial levels, we will lose the great majority of the planet’s living coral reefs.

Meanwhile, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) warns us that on our current path of carbon dioxide emissions, we are heading towards a temperature increase of 3˚ to 5˚C by the end of this century. Coral reefs are home to around 30 percent of the ocean’s biodiversity; thus their loss would be catastrophic for the ocean’s ecosystem.

The ocean plays a fundamental planetary role in mitigating the effects of climate change through its absorption of heat and carbon. This service alone makes the healthy functioning of the ocean’s ecosystems critical to all humans. This is true whether you live thousands of miles inland or are part of coastal communities that rely on the ocean for livelihoods. In short, the health of life on land is inextricably linked to the ocean’s health.

Ocean science is a very broad field and a huge amount will be happening in the field in the next decade. For example, it’s expected that a global effort to map the entire ocean floor will be completed by 2030.

The plan for the UN Decade has recently been approved and I’m excited by all it offers. This includes a clean ocean where sources of pollution are identified and reduced or removed; a healthy and resilient ocean where marine ecosystems are understood, protected, restored and managed; and a safe ocean where life and livelihoods are protected from ocean-related hazards.