Secretary-General of the United Nations
Att: Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
New York, NY 10027
Lisbon, 11th of June 2012
Subject: Recommendations of outputs in Rio+20 concerning ocean governance and climate to be considered by the UN and its Member States.
Dear Mr. Ban Ki-Moon,
Secretary-General of the United Nations
The Non-Governmental Organizations above endorse this letter, which justifies why the Ocean is so important for the survival of the human species. The second section provides tangible recommendations for parties of the UN and the UN system to consider as outputs of Rio+20.
1. Background: Oceans are the Centerpiece of the Survival of the Human Species
In 2002 during Rio+10, GEOTA (Grupo de Estudos de Ordenamento do Territorio e Ambiente), a National-wide Portuguese Environmental Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), led the awareness campaign on “Oceans: A Step Towards Sustainability” under the process of preparation for the World Summit for Sustainable Development, in Johannesburg.
This campaign included a statement addressed to the Secretary General of the United Nations, to raise the profile of oceans. This statement was endorsed by other NGOs, namely, The World’s Forum of Fisheries Peoples, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Seas-at-Risk (SAR), and the Environmental European Bureau (EEB).
This statement was proudly used by the former Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Barroso, as part of the Portuguese Government speech addressing the UN parties, in Johannesburg. Ten years ago during Rio+10, this campaign highlighted the importance of oceans for the world’s welfare. The survival of the human species and of Earth’s ecosystems relies on roles that the Ocean plays in our daily lives:
- Fisheries: providing food. At least 70% of the protein intake to coastal communities in developing nations;
- Climate: Regulating the global and local climate, including rain patterns, temperature, storms, and hurricanes;
- Pharmaceutical Industry: Providing active principles for medication from marine species;
- Trade: Over 80% of trade is done by sea;
- Energy: oil and gas, and now also wind power and other sources;
- Human Settlements: 50% of the population of coastal countries lives within the coastal zone, where most megacities are located, enjoying all benefits from the proximity to the sea and discharging their polluted waters into the ocean;
- Tourism and Leisure: coastal areas provide important income to coastal communities and national economies through tourism, especially in Small Island Developing States, while the Cruise line industry connects the dots within the wide Ocean.
Then years ago, GEOTA addressed the UN highlighting how cumulative impacts of human activities could jeopardize the biodiversity and the services that the Ocean and the Earth provide to the human species.
GEOTA recommended raising the profile on oceans to the global level and enhancing ocean governance, including the development and implementation of:
- Integrated management, which is needed at all scales: from local levels with ICZM to global levels, though the ecosystem approach;
- Capacity development, which is needed to strengthen institutions and individuals. Technical knowledge is not sufficient: only, empowered institutions and peoples are able to lead change and to gather the appropriate means towards change in a sustainable way.
The past decade, since Rio+10, has seen the emergence of integrated policies world-wide at a pace of an ocean race, given that countries have turned into the Ocean in the search of new economic opportunities while delimiting their extended continental platforms. However, integrated ocean policies are a challenging process, as they require at least, new institutional processes, a lead organization, and human resources enabled to address multidisciplinary and multilevel issues, as well as to adapt the changing conditions, in fact, the implementation of integrated ocean policies are still in their infancy.
Despite the progress the world faces now a serious condition. Climate change is no longer to be subject of skepticism: it is here and the Ocean is already being affected in ways that endanger the livelihoods of communities and the Earth’s system as we know it:
- Droughts and floods are increasing, as extreme meteorological events are more frequent. The Sub-Saharan Africa is an unfortunate example, where hunger and environmental refugees are now a reality (IPCC. 2007): peace, security and stability within countries are at stake and will be more in the future;
- Ocean temperatures are rising, the extent of the effects and in the marine ecosystems, as we know them, and of biodiversity and fisheries are uncertain. The increase of the frequency and extent of coral bleaching, algal and jelly fish blooms, and anoxia areas are factual evidences of the current Ocean trends. The peoples and infrastructures of countries like the USA and Small Island States will likely be more affected by hurricanes, whose origin is related to the ocean surface temperatures;
- Sea level rise: what will happen to low lying nations, including some Small Island States?
- Ocean is acidifying due to increased emissions of carbon dioxide: though science data is relatively new, knowledge is already sufficient to alarms the ocean community regarding the extent, in the near future, of the potential effects in marine food webs, as well as in food availability for the world’s peoples: therefore, not only ecosystems, but food security are at risk.
2. Outputs for Rio+20: Recommendations
The world is facing a financial crisis. Better governance can produce economies of scale, hence it is a positive contribution for addressing such challenges. To address these challenges, in pursuance of sustainable development, and in the light of the reform of the UN, members of the UN and UN officials meeting at Rio the Janeiro in June of 2012, are urged to consider and to establish targets and means for implementation to enhance Global Ocean Governance and to address Ocean and Coastal Climate Change within the UNFCCC process:
- Integrating ocean issues at the UN level under the umbrella and lead of a single organization, so that issues are addressed in a integrated and more coherent manner, and to make economies of scale: consider creating an Intergovernmental Ocean Organization that brings together science, law, capacity development, funding issues, with the same perspective that countries are addressing their national ocean policies;
- Mainstreaming ocean management within the IPCC and the UNFCCC process, particularly in addressing adaptation to climate change. While meteorological climate-ocean issues have been addressed within these institutions, particularly at the level of the UNFCCC, parties need to create the appropriate structures and process to address climate change on oceans under the lead of a UN specialized agency on Oceans;
- Integrating and coordinating the several UN sources of funding for working on oceans and environmental issues under a single coordinating institution, with harmonized the rules of accreditation for both direct access to funds by member states and by UN institutions, rather than individual and specific accreditation processes for each Fund: this will allow immense savings to the UN system and its member states;
- Harmonizing and centralizing capacity development efforts under an umbrella. Developing an overarching needs assessment of capacity development, particularly focusing on institutional needs (financial, logistics, human resources) country by country (not a desk study) is fundamental to improve capacity development effectiveness and to empower institutions, peoples and nations in addressing ocean management and ocean climate change, particularly, in coastal areas;
- Tailoring capacity development to the socio-economic context is key for effectiveness. The UN system, as a whole has immense products/materials ready to be used in capacity development. These resources are scattered across its numerous institutions. Please bring them together, select and translate, so that capacity development in countries can reach a wider public and touch their cultures.
Mitigation action by way of changing the patterns of production and consumption as promised in Johannesburg, in 2002, is fundamental.
Promoting the production of more durable goods, more expensive and promoting energy efficiency is fundamental in addressing climate change on Land systems and in the Oceans (as a whole, they are Earth). Respect human rights and workers conditions, while producing goods for the consumer. Meanwhile, climate change is happening and its effects on oceans, as well. Rio+20 is urged to come out with tangible targets and proactive means for the implementation of adaptation nationally and locally, now.
The Humankind often lives with their back towards the Ocean. Though we live often thinking the ocean is immense and mysterious, and we focus on land systems, the fact is that its vastness has been imperiled and we are threatening our existence as a species. We only remember that the Earth is Blue, as in Ocean, rather than brown, as in Land, when we see it from space. Turning to Oceans, and within its context, shape action to combat and adapt to climate change is a matter of survival of the human species. The Earth is blue, and we can no longer ignore it.
(João Joanaz de Melo)
On behalf of