Global Ocean, Climate and Biodiversity Leaders Stress Their Work Continues Despite COVID

Elizabeth Cousins, President and CEO of the UN Foundation said yesterday that the next decade will be a decisive one for oceans, climate, and biodiversity, and a rare joint appearance by global scientists and diplomats made it clear that the United Nations is at the center of that work.  The annual Capitol Hill Ocean Week gathering of U.S. ocean leaders from business, government, academia, and non-profits transformed into a global platform thanks to the COVID pandemic, which caused the postponements of several UN-sponsored meetings scheduled for this month.

Why This Matters:  The most important leaders of United Nations efforts on the ocean, climate, and biodiversity appeared jointly in order to emphasize the point that their work continues as fervently as ever, despite the pandemic’s challenges.  The fact that they were determined to appear together before a mostly U.S. audience is significant — this kind of full-court press does not happen often, with the UN’s massive efforts on ocean conservation, biodiversity loss, and climate change usually confined to their own large audiences.  Their work is greatly supported by U.S. scientific expertise, philanthropy, and environmental activists — regardless of the Trump administration’s apathy toward it.

What They Said

  • Ms. Ko Barrett, Vice-Chair, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – The UN Oceans and Cryosphere Report that she helped to author showed that from the highest levels of the cryosphere climate change is having an impact on land and on the ocean.
  • Ms. Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – The Paris Agreement made it clear that nations need to stabilize temperatures at 1.5 degrees but nations are falling short, in fact, temperature increases will probably be twice that and the last five years have been the warmest since we began keeping records. The meeting may be postponed but that does not postpone the requirement for nations to still submit their new national climate plans.  The UNIPCC is not taking time off — they are meeting virtually and maximizing their efforts and encouraging leaders throughout the world to recover better — greening recovery investments with an eye to a more sustainable and resilient future.
  • Dr. Anne Larigauderie, Executive Secretary, Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services – The Global Assessment of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’ key finding was that marine biodiversity has been declining at an unprecedented rate over the last 50 years, and this degradation of the ocean is impacting people due to its effect on climate change and food security.
  • Ms. Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Acting Executive Secretary, Convention on Biological Diversity – This was to be a super year for both the ocean and biodiversity, and the 2010 targets are still not completed but they are already negotiating the next targets for 2030. We must set ambitious targets to ensure oceans can continue to support economic and food security. The pandemic has demonstrated that human disturbances of ecosystems and biodiversity laws are increasingly linked to the occurrence and risk of disease spread.
  • Ambassador Peter Thomson, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean – We must exercise empathy for those suffering during the pandemic, and we have to be innovative and think our way out of problems. The UN Ocean Conference will be held and we will stick to the commitments we made by agreement.  This is the time when our voices should be heard and we must take this moment in history to ensure that we take the high road and avoid going back to dependence on fossil fuels and pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

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