Interview of the Week: Justin Kenney, UN Foundation, on Super Year for the Ocean

Justin Kenney is the Senior Advisor for Climate, Energy, and Environment at the United Nations Foundation.  

ODP: It’s a new year and in 2020, we know there will be a huge focus on the U.S. elections. But it is also a huge year for ocean conservation. Why?

JK: 2020 will be the most important year for the world’s ocean in our lifetime. We enter the year with the momentum coming out of the “Blue COP” in Madrid and a much greater sense of what’s at stake for people and nature. The decisions made this year will shape the future health of the ocean and the wellbeing of the billions of people and communities who depend on it for food, livelihoods, and quality of life for centuries to come. But it will take bold action.

Just this week we got some encouraging news when the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity issued its draft post-2020 framework that includes protecting at least 30 percent of the ocean by 2030. It’s still early in its deliberations, and of course the details matter, but this is a pretty good start.

ODP: The ocean is in trouble, by all accounts. Do we have a good handle on the problems?

JK:   The recent IPCC and IPBES reports, as well as other scientific studies, make it clear what is at stake. The ocean is taking the heat from climate change, resulting in seas that are warmer, more acidic, and rising. Plastic and nutrient pollution, overfishing, and damaging extractive industries add to the problems facing the ocean. The consequences for wildlife, habitats, and humanity are sweeping and severe.

ODP: The UN Climate meeting was dubbed the “Blue” Conference of the Parties. Why was that so important as a prelude to 2020?

JK: In 2019, the IPCC special report on the ocean and cryosphere connected the dots between climate change and the ocean. With the momentum coming out of Madrid, we can no longer debate climate change without considering the role of the ocean. And we can no longer debate the future health of the ocean without factoring in climate change.

ODP: What meetings and other opportunities will there be for progress in 2020? And what does the UN Foundation think might be accomplished?

JK: Many are calling 2020 a “super year” for the ocean and nature, and for good reason:

  • The Convention on Biological Diversity is drafting its post-2020 framework for adoption at COP15 in Kunming, China, this October, where many are urging for a commitment to protect at least 30% of the ocean (and land too) by 2030.
  • The United Nations will host an ocean conference in Lisbon this June, and a head-of-state-level summit on biodiversity in the fall.
  • Also in June the IUCN’s World Conservation Congress, held every four years, will bring leaders and policymakers from government, civil society, indigenous peoples, business, and academia together with the goal of conserving the environment.
  • And toward the end of the year, the Our Ocean Conference that gathers ocean leaders will meet in Palau to highlight the plight of small island states and the now blue UNFCCC COP will take place in Glasgow.

And this is just a partial list amidst other important moments such as the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the Summer Olympics, and many national and regional events.

ODP: What about the high seas? Are there opportunities to more effectively manage the resources there on the horizon?

JK: Yes, this is a pivotal year for high seas protection in two ways. In 2020 we will hopefully see the adoption of a high seas treaty through the BBNJ process, and important decisions at the World Trade Organization about cutting government fishing subsidies that lead to overfishing and depleted fish stocks.

2020 really is a chance to create an ambitious, aggressive, and sustainable future for the ocean, its wildlife, and ultimately for all of us.

Thank you, Justin.  We could not agree more that this is the year to catch the wave of ocean conservation!  We intend to keep giving this important issue the coverage it deserves!  

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