As this year ends, we will look back on 2022 as one of the most pivotal years for the health of the planet and its people. Just like fifty years ago, when the historic United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm kicked off the modern environmental movement, in recent months we have experienced a surge of global environmental activism. I believe we will remember this year as the point when we rededicated ourselves to a sustainable future – one in which we live more in harmony with nature.
The Biden Administration has led the way – we have restored America’s leadership addressing such global challenges as climate change, the ocean, biodiversity conservation, plastic pollution, and nature crimes. We have reinvigorated space and science diplomacy. And throughout this year, we elevated the voices of indigenous leaders, frontline communities, youth, and women.
We began the year, sadly, by bidding farewell to Dr. Thomas Lovejoy and Dr. Edward O. Wilson, good friends and true champions for the conservation of biodiversity all around the world, a cause at the heart of our work. It’s only fitting for this year to conclude at the conference of parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) with an historic commitment to conserve and protect at least 30 percent of the world’s ocean and land by 2030. In addition, the commitment ensures that the 30 percent under protection includes areas of particular importance for biodiversity and that these areas are effectively and equitably managed and part of an integrated set of landscapes and seascapes. The framework also upholds that all climate adaptation and mitigation efforts avoid negative impacts on biodiversity, and acknowledges that all stakeholders be involved in its implementation.
From start to finish, 2022 has been a momentous year. Here’s a look back at just a few of the accomplishments of this year.
Building on President Biden’s domestic pledge to conserve at least 30 percent of the nation’s land and waters, the United States joined the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People and the High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, and in so doing committed to the global 30×30 goal. Although the United States is not a party to the CBD, we will adhere to the fundamental tenets of the Global Biodiversity Framework that was just approved at COP15. Why are all these commitments important? Because expert scientists from all across the planet have said that 30 percent is the minimum we must have in order to conserve the world’s biodiversity, which is essential to our health, our economies, and our very survival as a species.
Last April, the United States and the Republic of Palau co-hosted the 7th Our Ocean Conference. After a two-year delay due to the covid pandemic, leaders from across the globe, from the public and private sectors, made 410 commitments worth $16.35 billion to end illegal fishing and plastic pollution, expand ocean conservation and green the shipping industry, and promote the blue economy and sustainable fishing. Since 2014, the Our Ocean Conference has mobilized more than 1,800 commitments worth approximately $108 billion.
In addition, on the issue of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, the United States, Canada, and U.K. launched the IUU Fishing Action Alliance to strengthen ambition and action to combat illegal fishing worldwide. An estimated one in five fish is caught illegally, and illegal fishing can often involve forced labor practices and other illegal activities. Similarly, after nearly 20 years of debate and negotiation, the World Trade Organization took steps to eliminate harmful fish subsidies that promote unsustainable or illegal fishing practices. This was a huge step forward toward more sustainable fishing that benefits the coastal communities that depend on fishing for food and livelihoods. On ocean protection, we launched the Ocean Conservation Pledge whereby nations commit to conserve or protect at least 30 percent of their ocean by 2030. Countries joining the United States in endorsing the pledge include Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Fiji, France, Greece, Japan, Kenya, Malta, Panama, Portugal, Romania, Seychelles, and Sri Lanka,
After more than a decade of effort, the Senate voted to give its advice and consent to U.S. ratification of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which should help us avoid as much as half a degree Celsius of warming by the end of the century. In addition, we worked with many countries such as Mexico, Panama, Chile, Peru, and the Central American region to partner on many beneficial environmental projects in furtherance of our free trade agreements with those nations. We also worked to assess the damage to the Ukrainian environment caused by Russia’s brutal and unjustified full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and we called on Russia to stop its illegal war in numerous environmental meetings and global forums. We also created a global strategy for water security that laid the groundwork for our efforts in 2023 on securing sufficient supplies of safe water for people all around the world. The world is drowning in plastic. In the time it takes to read this, the equivalent of three garbage trucks of plastic pollution will enter the ocean. In March, the world came together in Nairobi, under the auspices of the U.N. Environment Assembly, and decided to develop the world’s first global treaty to combat plastic pollution. In November, negotiations on the agreement began in Uruguay and will continue over the next two years. We seek to build consensus around an ambitious, innovative, and country-driven approach to combating plastic pollution throughout its lifecycle, with the goal of eliminating the release of plastic into the environment by 2040.
The plastic pollution crisis is not a problem that national governments can solve alone. Local and regional governments are key to our success. It will also require the commitments and contributions of industry, academia, and conservation stakeholders. We believe the agreement should require each country that joins it to develop and regularly update a national action plan that contributes to achieving the agreement’s objective. Such plans should set out nationally determined policies and actions across the lifecycle of plastic that are measurable, transparent, and subject to reporting requirements. This country-driven approach should strengthen ambition. And it should foster innovation over time. Transparency and accountability are essential. We will continue to negotiate this agreement for the next two years – a very short timeline!
Space and Science Diplomacy
The reach of our work extends beyond our oceans and land, and into space where we carry out diplomatic and public diplomacy efforts to strengthen American leadership in exploration, applications, and commercialization. Twenty-three countries have signed on to the Artemis Accords, which promote bilateral and multilateral space cooperation. Launched by NASA and the State Department in 2020, the Accords establish a common framework to guide responsible space exploration. The Accords’ principles reflect the signatories’ mutual dedication to the responsible and sustainable exploration and utilization of space.
We are also putting science back into our diplomacy, with a new cohort of science envoys And it is a cohort of firsts! This is the first majority female cohort and includes the first science envoys to focus on the nexus of environmental science and indigenous knowledge; quantum information science and technology; IUU fishing; and plastic pollution. We continued to champion American science leadership with friends and allies around the world, hosting an inaugural 12-country roundtable on quantum information science and technology and dialogues with over 150 academia and government partners to advance international understanding of research integrity.
On a Better Path
As we started this year, we found ourselves standing at a crossroad. Down one path was more of the same. More pollution and less biodiversity. More warming and less global security. Down the other path was a more sustainable future and a better world for our children and grandchildren. As this year ends, we can all say we have chosen that better path toward a world in which we live in harmony with nature. In 2023, it is our opportunity and responsibility to build on this momentum and ambition and continue to deliver for the American people and our planet. And that is exactly what we intend to do.
From all of us at OES, to all of you, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!