As we embark on the new year, I am struck by the giant strides we made last year to preserve the planet we call home.
The year ended with the successful Artemis I mission in which the United States began its journey to return to the Moon. We also made a giant leap forward for nature here on Earth in the form of an historic decision to conserve at least 30 percent of the world’s ocean, waters, and lands by 2030, under the auspices of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
Indeed, over the course of 2022, we saw progress on addressing the plastic pollution crisis, combating illegal fishing and harmful fishing subsidies, increased global protections against trade in endangered species ranging from sharks to beetles, and progress on both mitigation of and adaptation to climate change. The United States ratified the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer – this important amendment can prevent up to half a degree Celsius of warming this century. Congress also passed the Inflation Reduction Act, the single most important step for mitigating U.S. greenhouse gas emissions ever. You can read my full blog recapping the past year here.
At the State Department, this renewed focus on the environment is part of our revitalization of America’s foreign policy. We are tackling the challenges of our time, such as biodiversity loss, pollution, and climate change, in partnership with other nations. The mission of the Oceans, Environment and Science Bureau (OES) is to provide American leadership, diplomacy, and scientific cooperation to conserve and protect the global environment, ocean, health, and space for the prosperity, peace, and security of this and future generations.
In short, we are America’s diplomats for nature and the health of the planet. We know that a healthy environment and the peaceful and sustainable use of resources here on Earth and in space are essential to our prosperity and to our future. We are now back on a path for a cleaner, healthier, and more prosperous future. But, as Robert Semple of the New York Times wrote in his end-of-the-year editorial, there is much work still to do.
This year, we have the opportunity and the responsibility to build on the momentum and ambition of the past two years. In OES, we are now focused on new priorities at the start of 2023, a year of action. Here are our New Year’s resolutions:
First, we intend to build on the CBD success to conclude the negotiation of a new agreement on biodiversity and conservation in areas of the ocean beyond national jurisdiction, known as the “BBNJ” agreement. Why is this a priority? Because we cannot conserve or protect 30% of the planet unless we can create marine protected areas in the high seas. We will take this from words to action and begin to create the first of these high seas protected areas—both in areas of the ocean adjacent to U.S. waters as well as in other key parts of the globe such as the Pacific and the Antarctic. And we believe leadership starts at home, which is why we launched the Ocean Conservation Pledge, which has now been joined by 16 countries, committing to conserve or protect at least 30 percent of their domestic ocean waters by 2030.
Second, we will grow the Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing Action Alliance that we launched last year by adding more members and working with them to bring greater transparency to fishing vessels on the water and to seafood supply chains. We intend to use a combination of global policy improvements, cutting edge technology, and greater global cooperation to confront and reduce illegal fishing practices. Why is this a priority? Because IUU fishing is systematically plundering our ocean of fish and that harms law abiding fishermen and deprives fishing communities throughout the world of livelihoods and sustenance. It also destroys ocean ecosystems by emptying them of life.
Third, we will drive public and private ambition to combat the plastic pollution crisis. Last year, we began to negotiate the first global agreement to end the scourge of plastic pollution. But we cannot solve this complex problem unless we all take action to break free from plastic throughout its entire life cycle as governments, companies, communities, and individuals. Plastic has many important uses, but according to the OECD and World Economic Forum, consumption of plastics will likely increase exponentially—from 460 million metric tons in 2019 to 1,231 million metric tons by 2060—unless we find ways to create a circular economy for plastic through reducing, re-using, and recycling it. Why is this a priority? Because plastics leaking into the environment as pollution have already reached every part of the planet and are disturbing ecosystems and harming human health. And worse yet, the amount of plastic pollution in the environment will triple in our children’s lifetimes if we don’t change our ways.
Fourth, we will increase the sustainability, safety, and transparency of cooperation in space exploration through the Artemis Accords, which set out a common understanding of responsible behavior in space. It also lays the groundwork for NASA’s program, which will land the first woman and person of color on the Moon, and prepare us for expeditions to Mars. Why is this a priority? All humanity benefits from the bringing together of diverse talents, innovation, and perspectives. Through bilateral and multilateral cooperation and collaboration, we can promote peace and build a greater understanding of space and its many beneficial applications here on Earth. As one NASA executive said when the first eight nations signed the Accords, “The Artemis journey is to the Moon, but the destination of the Accords is a peaceful and prosperous future.”
As we look ahead into 2023, we know we have no time to waste. And we can never become complacent about our work. This year is all about getting things done, for our planet, our nation, and ourselves. Happy new year!