As Prepared

Thank you, Your Excellency.  Excellencies, distinguished colleagues, good morning.

Just over a month ago many of us were in Palau for the Our Ocean Conference, where we came away with nearly 400 commitments valued at more than $16 billion to conserve and protect our ocean.  This was a monumental success.

And just a month from now we will meet again in Portugal for the UN Ocean Conference to build momentum and ambition for the ocean.

I want to commend you, Ambassador Duarte Lopes, and you, Ambassador Amayo for everything your countries are doing to mobilize support for our ocean.

This is a critical moment for our ocean.

We know the threats facing the ocean.  And we know what’s at stake.

Will we meet this moment?  Will we make 2022 the year we reversed the decline in the health of the ocean?

I am here to tell you, on behalf of the United States, the answer is a resounding yes!

We will come to Lisbon to make an impact, working toward the conservation and sustainable use of the ocean.

I know Dr. Spinrad will talk about a number of U.S. priorities for the UN Ocean Conference from his perspective at NOAA.

I would like to highlight some priorities my team and I are working on at the State Department.


First, we are focusing on the ocean-climate nexus because the climate crisis is an ocean crisis.  We see the ocean as a source of so many solutions.

We need to act now – from decarbonizing the shipping sector and acknowledging the ocean’s capacity to support the global economic transition, to offshore wind and nature-based solutions.

Action against the harmful emissions that make our ocean warmer, higher, more acidic, and less productive.

We are thrilled that one of the interactive dialogues in Lisbon will focus on these challenges, and I was excited to learn this week that Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, was selected as a co-chair of this dialogue.

I am encouraged to hear about planning for a number of side events that will focus on the ocean-climate nexus, and I look forward to engaging on climate in Lisbon.  There is no higher priority.

Marine Protected Areas  

Second, we are looking to grow and strengthen governance of marine protected areas, or MPAs.  President Biden has challenged us to conserve or protect at least 30 percent of the global ocean by 2030 – an initiative we refer to as 30 by 30.

At the Our Ocean Conference in Palau, we announced a new global ocean conservation pledge, encouraging countries to commit to conserve, protect, or restore at least 30 percent of waters under their national jurisdictions by 2030.

We also joined the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People in support of the goal to conserve at least 30 percent of the global ocean by 2030.

Science shows that MPAs conserve biodiversity, replenish fish populations, safeguard the health of ocean ecosystems, and support economic activity such as fishing, tourism, and recreation.

Although thousands of MPAs have been set up around the world, they cover just a fraction of the ocean and vary widely in levels of protection and enforcement.  And in some regions, we already see pressure on governments to reopen existing MPAs.

We also know that it is difficult – especially for developing states – to manage and enforce MPAs and to say no to the financial support that comes from extractive activities.

We need to work together to find incentives that help support the durability of conservation efforts, including new management measures and sustainable finance.  These will help countries weather hard times without unraveling years of hard work to protect marine areas.

In this regard, we commend the regional leadership demonstrated by Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, and Panama in creating the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor, or CMAR.  At over half a million square kilometers, the CMAR is one of the largest sustainably managed corridors connecting marine protected areas in the world.

We also support finalizing an ambitious and effective agreement for the conservation and sustainable use of Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction – known as BBNJ.  This would create, for the first time, a coordinated and cross-sectoral approach to establishing high seas marine protected areas and help us achieve our goal of conserving or protecting 30 percent of the global ocean by 2030.

IUU Fishing  

In addition, the United States is working with partners around the world to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated, or IUU fishing.

IUU fishing does more than jeopardize maritime security and livelihoods for law-abiding fishers and communities – it threatens ocean ecosystems and destabilizes vulnerable coastal states.

And while we’ve worked to address this challenge, our efforts have not kept up with the malign actors in the ocean – the ones who operate far from ports and law enforcement.

While they have long operated largely out of sight, technology is changing that.

The time is now to work together to stop IUU fishing.  We need to ensure sustainable fishing in our ocean, improve livelihoods, and empower women and men who depend on this vital resource.

In order to make that a reality, we also need to promote transparency and data sharing to understand the full complexity of IUU fishing, both in the high seas and in exclusive economic zones.

And we need to create a global drag net that ensnares the guilty fishing enterprises from all over the world.

Their corruption, greed, and apathy have led to the near depletion of many of the most majestic species in our beautiful ocean – whales, sharks, sea turtles, and of course tuna.  Not to mention many innocent fishers who have been enslaved in the ruthless drive to clear out the ocean.

Ultimately, we won’t be successful if we don’t take a force multiplying approach to put our shared data to use in order to address the drivers of IUU fishing and other challenges, such as forced labor, safety at sea, and mitigating and adapting to climate disruptions.

Plastic Pollution  

Fourth, the United States is working hard to combat plastic pollution – the silent killer of ocean life.

We add an estimated eight-to-fourteen million tons of plastic pollution to the ocean every year – that’s about one truckload of plastic dumped in the sea every minute of every day.  And that rate is increasing, not decreasing.

Earlier this year I had the honor of leading the U.S. government delegation to Nairobi for the fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly.  I am proud of our collective achievement in agreeing to launch multilateral negotiations on a global legally binding agreement to combat plastic pollution.

The United States is pleased the UNEA resolution to end plastic pollution takes an ambitious, innovative, and country-driven approach.  And we are excited to work with countries on initiating a multi-stakeholder action agenda to promote enhanced engagement and to mobilize resources in support of the agreement’s objectives.

We are grateful for the work that has been done thus far, and we look forward to stepping up global efforts in the weeks and months ahead.

Ocean Science and the UN Decade  

And finally, we are working hard to advance ocean science and technology, which underpins our efforts to address all the issues we are discussing here today.

The United States’ commitment to supporting ocean science and technology innovation is unwavering, and that commitment will be on display in Lisbon.  I hope everyone attending the conference will join us at a side event we plan to host on this topic, with innovators showcasing their latest research and technologies.

The UN Decade of Ocean Science, which seeks to deliver the science we need for the ocean we want, is a critical framework for identifying and aligning resources toward ocean science that can address the pressing challenges of our time.

Support for the Ocean Decade is an opportunity for states, intergovernmental organizations, and non-state actors to demonstrate their commitments to fulfilling the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The United States Government and U.S. institutions have been literally answering the calls to Ocean Decade action through innovative ideas to deliver the ocean science we need.

And we are partnering with other countries, including Portugal, on programs such as the Marine Biodiversity Observation Network, or MBON, which also includes valuable contributions by the AIR Centre as the global MBON Secretariat.

The MBON is coordinating access to critical marine life information for conservation, human well-being and the blue economy.

MBON will help us to make informed decisions for the sustainable use of our ocean resources for future generations.  And the partnerships that naturally flow from programs such as MBON will lead to further marine science collaboration under the Ocean Decade.

Collaboration is key.  We are in this together!


We stand at a crossroads.

Down one road leads to more of the same—more pollution, rising temperatures and sea levels, more extreme weather, greater loss of biodiversity, greater environmental injustice and greater insecurity.

The other road leads to a better future where we live sustainably with nature.

And as we confront the urgency of this moment, we do so with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to choose a better path for a more sustainable world for our children and grandchildren.

The decisions we make, and the actions we take, over the next several years will determine the health of our planet for centuries to come.

We stand with all of you as we work for a better future.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future