Thank you, Roy. It is a pleasure to join you today. You know you’ve finally made it as a U.S. diplomat when you are invited to speak at the Meridian House. This truly is one of Washington’s, and perhaps this country’s, finest architectural treasures.
I am also humbled to be in the company of such a distinguished panel, including, of course, Ambassador Negroponte, our former Deputy Secretary of State.
Some of you might not know this, but Ambassador Negroponte served as our Assistant Secretary for Environment, Oceans, and Fisheries in the late 1980s. He was instrumental in negotiating the Montreal Protocol, one of the most successful environmental treaties of our times. It is inspiring to see his continued dedication to these issues nearly four decades later.
And, Ambassador, I am happy to report that the bureau you once led—now called Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, or OES, is carrying on your legacy and leading in various multilateral environmental fora. In fact, at the beginning of March, countries at the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA 5.2) adopted a resolution entitled “End Plastic Pollution: Towards an International Legally Binding Instrument.” This resolution launches negotiations on a global agreement on plastic pollution addressing the full lifecycle of plastic. It was hailed as the most important step forward on the environment since the Paris Agreement.
We are here today to talk about our ocean and the blue economy, but what kind of ocean will we leave to our children and grandchildren if we continue on our current trajectory? We dump about a truckload of plastic into our seas every single minute of every day. That’s up to 14 million tons of plastic each year. This is why Assistant Secretary Monica Medina and our dedicated negotiating team at OES are working day after day to get us to a legally binding agreement by the end of 2024 that will address the scourge of plastic pollution.
The year 2022 truly is, as Assistant Secretary Medina likes to say, a “super year” for the ocean. And we need a super year.
The ocean sustains all life on Earth, regulates our climate and weather, generates half of the planet’s oxygen, and provides food and livelihoods for billions of people.
I talked about the scourge of plastic pollution in our ocean. But the health of the ocean is also under constant attack from many other stressors, including greenhouse gas emissions, overfishing, rising temperatures, and acidification to name a few.
And these pressures are compounded by a lack of adequate ocean governance.
Our current actions are leading to a result that none of us can bear—an ocean that could become barren of resources and life.
This is NOT the future we want, but it is the future we will get if we fail to take decisive action now.
Progress to date
Thankfully, ocean issues are starting to be featured prominently on the world stage. And we are seeing some major strides forward as a result.
The UN Environment Assembly resolution on plastic that I mentioned earlier means countries can no longer ignore plastic pollution and will have to negotiate a way to address the full lifecycle of plastic.
And we have also had recent success with constructive negotiations on a new global agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction—or “BBNJ.” When we talk about BBNJ we are talking about the high seas, which is about two-thirds of the world’s ocean, reaching depths of over 10 kilometers and representing 95 percent of the Earth’s total habitat by volume.
Last year, the United States announced it is joining the High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy—known as the Ocean Panel. And this week, we are co-hosting the Our Ocean Conference together with Palau, in Palau, which is where Assistant Secretary Medina is right now, along with Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry.
More than 80 government and 100 non-government delegations are at Our Ocean. We anticipate the announcement of hundreds of commitments by the end of the conference worth billions of dollars. The State Department launched the first Our Ocean Conference back in 2014, and since then we have seen more than 1400 commitments worth more than $90 billion from stakeholders around the world to protect the ocean.
After Our Ocean, we look forward to continuing the momentum right into the UN Ocean Conference in Portugal in June. I want to thank Ambassador Amayo, who is one of the distinguished panelists today, for Kenya’s leadership in co-hosting the UN Ocean Conference.
Your Excellency, as you know, Assistant Secretary Medina recently visited Kenya and was struck by your country’s environmental leadership on so many fronts, from banning plastic bags to marine conservation. We look forward to many great things coming out of the meeting in Lisbon, and then it will already be time to start thinking about Cairo and COP27 in November.
I’d like to spend a few minutes describing some additional areas of focus for the United States in the months that remain in this super year for the ocean.
First, marine protected areas, or MPAs.
Well-managed MPAs provide invaluable ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration and coastal protection and resilience. They are also economic engines that support fishing, tourism, and recreation.
In the United States, we are implementing a Presidential directive to achieve the goal of conserving at least 30 percent of our land and waters by 2030. And we fully support conserving or protecting 30 percent of the global ocean by 2030.
We are encouraging other countries to commit to this too.
We know it’s 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 mechanisms, like blue bonds.
These will help countries weather hard times without unraveling years of hard work to protect marine areas.
I’d also like to highlight the visionary efforts of Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Panama to create the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor, or CMAR.
At over half a million square kilometers, CMAR is expected to be one of the largest sustainably managed corridors connecting marine protected areas in the world.
The new BBNJ Agreement will also be critical to achieving our 30×30 goal for the global ocean by creating—for the first time—an effective, coordinated, and cross-sectoral approach to establishing marine protected areas on the high seas.
A fifth BBNJ negotiation will be held in August. The United States—along with nearly every other country—is committed to a strong and effective BBNJ Agreement. We are working hard to finalize negotiations at the August session.
Another priority for us this year is combatting illegal, unreported, and unregulated, or IUU, fishing.
IUU fishing jeopardizes maritime security and livelihoods for law-abiding fishers and communities.
It also threatens ocean ecosystems and destabilizes vulnerable coastal states.
We need to ensure sustainable fishing, to improve livelihoods, and to empower women and men who depend on this vital resource.
The United States has long been a leader in promoting sustainable fisheries through effective, science-based fisheries management and cooperative tools to combat IUU fishing, such as the ground-breaking Port State Measures Agreement.
Under the Maritime Security and Fisheries Enforcement Act, we are mobilizing a coordinated, whole-of-government approach to counter IUU fishing and related threats to maritime security in priority regions and priority flag states around the world.
Still, there is an urgent need to do more. Too many bad actors are able to exploit loopholes, evade detection, and get their illegal catch into the market.
We need to leverage creative new lines of effort, particularly to build new partnerships that make greater transparency the norm.
Transparency and data sharing are essential to understand the full complexity of IUU fishing—both in the high seas and in exclusive economic zones—and to target the owners who profit from breaking the rules.
This shared data can also be a force multiplier to address other challenges, such as forced labor, safety at sea, and mitigating and adapting to climate disruptions.
Finally, let me stress that the climate crisis is also an ocean crisis.
Tackling the climate crisis is a high priority for the United States—and is critical to protecting the ocean and the coastal communities that rely on it.
The United States is committed to advancing ocean-based climate solutions, such as:
- scaling up offshore renewable energy and
- protecting and restoring coastal and ocean ecosystems that store carbon and protect coastlines from climate impacts.
We also need to work together to decarbonize the shipping sector. Emissions from shipping are significant and rising—they are not on a trajectory consistent with achieving the temperature goal of the Paris Agreement.
If the shipping sector were a “country,” it would be the eighth-largest emitter.
This is why the United States has committed to work with countries in the International Maritime Organization to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping no later than 2050.
I could go on because the issue set is vast. But I hope I have made clear that the United States is using every tool in the blue diplomacy toolbox to advance the policies and partnerships needed to address these 21st century stressors to our ocean and planet.
The time for action is now. We are prepared to work with all partners and stakeholders to make sure this is in fact a super year for the ocean.