Thank you so much for that introduction. Thank you especially to our Lisbon hosts— I am always happy to come to Portugal. Thank you to Admiral Braganca, Director of the Atlantic Center, Amanda Dory, Director of the Africa Center, and the Perry Center team for conceptualizing, organizing, and hosting this very important and timely event. I am very pleased to address you this morning.
I’m Jessye Lapenn, the first Senior Coordinator for Atlantic Cooperation to be appointed by the U.S. government. Beyond my own excitement and enthusiasm for the role, there is a significance and indeed excitement around the creation of the position itself. It demonstrates U.S. recognition that the Atlantic binds Atlantic states as neighbors just as surely as countries that share land borders are neighbors and that there is an Atlantic geography, an Atlantic community. The position also reflects a focus on the ocean itself – as an economic driver; a highway for transit and trade, a route for digital commerce, services, and investment; a source of food and energy, and a locus of ocean-based climate solutions, from green shipping to blue carbon.
Like neighbors everywhere, we have differences. There may be different capacities, experiences and ideas, but critically we have a common desire to keep our neighborhood safe, clean, enduring, nurturing, and prosperous.
The notion of all-Atlantic or pan-Atlantic coordination is not new. Indeed, that has been the critical work of the Atlantic Center. But I would offer that this coordination is newly relevant. We are more keenly aware of our dependence on the Atlantic than ever. It is the world’s most heavily traveled ocean, and the Atlantic economy supports 49 million jobs in Africa and $21 billion in GDP in Latin America.
Two-thirds of the world’s renewable energy is generated by Atlantic states. Pan-Atlantic commercial flows in services, investment, and digital commerce are larger than in the Pacific. Populations across and around the Atlantic are engaging and interacting in a range of new ways, via trade, investment, innovation and cultural exchange, changing the way we view our relationship and the potential for mutual growth. Indeed, the Atlantic region offers some of the greatest potential for blue economic growth.
At the same time, however, the Atlantic region faces new problems and challenges, and already fragile blue economies are being challenged by unpredictable climate change effects.
As Special Presidential Envoy John Kerry said: “the climate crisis and the ocean crisis are one and the same. We cannot fully address one without the other. It is the crisis of the air and the ocean.” We see the implications, as rising sea levels pose economic and infrastructure risk, and the record-breaking warming surface ocean, especially in the northern Atlantic, threatens human health and the ecosystem and will drive more frequent and intense storms. Life-threatening floods, droughts, heatwaves, and storms – amidst the after-effects of a global pandemic – compound risks to our economic and food security, deepening vulnerabilities in communities and threatening to destabilize institutions essential to maintain global security. Indeed, they may increasingly define the future of security.
As we think about the challenges facing the Atlantic, we tend to think in baskets – economic, security and environment/climate, but virtually every challenge is interrelated, and solutions will require us to think across baskets. One way to think about that is through the lens of human security, which allows a transparent, sustainable blue economy to flourish. Stability enables local fishing industries as well as significant trans-Atlantic trade. This stability is built on good governance and legal cooperation to prevent criminals from draining our national resources and requires innovation and discovery to find solutions to climate change, protect our environment, increase prosperity and health, and benefit the population.
Concrete examples are always useful. So, what do I mean when I talk about challenges that must be understood and tackled, considering security, economic and environmental aspect? A good example is illegal, unreported and unregulated or IUU fishing, which I know the conference will address as a standalone topic this week.
IUU fishing threatens ocean health, contributes to overfishing and the collapse or decline of fisheries that are required for economic growth, food security and the health of ecosystems. Distant water fishing vessels engage in industrial-scale fishing operations on the high seas and in waters under other states’ jurisdictions, often involving forced labor, human trafficking, and other crimes and human rights abuses. Last year, President Biden signed a National Security Memorandum to address IUU fishing and related harmful fishing practices.
Governance mechanisms, diplomatic cooperation, and regional bodies are needed to ensure human security across the Atlantic region to address issues like IUU fishing. The good news for all of us is that many Atlantic nations are developing fora to look at the challenges and opportunities of the Atlantic community. They include Portugal’s Atlantic Centre, the African Atlantic States Process, the revival of the Zone of Peace and Cooperation in the South Atlantic, the Yaoundé Architecture for Maritime Security (YAMS), and specifically supporting research and innovation, the AIR Centre in the Azores and the All-Atlantic Ocean Research and Innovation Alliance (AAORIA).
Working closely with colleagues and partners from around the Atlantic, including our Portuguese hosts, the United States seeks to drive forward Atlantic cooperation, recognizing the opportunity that the current attention offers and the critical challenges that the region faces. I just offered a long list of initiatives, and we intend for our effort to complement, support and as appropriate, connect those other efforts.
Our approach is inclusive. We are thinking about the Atlantic north, south, east and west and about an Atlantic community and identity. We believe that coming together as neighbors will open new ideas about problem definition and solutions. We are working with partners now to articulate the elements of cooperation – what does that mean? What does that look like? We need general agreement on working principles and a platform for communication and collaboration. We also need a shared understanding of the region’s priorities. Priorities may not be identical or in an identical order across the Atlantic region. How do we manage that? Might there be efforts that are relevant to various, different priorities, such as in the information space. As I noted above regarding the cross-cutting nature of the challenges we seek to address, I believe we can find common ground across our respective priorities as well. Ultimately, however, Atlantic partners want to see impact, so we will need to ensure this cooperation delivers concrete results. That will be important to creating a proof of concept.
Our aim is to create an Atlantic consciousness that supports the sense of Atlantic community. Those two efforts should mutually reinforcing. The more we work together to achieve results that are not possible unilaterally or even bilaterally, the more we feel a sense of community. And the more we feel a sense of Atlantic identity and community, the more we will look to solve problems together. The initiative for Atlantic Cooperation can serve as our platform. We are eager to work together to create it.