Climate Week in New York City started out with a clear message: The time for talking has passed; put your words into action. Climate action comes in many forms — policy change, investments in ecosystem restoration, clean technology innovation and much more. Oceans, increasingly under threat from melting glaciers and coral bleaching, are another big blue opportunity for action sitting right under our noses.
Over the last two centuries, the oceans have absorbed a third of the carbon dioxide that has been released into the atmosphere and 90 percent of the heat trapped by elevated levels of greenhouse gases, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Natural cycles store carbon, but the robust functioning of these processes isn’t guaranteed. For one, we need to ensure the protection of marine biodiversity. Recognizing the relationship between a healthy oceans and climate change mitigation, on Monday the corporation-led United Nations Global Compact announced its Ocean Stewardship Coalition, designed as a forum to drive responsible ocean business practices and restoration.
The big picture is that achieving global coordinated action in responsibly managing our oceans requires cross-sector cooperation, something the U.N. Global Compact is well-positioned to achieve. “The challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss cannot be overcome unless the ocean is central to considerations,” Peter Thomson, the U.N. Secretary-General's special envoy for the ocean, said in a statement. “Also true is that strong global governance and coordination will be essential to realising the full potential of a sustainable ocean economy. The launch of the U.N. Global Compact Ocean Stewardship Coalition is timely — never has collaboration between multi-stakeholders been more vital.”
Is it possible for a U.N. forum to make real change? The U.N. Global Compact has had its share of critics, including those skeptical about the impact such a business group can make. The Compact claims tangible results, though. Former CEO and executive director of the Compact, Lise Kingo, has cited some measurable progress the group has brought in its two decades of existence.
In an article for the U.N. Chronicle, Kingo notes advances in water stewardship and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) reporting, as well as coalition-building through the Sustainable Ocean Business Action Platform. She writes that the platform has mobilized more than 40 major international civil society and private-sector organizations in action, investment and partnerships in the name of ocean health. Perhaps positive outcomes from the Ocean Stewardship Coalition are possible.
Two years after publishing its Sustainable Ocean Principles, the Compact takes its ocean advocacy a step forward into collaboration through the Coalition — convening governments, companies, NGOs, academic institutions, and U.N. partners to find direction and initiative regarding ocean conservation and management.
First to come from the Coalition is an input paper for COP26, happening in November. Titled Blueprint for a Climate-Smart Ocean to Meet 1.5 ° C, the paper reports on four work-streams that brought together 100 stakeholders around the subjects of zero-carbon maritime transport, offshore renewable energy, low-carbon blue food and nature-based solutions. The resulting recommendations are specific enough to be practical, touching upon the role seaweed can play in carbon sequestration, shipping technology advancement, offshore renewable energy development and science-based emissions reduction for seafood.
Specificity and practicality define this input paper. Six basic steps branch into explicit actions for U.N. parties, business leaders and financial actors. Even if the report doesn’t lead directly to action in the near-term, its detailing of the business case for ocean conservation can create ripple effects across the membership.
One fast fact cited by authors: As early as the 2030s, flooding is projected to become an increased threat to critical coastal infrastructure like ports — of note to any business reliant on shipping. From this angle, the Ocean Stewardship Coalition’s first report doesn’t ask of businesses charity, or even “blue washing,” but sensible business practices.
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