On the road to Lisbon, many organisations had organised preparatory events to contribute to the mobilisation in support of the most neglected and underfunded of all Sustainable Development Goals. The Ocean Conference was co-hosted by the Governments of Kenya and Portugal. The European Parliament convened a preparatory event organised by a group of MEPs with Ambassador Peter Thomson, Special Envoy for the Ocean of the UN Secretary General, on 21 June 2022. 

A month earlier, more than 550 civil society organisations had already agreed through their adherence to the movement 'Rise Up for the Ocean' on key demands to the government participants of the Conference. Mundus maris is one of the organisations in the alliance. In the event, Rise Up noted that the draft of the 2022 UNOC political declaration contained many fine words, but cautioned that the conference will be judged not on countries' good intentions, but on their actions that need scaling up to protect the ocean.

In 2022 countries must RISE UP and deliver on key ocean actions, such as ending harmful fishing subsidies in the World Trade Organization (WTO), finalising negotiations of a robust High Seas Treaty, and securing the 30x30 target that upholds and enhances the rights of Indigenous Peoples and small-scale fishers and gives us a chance to stop the wave of biodiversity extinctions in the ocean and on the land.

In Lisbon itself, Mundus maris was represented by vice president and board member Maria del Carmen Patricia Morales. She made one of the short statements at the big RISE UP side events right at the beginning speaking about the need for intergenerational and intercontinental cooperation and how Mundus maris was working to blend the sciences and arts for ocean protection.

Patricia noted that there was limited interaction between official government delegations and participants from civil society. As the conference and side events were only conducted in English for lack of interpretation into other UN languages, it was difficult for representatives from small-scale fisher organisations e.g. from Latin America or countries where English was not regularly spoken to make themselves noticed.

She therefore conducted a number of radio interviews, particularly with fisher organisations from Central America, which are transmitted in Spanish on Radio Alma and FM 101.9 in Brussels, 18-19h.

Conference participants noted with satisfaction the progress at the 12th Ministerial Conference at the WTO, Geneva, 13-17 June. The fisheries subsidies deal is the first WTO binding agreement that links trade, the environment and sustainability. Reaching a deal after 21 years of talks and in the midst of geopolitical instability, war, and a global pandemic is no small accomplishment.

There are now rules prohibiting all subsidies (including capacity enhancing) to vessels committing IUU, fishing on overfished stocks, and fishing on the unregulated high seas. It also includes important measures to enhance transparency that will make governments more accountable for their financial support for the fishing industry. For the first time, governments are accountable for the subsidies they provide to their fishing fleets at a global level.

While negotiations on subsidies that contribute to building and operating fleets with capacity to fish unsustainably came up short, members said they would continue talks on this issue and will recommend limits on such government support to the WTO’s Thirteenth Ministerial Conference expected to meet in 2023 or 2024, particularly by including additional prohibitions to subsidies that contribute to overcapacity, overfishing, and distant-water fishing. The agreement needs 2/3 of the WTO membership to ratify the agreement within the next four years in order for it to enter into force.

That means, continued attention and pressure from civil society organisations will be required to address the pending issues and make sure new rules really constrain all forms of harmful subsidies.

The covid delayed UN Ocean Conference was also the first occasion for a high-level gathering since 2020 when 14 world leaders, led by Norway and Palau, and including Indonesia's and Ghana's presidents, promised to drive forward science-based solutions to manage the ocean sustainably. This 'Ocean Panel' entrusted altogether some 250 scientists to produce a series of 'blue papers' to assess the current state and key measures on how to transition to recovery and sustainability. Very ambitiously, they pledged to achieve the transition to sustainability by 2025 rather than the deadline for sustainability development goals in 2030. This group is growing bigger, with France and the USA joining. The toolkit for achieving their goals proposes a series of indicators to monitor progress with implementation. That is encouraging, but invites fresh efforts at reality checks. But certainly, the Ocean Panel has helped to put the ocean on the political agenda of the UN and the G7 group of wealthy countries.

A lot more mobilisation of citizens all around the globe is needed to make the ocean central to the discussions, negotiations and investments for climate-safe and just futures by healing the ocean, stop biodiversity loss and address the many injustices cemented by prevailing rules and practices. It can and must be done for people and planet.

Find out more about the UN Ocean Conference 2022 in Lisbon here.