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Environmental groups press world leaders on last day of UN ocean conference


Environmental groups on Friday urged world leaders to keep promises they made at the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon this week, to do everything in their power to save the world’s seas.

“The ocean, climate and coastal communities worldwide need real progress, not promises, when it comes to ocean health,” said Marco Lambertini, director general of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Among the 7,000 delegates present at the conference were heads of state, scientists and NGOs, including from Canada. Many worried the energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine could undermine efforts to fight climate change. Others, including President Emmanuel Macron of France, expressed concerns about deep-sea mining and some called for a moratorium.

Attendees at the conference, which ran from June 27 to July 1, assessed progress in implementing a UN directive to protect marine life.

The WWF told leaders to seize the momentum and resolve long-standing issues surrounding protection of the high seas such as plastic pollution by swiftly enacting and ratifying “robust global treaties.”

Greenpeace leader says words are not enough

United Nations’ Special Envoy for the Ocean Peter Thomson, on the video screen, addresses the United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Friday, July 1, 2022. (Armando Franca/The Associated Press)

Lisbon is the last major political gathering before member states meet in August to try to hammer out a long-awaited treaty to shield open seas beyond national jurisdictions. Hundreds of activists convened outside the conference venue in Lisbon on Wednesday in a blue march aimed at saving the world’s seas.

Greenpeace’s Laura Meller said the success of the Lisbon conference would be measured in August.

“We have seen many declarations before, we have heard many promises, pledges and voluntary commitments,” said Meller, who leads the environmental group’s Protect the Oceans campaign. “But if declarations could save the oceans they wouldn’t be on the brink of collapse.”

Negotiations on the treaty began in 2018 after a decade of discussions at the UN but member states failed to reach a consensus in March.

Mining of the deep-sea was a hot topic at the conference, with Macron saying on Thursday a legal framework was needed to stop deep-sea mining from going ahead.

There is growing interest in deep-sea mining, along with pressure from some environmental groups and governments to either ban it or at least enact appropriate regulations.

Several nations, such as the Pacific islands of Palau and Fiji, have called for a global moratorium on all deep-sea mining, citing environmental concerns and lack of sufficient scientific data.

“The momentum created this week…is a tipping point for the deep ocean, the blue heart of our planet,” said Sian Owen, director of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition. “President Macron has effectively echoed the countless calls…to press ‘pause’ on any and all ambitions to mine the deep-sea.”


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