The United Nations hopes that an international conference in Portugal will give new impetus to the long-standing efforts for a global agreement on protecting the world’s seas.
The five-day UN ocean conference in Lisbon has drawn senior officials and scientists from more than 120 countries to the Atlantic port city in southwestern Europe, as well as activists appalled by the lack of international rules that can ensure ocean sustainability.
There is no comprehensive legal framework covering the high seas.
Oceans cover about 70 percent of the Earth’s surface and provide food and livelihood for billions of people.
Some activists call them the largest unregulated area in the world.
In his opening address at the conference, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged countries to “show unity and togetherness around the problems of the sea”.
“Unfortunately, we have taken the ocean for granted, and today we are faced with what I would call an ocean emergency,” Guterres said. “We have to turn the tide.”
The UN says ocean threats include global warming, pollution, acidification, and other problems.
Potentially harmful deep-sea mining also has no rules.
The UN said the conference will adopt a statement that, while not binding on its signatories, could help implement and facilitate the protection and conservation of oceans and their resources.
The statement will be confirmed on Friday.
But still out of reach is a vital new international agreement on biodiversity outside national jurisdiction, otherwise known as the Convention of the High Seas.
That treaty is being negotiated within the United Convention on the Law of the Sea framework, the main international agreement regulating human maritime activities.
However, a deal is still not in sight after 10 years of negotiations, including a fourth round of talks three months ago. A fifth-round is scheduled for August in New York.
“The world’s largest ecosystem … is still unprotected and dying as we watch,” the activist group Ocean Rebellion said ahead of the event in Lisbon.
Activists plan demonstrations in the Atlantic port city during the event.
Despite the frustrations, the conference is “an important opportunity to accelerate steps towards a treaty on the high seas,” the UN says, as delegates informally discuss possible next steps.
The conference is also expected to reaffirm and build on the roughly 62 pledges made by governments at the previous summit in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2018, from protecting small island nations with ocean-based economies to sustainable fishing and combating warming waters.
Ocean conservation financing models are also on the agenda this year, as is coming up with science-based, innovative solutions to improve ocean health.
US climate envoy John Kerry and French President Emmanuel Macron will be in attendance several days into the event.