It's Your Ocean!

UN General Assemby Ocean Message Must Shift from Talk to Action

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United Nations General Assembly President –
We Must Shift from Climate Change Discussions to Climate Action

By Georgienne Bradley and Shelby Hockenberry

UN General Assembly Ocean Message: Dateline September 30, 2021 –

Oceans do not recognize political boundaries, and we must work globally if we are going to overcome the challenges we currently face. Global warming, threats to biodiversity, and ocean acidification are issues we must address collectively if we hope to reverse current trends. Ever since Oceans were added as Goal 14 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, increasing attention has been given to the health of our oceans as a measure for the health of our planet.

At last week’s United Nations General Assembly meeting, the calls for ocean protections and climate action were resounding. From tiny island countries to some of the major economies, leaders from every corner of the world drew attention to ocean action as part of the larger climate change discussions. The climate took center stage with COVID relief and economic development during what some have dubbed “Climate Week” at the United Nations where the need for immediate action was repeated by many. What concrete doctrine is set in motion will be deliberated over the next few weeks in preparation for the Glasgow Climate Action meeting.

Abdulla Shahid, a Maldivian citizen and the President of the United Nations General Assembly opened last week’s session with an insightful, sobering – yet hopeful – address on climate issues, noting “we are no longer on the wrong path … we are on the edge of the cliff.” The Maldives and many island and coastal nations are on the front lines of the effects of climate change which could culminate in many island nations disappearing due to sea-level rise. Shahid peppered his clarion call with reassurances of hope and possibilities, but his concern is clear – refocusing the General Assembly from discussion to action for our future.

In a united call to action, many pacific island nations gave coordinated remarks on the future of the climate crisis and its effects on oceans and their countries. Leaders from Fiji, Vanuatu, Tonga, Samoa, Tuvalu, and Solomon Islands joined in taped messages that focused on the need for global solidarity to combat COVID-19 and climate change. Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare of Solomon Islands called out the direct link between the climate crisis and the oceans, noting “our people have a multidimensional relationship with the ocean. We recognize the climate-ocean nexus and call on the global community to take stronger climate action to protect our oceans.”

Referencing the recent UN report ‘Our Common Agenda’, Fiji’s Prime Minister Josaia V. Bainimarama, called out the role of nature and the oceans in the global economy, stating “we want islands inhabited by citizens who stand with nature and not against it. We want sustainable economic growth that is powered by clean energy and protected from the impacts of climate change. We want robust and resilient health systems, and we want good jobs and income supported by a green and blue economy.”

When presenting the five goals of the General Assembly, Shahid concluded that returning attention to the climate crisis is the top priority after implementing an effective COVID economic recovery. He also announced a series of high-level meetings addressing Climate Action which will precede the upcoming COP 26 Climate Conference scheduled for October 31-November 12 in Glasgow.

The time for meetings and talk is over. It is time for a new chapter. It is time to step up and be brave and make a difference. As Mr. Shahid said in his opening statement, “Let us be the United Nations people want us to be.” Let us take bold action to take aggressive steps toward ailing our climate woes, saving our oceans, and fixing the climate crisis once and for all.