On World Oceans Day, Kitack Lim, Secretary-General, International Maritime Organization (IMO) invites a celebration of the majesty, beauty and sheer wonder of our oceans and the ships that ply their trade on them.
“June 8th is World Oceans Day and the theme this year is “Innovation for a Sustainable Ocean”. The purpose of the Day is to educate and inform about how vital the oceans are to us all, about the impact of human actions on the ocean, to help foster a worldwide movement of citizens for the ocean, and to mobilize and unite the world’s population to support sustainable management of the world’s oceans. It is also a day to simply celebrate together the beauty, the wealth and the promise of the oceans.
So, why are the oceans so important to us? They are, quite literally, the lungs of our planet, providing most of the oxygen we breathe. They are also a major source of food and medicine and a critical part of the biosphere.
Worldwide, more than three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods. Oceans are the world’s largest source of protein, with nearly half the world’s population depending on the oceans for their primary source of protein.
Oceans absorb about 30% of carbon dioxide produced by humans, buffering the impacts of global warming.
Oceans also support the world’s marine and coastal resources and industries – with an estimated value of $3 trillion per year, or about 5% of global GDP. We are indeed linked to our oceans in all possible aspects. The future of the oceans and our future are inseparable.
Here at IMO, ensuring safe, secure, sustainable shipping is our core mission, recognising that shipping itself is the carrier of world trade and vital to sustainable development.
IMO’s vision is to eliminate, or reduce to the barest minimum, all adverse environmental impact from ships, including that on the oceans. The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (widely known as MARPOL) is the bedrock for these efforts, setting out mandatory rules and regulations covering ocean pollution by oil and other harmful substances, including chemicals, sewage and litter. It also contains measures to tackle air pollution and emissions from ships.
MARPOL is backed up by a wide range of other IMO measures and projects designed to protect the oceans, prevent or reduce pollution and promote biodiversity – in all, IMO has adopted more than 20 international treaty instruments which protect the environment, and especially the oceans.
And we have developed tools to protect the most sensitive parts of our oceans even further. Through the establishment of Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas, or PSSAs, some of the world’s most important and iconic marine areas have been given extra protection from shipping activities, from the Great Barrier Reef to the Galapagos Islands. But IMO’s work and mandate to protect our oceans is actually much wider than that. We also regulate the prevention of pollution from dumping of wastes at sea, the discharge of ship’s ballast water that could lead to the spread of invasive species and we address climate change mitigation options such as carbon capture and storage and marine geoengineering.
All our work to protect the ocean is rooted in the firm belief that our marine environment and the ocean-based industries are intrinsically linked. We therefore work closely with our IMO Member States, but also all other UN agencies whose mandates cover ocean related areas, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and many others.
2020 was set to be a “super year for the oceans”, with the conclusion of a new treaty to protect biodiversity on the high seas, and the second UN Ocean Conference to progress work on SDG 14, to mention a few. Although these processes have slowed down due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, IMO remains committed to our important role as one of the main stakeholders in the governance of our oceans.
We are also committed to continuing our capacity building programmes to make sure no one is left behind – with a focus on Small Islands Developing Countries. This is particularly important as we look ahead to supporting post-COVID recovery efforts. Last week, I had the opportunity to take part in several high-level meetings on ocean matters, and I was very encouraged by the energy and determination that the ocean community showed.