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INTERVIEW: ‘Deliver the care our ocean needs – together’, urge co-hosts of UN conference

At the end of the month, world leaders, youth, entrepreneurs, and civil society will gather in Lisbon, Portugal, for the second UN Ocean Conference, to mobilize action and jumpstart science-based innovative solutions aimed at starting a new chapter of global ocean action.

Co-hosted by Portugal and Kenya, the event will be a platform to effectively address the challenges that the ocean is now facing.

Ambassador Ana Paula Zacarias, Permanent Representative of Portugal to the United Nations, and Ambassador Martin Kimani, Kenya’s Permanent Representative to the UN, share a passion for the ocean and the mission to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development for all.

Before heading to Portugal, they sat down with UN News in New York, to speak at length about the Conference and what the event – and its outcome – means for their countries and the world.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

UN News: What does the UN Ocean Conference represent for both Kenya and Portugal – and what are the main expectations for it?

Ana Paula Zacarias: This is a fundamental conference for Portugal. The ocean is overly connected with our history, with our culture, with our physical landscape, with our economy. There is also a connection with our commitment to strengthening multilateralism and to advance on the Ocean agenda, as well as on the questions concerning climate change.

We hope to have around 12,000 participants from all over the world. And we have already received the confirmation of 15 Heads of State and Government, as well as many non-governmental organizations, civil society participants, people from academia, from youth organizations, and from local communities. Even some celebrities – [US Special Envoy for Climate] John Kerry, and the famous Aquaman, [actor and environmentalist] Jason Momoa, will be in Lisbon, which is particularly important to give strength to the youth’s voice.

Martin Kimani: The Conference indeed represents an important opportunity and responsibility. An opportunity for sustainable economic development, improved food security, and jobs for young people all over the world. And responsibility because we must ensure that oceans are protected from pollution and the effects of climate change. As co-hosts, Kenya and Portugal are keen for a bold and positive global ocean agenda to emerge from the conference.

There is an increasing recognition that we must reverse the decline in ocean health and achieve Sustainable Development Goal 14. To build on this, Kenya, and Portugal, together with the United Nations, are setting a stage for decisions that will scale up ocean action based on science and innovation.

Shipbuilders on the southern coast of Haiti.

© Unsplash/Caleb George
Shipbuilders on the southern coast of Haiti.

UN News: Oceans are providers – the coastal population in rural areas in Kenya engages primary in fisheries and agriculture for their livelihoods; and Portugal with its long coast has also a strong and fruitful relationship with the ocean. How can we ensure that we protect coastal communities and their livelihoods?

Martin Kimani: Kenya’s coastline is endowed with rich natural resources which include mangrove forests, coral reefs, terrestrial forests, sandy beaches, and seagrass beds. These generate high biodiversity and productive waters which in turn support economies and livelihoods.

Working closely with coastal communities, the Government has prioritized enhancing the welfare of coastline communities in terms of economic opportunities, social protection, ensuring resilience to natural disasters and impact of climate change, and reducing the risk of over exploitation and risky methods of use of ocean resources.

For instance, the Mikoko Pamoja project which means ‘mangroves together’ in Kiswahili is a community-based blue carbon credit project in Kwale County on Kenya’s South Coast. With technical support from the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) and other partners, the coastal communities work to replant, manage and restore degraded mangroves, which have been proved to fight climate change through capture and storage of carbon.

Mikoko Pamoja has been trading in mangrove carbon credits since 2013. Revenue generated is used to support community projects in water and sanitation, education, and environmental conservation.

In real terms, this means the local people have been empowered to make democratic spending and investment decisions such as purchase of new schoolbooks, furniture, and provision of water points. At least 73 per cent of the six thousand residents in Gazi and Makongeni villages rely on water points provided by the project.

And this innovative carbon offset project is now being replicated and expanded in neighboring mangroves of Vanga in Kwale County, and other mangrove areas in Africa.

Ana Paula Zacarias: That [project] highlights a fundamental question at the centre of this Conference. We need to show and prove with data that there is a connection between oceans and climate, especially because both elements are fundamental for what we want to achieve with the local communities, who often feel threatened by the combined situation of climate change and the raise of the water. Their involvement in finding solutions is essential.

And those solutions must be sustainable and need to consider their livelihoods. We need to establish a strong dialogue with stakeholders but also with local and regional governments, because they also have a say in what we can do. That’s why we are organizing a special event during the conference. That event, Localizing Action for the Ocean: Local and Regional Governments focuses on how we can interact with the local communities, bring their knowledge to the table and discuss with them ways of becoming more sustainable, having more sustainable fisheries, and more sustainable coastal tourism.

Coastal and marine ecosystems provide food, livelihoods, and coastal protection to more than a billion people worldwide.

Coastal and marine ecosystems provide food, livelihoods, and coastal protection to more than a billion people worldwide.

UN News: How are your countries working towards a blue economy, and how will the Conference contribute to that goal?

Ana Paula Zacarias: The oceans are fundamental for life on earth, they are providers of food, but also of so many other important elements of our life. We can use the oceans for enjoyment, for tourism, for sport, for maritime transport, and there are so many ways in which the oceans are providers of sustainability for the life of communities.

I really hope this Conference will boost this. We will hold an interactive dialogue on sustainable blue economy – when we talk about sustainable blue economy, we have to think about fisheries, biodiversity, as well as all the richness that is on the bottom of the sea.

The ocean provides a huge richness that we can all profit from, but we need to be very careful, very careful not to interfere with the delicate ecosystems. We need to consider the issues of pollution and make sure that we receive with open hands all that richness, and at the same time we deliver all the care that the oceans need.

Martin Kimani: Kenya has prioritized the sustainable use of ocean and blue economy resources as an enabler of our Vision 2030. [Kenya is] an emerging economic frontier, and the blue economy is expected to contribute to our economic development through food and nutrition security, coastal and rural development and income earnings along aqua value chains, maritime transport, and tourism.

Besides the national efforts, Kenya remains a willing partner in the regional and international community to develop a common position on how to tackle ocean related threats and challenges. Two-thirds of the global waters lie in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction of Exclusive Economic Zones [EEZ]. This necessitates, of course, all of us working together for coordinated knowledge and data sharing and development financing.

The Seychelles moved in March 2020 to protect 30 per cent of its marine environment.

ICS/Craig Nisbet
The Seychelles moved in March 2020 to protect 30 per cent of its marine environment.

UN News: The role of youth will be central in Lisbon, with young entrepreneurs, working on innovative, science-based solutions to critical problems, an important part of the dialogue. How do you see the youth participation and involvement in saving our ocean?

Martin Kimani: Recognizing the role of youth, we will also be organizing the Ocean Youth Forum, a special event on the margins of the Conference that will provide a platform for ocean-action and implementing youth-led solutions at scale to address SDG14. We must provide space for youth to participate and contribute to the rapidly growing blue economy sector.

Unemployment, particularly along Kenya’s coast, predisposes the youth to crime, drugs, and radicalization into violent extremism conducive to terrorism.

Beach Management Units (BMUs), which work at the community level recruiting youth with formal and informal education backgrounds, provide them with conservation training and create modest social enterprise opportunities and steady incomes in aquaculture.

The Kenya Government has also committed to educating and motivating the youth in the maritime domain to enhance commercial benefits of the ocean resources.

Ana Paula Zacarias: We have seen the relevance of youth participation in all that pertains to climate action. I think the young generation has a very clear understanding of the challenge that this represents for their life, for their future and for the life of their children.

So, it is absolutely fundamental to involve young people also in the conversation about the sustainable use of oceans. And as Ambassador Kimani mentioned, the Youth Forum will be used as an innovation forum, where we aim to bring all the young people from different areas of knowledge and action and give them the capacity to think in an innovative way about the oceans and their relevance.

It is really very important [to have] young entrepreneurs and young climate and ocean activists. They can bring a huge contribution to this agenda. So, we hope that by their involvement in this forum they can bring solutions that can be used not only by governments, but at the UN level as well.

Ambassadors Martin Kimani of Kenya and Ana Paula Zacarias of Portugal, co-hosts of the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon.

UN Photo/Mark Garten
Ambassadors Martin Kimani of Kenya and Ana Paula Zacarias of Portugal, co-hosts of the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon.

UN News: This year’s Conference will also determine the level of ambition for the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. What are the next steps, to ensure that we continue working towards a healthy ocean, after Lisbon?

Martin Kimani: The science tells us that the oceans are critical for the future of humanity and that human activities are the greatest threat to the wellbeing of the ocean. We continue to put the ocean systems under immense stress which compromises the vast opportunities and potential of the ocean resources we often refer to.

Nations need to commit to an urgent global mechanism and a time-bound implementation framework that is backed by scientific evidence that would compel countries to strike the balance between conservation and exploitation holding them accountable for their actions.

We also need investments in science research that contributes to global food and nutrition security, maritime spatial planning, and climate change management.

As I have said, the Ocean Conference will gauge our level of ambition to deliver transformative change. The world badly needs good news to offer hope to populations groaning under the burdens of a pandemic, wars, and the effects of climate change. They must see our meeting in Lisbon as a torch lighting the way to effective and impactful multilateral action. We will do our utmost, as Kenya, to ensure that this happens.

Ana Paula Zacarias: This is indeed, for us and for our friends of Kenya, a major endeavor as we host this Conference. At a time when the tide is rising, as we are often reminded, this is the moment to discuss the oceans and to discuss all these elements in the context of climate, sustainable development, migration, and security.

For example, when we look at the situation in several Pacific Islands, we see the difficulties that people face, and the possibilities of increasing conflict due to the challenges they face, having less resources.  

This Conference is the second big event that has been organized on this matter, and we hope that at least there will be another one, and a third conference should be organized in the context of the UN Decade of Ocean Science.

Moreover, in the framework of the climate change biodiversity negotiations, both the [UN climate conference] and the Biodiversity Convention will have meetings now, so we need to bring all these elements together and be able to continue working not in silos but in a holistic manner, so that all these agendas can work at the same time. This is fundamental if we want to have a better world, a safer world, a more sustainable world for future generations.

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