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Youth are the generation that will help save our ocean and our future, says UN chief

The two-day event brought together hundreds of youth from some 165 countries with a shared goal: protecting the Ocean.  

Speaking in front of 100 youth advocates who gathered to inspire, amplify, and accelerate youth action for our ocean, Mr. Guterres reiterated the need to rescue the planet.   

At Carcavelos beach, on the edge of the ocean near the centre of his home city, Lisbon, the Secretary-General apologized on behalf of his generation for the state of the oceans, for the state of biodiversity and for the state of climate change. 

Generational responsibility  

“My generation, and those who were politically responsible – which is my case – we were slow or sometimes unwilling to recognize that things were getting worse and worse in these three dimensions: oceans, climate, and biodiversity”, Mr. Guterres told the lively crowd.  

Adding that globally, the world is still moving too slow and must act now to start rehabilitating the oceans, rescuing biodiversity, and halting climate change, the UN chief stressed that “it is a generational responsibility that goes far beyond political leaders”.  

‘Do everything’ to stop pollution 

Telling the young audience that there is an area of plastics in the Pacific Ocean – a huge floating ‘dump’ of plastic containers, bottles and other detritus widely referred to as ‘the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – that is larger than France, Mr. Guterres said: “we are still throwing 8 million tons of plastics to the ocean, every year”.  

Because of this and more, the youth will inherit a planet in trouble, the UN chief, warned and told the gathered youth that they would need “to do everything to reverse everything” – reverse political decisions, reverse economic decisions, and reverse individual behaviours. 

“Let’s be honest, when I look at myself and my own behaviour, my footprint on the planet is too big,” the Secretary-General admitted.  

The UN Ocean Conference’s Youth and Innovation Forum in Lisbon, Portugal.

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
The UN Ocean Conference’s Youth and Innovation Forum in Lisbon, Portugal.

Time for change 

Wishing participants success with their projects, the UN chief called on the young generation to act. 

“Your generation will be essential now to lead tomorrow to be able to manage and reverse this trend and rescue the planet”, he concluded.  

‘Nature’s Baton’ 

Just ahead of the Secretary-General’s address, global movie star and ocean activist Jason Momoa made a special appearance alongside UN Special Envoy for the Ocean Peter Thomson.

Under the blazing sun at Carcavelos beach, surrounded on the wide sandy beach by youth, including his own children, Mr. Momoa said the work he was doing was “for them and the generations to come”.  

Receiving ‘Nature’s Baton’ from Special Envoy Peter Thomson, Mr. Momoa said the baton, which symbolizes the fact that the world’s existential challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss are inseparably linked with the state of the ocean’s health, had been going around the world and it would continue to do so as an enduring symbol to leaders.  

“The time to act is now. Our ocean is in trouble, if we combine ambition, dedication and hope, we can change these outcomes,” he said.  

“The ocean, where the water begins and ends its journey, enables systems to work for the wellbeing of humans and non-humans alike. Without a healthy ocean, life as we know it wouldn’t exist”, the actor added.  

With his feet submerged by the waves at the beach, Mr. Momoa thanked Mother Nature for her “kisses from the ocean” and called for a “powerful wave of change to ensure today’s generations and the ones to come can receive its gift”.  

Actor and ocean advocate Jason Momoa (left) meets youth advocates on Carcavelos Beach in Lisbon, Portugal at the UN Ocean Summit.

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Actor and ocean advocate Jason Momoa (left) meets youth advocates on Carcavelos Beach in Lisbon, Portugal at the UN Ocean Summit.

Respect nature  

Surrounded by youth, UN Special Envoy for the Ocean Peter Thomson cautioned that young people will be facing a two-to-three-degree global warming situation within their lifetime. “That is playing with fire,” he said.  

Describing ‘Nature’s Baton’ as a symbol of connectivity, he spoke on the importance of respecting nature and getting back to a balanced relationship with it.  

“We have to learn to live with respect for the ocean: not dumping rubbish in it, and not heating it up so much,” Mr. Thomson added.  

The Forum and the UN Ocean Conference  

The Forum was a unique opportunity for young people to contribute to the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG14), just before the start of the UN Ocean Conference, taking place from 27 June through 1 July, to seek science-based and innovative solutions to improve the health of our ocean.  

Young entrepreneurs, innovators, and solutionists scaled up their initiatives, projects, and ideas with professional training and matchmaking with mentors, investors, the private sector, and government officials to maximize their impact.  

One of the participants at the Forum – 29-year-old Gabriela Fernandes, of Portugal, developed a project that aims to study and photograph dolphins and whales.  

“Studying them will allow us to understand the interaction between the animals at the top of the food chain and the rest of the marine animals, which will help to discover [the state of] local biodiversity”.  

The governments of Portugal and Kenya co-hosted the event, organized by the UN Global Compact Ocean Stewardship Coalition in cooperation with CEiiA, the Municipality of Cascais, Nova School of Business and Economics (NOVA SBE) and Sustainable Ocean Alliance (SOA) supported by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA).

The weekend’s programming centered around a 24-hour “Innovathon”, where the 130 youth delegates worked together as teams to address critical challenges outlined in the UN Global Compact report 5 Tipping Points for a Healthy and Productive Ocean. The youth were also given the opportunity to contribute to the political process of the UN Ocean Conference by facilitating inputs to the eight interactive dialogues. 

The winning team, called “Waste Vengers” came up with a plastic recovery solution to transform plastic waste to construction. The other winning team called “Invasea” focused on a complete catalytic shift from believing in change to having the resources, mentorship and tools to improve ocean health and human health globally.

“A love based, youth led climate movement is what we need. This room is full of the brightest minds in the world now acting in their communities. Not thinking about models but actually acting,” said the winning teams from the stage.

Young ocean activist Bodhi Patil is one of the young ocean leaders from all over the world who is addressing ocean challenges with innovative solutions, and is part of one of the winning teams. 

As part of the prize package, both winning teams received a $15,000 microgrant from Sustainable Ocean Alliance and an anonymous judge from the jury, scholarships from NOVA School of Business and Economics, and two internship opportunities from the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UN educational and scientific agency, UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO). 

During the week, UN News will bring you daily coverage on the Conference as well as interviews, podcasts and features, which you can access here.

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