Three-fourths of our ‘blue planet’ is covered by oceans, containing 97% of the earth’s water and representing 99% of the living space on earth by volume. Oceans are inextricably linked to human development – and to our health, economy and wellbeing on the planet. They provide food security, transport, energy, tourism, and about 63% of the planet’s most critical ecosystem wealth and services (carbon and nutrient cycling, climate regulation, and around half of all oxygen produced on the planet). They also serve as the world’s largest source of protein for over 2.6 billion people, and contribute around $3 trillion to the global economy each year through fishery and aquaculture, international shipping trade, oil extraction and renewable ‘blue energy’ (wind, wave tidal, thermal and biomass sources)[i].
However, despite the many benefits we derive from them, the world’s oceans are under severe stress. As much as 40% of the world oceans are considered as ‘heavily affected’ by human activities, largely due to a series of ocean management policy and market failures that have led to fisheries overexploitation, pollution (especially nutrients and plastics), invasive species, habitat loss and ocean acidification. Over 80% of marine pollution comes from land-based activities, not to mention the various large oil spills that occurred over the last 50 – 100 years having disastrous environmental, economic and social impacts. Yes, besides all the information and green technology available, we continue treating our oceans like a toilet and a trashcan – and the degradation of the oceans is expansive: estimated global costs go up to hundreds of billions of dollars each year!
International cooperation is needed more than ever on nearly all efforts to manage oceans – to protect against invasive species, acidification and plastics. We cannot wait any longer to start preserving the ‘blue’ of our planet! In view of the central importance of oceans, a specific goal (SDG 14) has been developed within in the Post-2015 Framework, dedicated to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in collaboration with other UN agencies, the Global Environment Facility, international financial institutions and regional fisheries organizations, supports the SDG 14 through its Ocean Governance Programme which aims to improve oceans management, sustain livelihoods at the local, national, regional and global scales, and strengthen international cooperation. Further, it has been established an interagency collaboration mechanism on ocean and coastal issues within the UN: UN-Oceans.
At the RIO+ Centre, we are working on sustainable long-term planning for cities, which includes helping to address sanitation issues to stop pollution of oceans and beaches. This has an impact on human health and on recreation and tourism, a key contributor to the economy of coastal cities like Rio de Janeiro – currently under discussion because of its strongly polluted Guanabara Bay, which will host sailing events at the 2016 Olympic Games.