Floating islands of plastic garbage. Endocrine disruptors in marine organisms . Overfishing and illegal fishing driving species close to extinction. Increasing water temperatures triggering coral bleaching. Rising sea levels threatening coastal communities, eco systems and whole nations. The list of alarming reports on the state of the ocean is long, and their frequency has increased dramatically in recent years. We’re running out of time to reverse the trends.
“It is clear that we humans have severely mismanaged one of our global commons – the ocean,” says the newly appointed Swedish Ambassador for the Ocean, Helen Ågren. “We have failed our children and future generations. However, guilt is not the best driving force for change. Fascination and marvel at the beauty and rich diversity of life in the ocean, as shown to us in the BBC television series Blue Planet II, is a far more powerful driving force. To reverse the current negative trends in ocean health, I believe that we must celebrate progress and highlight good examples, innovations and the devoted people making it possible.”
On 7–9 March 2018, Ambassador Ågren attended the World Ocean Summit in Cancún, Mexico, to share experiences on national ocean policies. “Policy coordination, exemplified by the Swedish maritime strategy for people, jobs and the environment, is key to sustainable development,” she says. Some encouraging news and initiatives from around the world highlighted in Cancún included the development of a new type of insurance to protect coral reefs, new large marine protected areas established by countries including Mexico, Chile and the Seychelles, and innovations by energetic young entrepreneurs to reduce by-catch and single use plastics.
Together with Fiji, Sweden co-chaired the first ever global conference on the ocean at United Nations Headquarters in New York in June 2017. Called the Ocean Conference, it was a global manifestation placing the ocean at the centre of the sustainable development agenda and resulted in a Call for Action and more than 1 400 voluntary commitments. These commitments are concrete actions to increase knowledge and reduce the pressure on the ocean.
Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation and Climate, Isabella Lövin, and UN Special Envoy for the Ocean, Peter Thomson, subsequently launched ‘Friends of Ocean Action’. This multistakeholder partnership will help mobilise the energy, innovation and resources from science, technology, business, non-governmental groups and international organisations from all regions of the world to bring about change for the ocean. Cooperation with Fiji is continuing in the Ocean Pathway partnership, which highlights the key link between the ocean and climate change.
Ambassador Ågren is humbled by, but enthusiastic about, her new mission. “I have been working on different aspects of sustainable development since I attended the Rio Conference as a youth representative in 1992. I really look forward to working together with ocean champions around the world. I will draw on my experience from research, sustainable production and consumption, greening the economy and climate change mitigation and adaptation, as these are important pieces of the puzzle with regard to saving the ocean.”