2022 UN Ocean Conference sets off new wave of ocean action

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Gemma Parkes, Communications Lead, Ocean Action Agenda, World Economic Forum


  • In late June 2022, after long COVID-19 delays, the second UN Ocean Conference took place in Lisbon, Portugal.
  • The global ocean community gathered to celebrate progress and push for ever more ambitious ocean action.
  • The World Economic Forum’s ocean, nature and climate team attended, joining several thousand other fellow ocean health advocates and stakeholders from around the world.

The 2022 UN Ocean Conference was a long time coming, with pandemic-induced delays, but it did not disappoint. Taking place in Lisbon, co-hosted by the Governments of Portugal and Kenya, the event spotlighted the progress made so far in achieving the Sustainable Development Goal for the Ocean, SDG14 – highlighting ongoing challenges alongside the countless new solutions that are emerging to complement multistakeholder action.

We speak often of the need to bring about a thriving ocean that supports planetary health as well as the wellbeing of the billions of people who depend on it. The UN Ocean Conference (UNOC) saw very promising movement from commitment to action in three critical areas:

1) Ocean and climate: two sides to the same planet
  • Without a healthy ocean, humanity has no chance of tackling the climate crisis – both mitigating its effects and adapting to deal with its worst consequences. The UNOC underlined the ocean-climate nexus like never before.
  • The potential of blue carbon was mainstreamed, with leaders from a range of sectors announcing bold new efforts in this space. The World Economic Forum’s Friends of Ocean Action joined forces with Salesforce, Conservation International, Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance, The Nature Conservancy and Meridian Institute to launch draft Blue Carbon Principles and Guidelines, which are now open for consultation.
  • Climate change poses a disproportionate risk to the systems producing food from the ocean, and to those living in regions most dependent on it. Sustainable ocean food was front and centre of discussions in Lisbon, with the launch of the Aquatic Blue Food Coalition. Blue food, or food from the ocean and other aquatic sources, is acknowledged as a major lever for positive change in ocean health – as well as feeding the growing global population in a way that is sustainable, ethical, nutritious and affordable. Friends of Ocean Action also launched The Road to Sustainable Aquaculture on responsible growth of blue food farming.
2) Ocean finance: putting money where our mouth is
  • Talk about ocean action is all very well, but nothing can happen without appropriate funding across key targets and channelled towards the most vulnerable groups and areas. SDG14 is the least funded of the Global Goals – yet achieving its targets will have positive benefits across the whole sustainable development agenda, from boosting food and job security to tackling the climate crisis. The World Economic Forum’s new SDG14 Financing Landscape Scan highlighted this significant financing gap.
  • There were welcome announcements of funding, such as the Protecting Our Planet Challenge backed by the Bezos Earth Fund and partners, pledging more than $1 billion in funding for ocean restoration to 2030. Ocean businesses are also more active and committed than ever, seen in a session introducing Ocean 100 Dialogues, convening the largest ocean economy companies and partners to discuss cross-industry commitments.
  • As with everything, there can be no solution to the decline in ocean health without factoring in the most populous country on Earth: China. In Lisbon, China’s Blue Partnership Principles and Friends of Ocean Action’s Sustainable Blue Partnership Cooperation Network were announced, working with China’s Ministry of Natural Resources and supported by the China Oceanic Development Foundation, to convene and promote cooperation between ocean stakeholders in China.
3) Equity: honouring every voice and supporting the most vulnerable
  • The ocean belongs to everybody. Those who stand to suffer most from its decline were given greater than ever visibility and recognition: Small Island Developing States, or as they are now more often know, large ocean states. The sustainable blue economy can be pivotal in enabling a strong recovery for these countries – as set out in a report produced by the OECD in collaboration with the World Economic Forum’s Friends of Ocean Action and Sustainable Development Investment Partnership, with the Government of Fiji and other local, regional and international stakeholders. This is part of our Blue Recovery Hubs initiative in Fiji.
  • Discussions around potential mining of the deep sea were loud and clear, sending a signal that many stakeholders – including youth – want their voices to be heard in decision-making. Pacific Island States Palau and Fiji called for a moratorium on deep-sea mining, while France’s President Emmanuel Macron called for a ban on deep-sea mining in the high seas. The strong youth presence was seen across the week, kicking off with the Youth and Innovation Forum whose outcomes fed directly into discussions of the Conference.
  • The need for innovative solutions was also mainstreamed as a key piece of the puzzle to halt the decline in ocean health and get it back on a path of recovery. The UpLink OceanCoastal Tourism Challenge cohort was announced, with a range of exciting and ingenious ideas to boost regenerative and sustainable tourism, and the Global Plastic Action Partnership also promoted its UpLink plastic waste to value challenge focusing on Southeast Asia.

The 2022 UN Ocean Conference concluded with a political declaration, Save Our Ocean, supported by all governments, that sets out areas of shortfall up to now – and most importantly, renews the global community’s commitment to go further in achieving the Ocean Goal and ensuring a thriving blue planet.

Friends of Ocean Action, the World Economic Forum-hosted community of global ocean leaders who are committed to fast-tracking solutions for a healthy ocean, which was established following the first UN Ocean Conference in 2017, was in Lisbon in force. Read here our broader recap of exciting highlights and progress for ocean action coming out of the 2022 event.

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