A bold endorsement months ago to preserve maritime zones in the face of climate-related sea level rise has sailed the issue from the Pacific onto a world stage at the UN Climate Change Conference.
Pacific Island Forum secretariat and ocean commissioner, Henry Puna, asked world bureaucrats and officials to act on not only saving the ocean but to “save ourselves, our children and our future”.
“This is our legacy,” Mr Puna pointed out in his speech.
The remarks were made during the third Because the Ocean presentation in Edinburgh after the initiative was originally launched at the 2015 conference in Paris.
The declaration had initially been signed by 23 countries to support a proposed special report from experts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the convening of a high-level UN ocean conference that backed the implementation of a sustainable development goal within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
But despite a significant increase to 41 signatories – about one in every five countries in the world – committed to the cause since, concerns linger that most in the world are not on the same page.
“We must maintain the health, productivity and resilience of our ocean and its ecosystems,” Mr Puna said.
“The Pacific Islands Forum leaders have committed to responsibly and effectively manage 100 per cent of the blue Pacific Ocean within and beyond national jurisdictions based on the best available scientific information and traditional knowledge.
“This requires strong ocean governance to be in place, both within and beyond national jurisdictions of countries of the blue Pacific.
“This will ensure the holistic and sustainable management of the ocean.”
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Disputes over maritime borders have become commonplace, with more than half of the world’s 512 potential boundaries remaining contentious that creates further tension inside international waters.
None of the world’s landlocked sovereign states, 51 of the 54 located in Africa nor sea-bearing Brazil, China, Russia or United States have backed the declaration either.
Mr Puna said the declaration created in the Pacific represents the region’s collective view over how the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea rules on maritime zones should apply amid sea-level rises.
“It’s rooted in the convention’s underpinning legal principles, in particular those of stability, security, certainty and predictability,” he said.
“In essence, the declaration affirms that whether or not sea levels are rising, once maritime (zone) boundaries are set and deposited with the UN Secretary General, they shall not be altered.
“Our declaration is a landmark instrument that will shape international thinking.
“It will put our region at the heart of international discussions to resolve this global issue.
“While the issue is of fundamental importance to our Blue Pacific continent, other coastal states and countries in similar fashion require stability, security, certainty and predictability of their maritime zones.
“I call on all your countries to support the Declaration as a practical and considered solution to address a very complex and dire consequence of climate change.”
Citizens of the Pacific Ocean that outside of Papua New Guinea accounts for 2.3 million lives have been saying that climate change, because of rising sea levels, is the single greatest threat to their livelihood, security and wellbeing.
Mr Puna said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that has stated that the world’s oceans has hit code red for humanity confirmed that the Pacific “cannot continue with business-as-usual” while the seas continue to warm and rise, coral reefs continue to bleach and die, and people continue to suffer distress.
“We have been talking about climate change for decades now,” he said.
“Yet, there are still those who deny or will not act. You have seen the images of desolation and the destruction caused by more severe and frequent climate-induced disasters.
“You have heard of our blue Pacific calling for a greater ambition and more action now, to the big economies and emitters.
“They must act now – we need to commit and stick to implementing all needed actions to keeping to the 1.5C degrees target.
“In short – 1.5 to stay alive, not just the Pacific, but all humankind.”