Key Learnings and Action Points from the Ocean Panel

Keynote-speech by Prime Minister Erna Solberg under World Ocean Summit 2021.

Excellencies, friends of the ocean,

I am joining you as we look back at a year that was far from what we had hoped and planned for.

2020 was supposed to be the ‘super year’ for the ocean.

Instead countries had to protect its people and deal with the imminent threat of a virus.

International meetings were cancelled and postponed.

It seemed that our opportunity to put the ocean at the top of the international policy agenda was fading.

Despite the great challenges brought by the pandemic, 2020 saw significant and much needed action to restore ocean health, enhance human well-being and create a more sustainable ocean economy.    

The ocean plays an essential—and often unrecognised—role in all our lives.

It makes life possible by providing half the earth’s oxygen and stabilising the climate.

It provides nutritious food, jobs and medicine.

It drives the global economy.

It also makes life more enjoyable, providing spiritual, cultural and recreational value to billions of people.

Much of the world’s population have experienced lockdown over the past year.

Many of us have come to appreciate more than ever the positive impact nature – including blue nature – has on our well-being.

Resilience is a key concept. The ocean has contributed immensely to the planet's resilience by storing heat and reducing the effect of global heating – up until now.

Now we need the knowledge, the insights and the wisdom to start helping the ocean. We need other measures, innovations, ways of mitigation – the list is long.

Because the health of the ocean is under threat.

The ocean is becoming warmer, more acidic, stormier, less predictable and less resilient.

It is often the world’s most vulnerable people who suffer the worst of these impacts.

A depleted ocean makes it more difficult to sustain life on earth, tackle climate change and meet the SDG’s.

The science is clear – the ocean is not too big to fail, and the problems facing it are not too big to fix.

The solutions to restore ocean health exist, and we urgently need to implement them.

That is why three years ago, the Ocean Panel’s 14 heads of state and government came together to develop a transformative set of recommendations.

These transformations and a visionary report were launched in December 2020, endorsed by the 14 heads of state and government. 

The Ocean Panel countries have reached consensus on 74 priority actions, covering issues including plastic pollution, illegal fishing and ocean finance. 

Together, they point to where the world should be in the next decade, when the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development conclude.

If implemented these recommendations can deliver a sustainable ocean economy that benefit people everywhere and effectively protect the ocean.

But how did the Ocean Panel get to the Transformations?  

First we assembled an international, multidisciplinary team of more than 250 experts (nearly half of them women), representing 48 countries or regions.

Over the past three years these ocean experts provided the latest thinking on the issues facing our ocean.

The solid scientific platform combined with leaders' willingness to be guided by facts and research reinforced a creative and innovative diplomacy.

I believe there may be lessons to be drawn here also for other processes of international cooperation. Coalitions of the willing taking the lead and showing a way forward.

20 scientific papers informed the Ocean Panel’s deliberations and provided a blueprint for how to achieve a sustainable ocean economy.

Covering topics from food and energy to climate change and conservation.

So what did we learn from this impressive volume of knowledge?

We learned that the ocean is even more important than we thought: for human and planetary health, for climate and food security, for local jobs and the global economy.

We learned that ocean health is more at risk than we thought, because different pressures add up and contribute to rapid and unpredictable changes in ocean ecosystems

But importantly, we also learned that the ocean holds many of the urgent solutions humanity and the planet need:

  • A healthy ocean can provide six times more food, providing climate-friendly protein for a growing population.
  • Offshore renewables can provide almost limitless clean energy and create job opportunities.
  • Mangroves can protect coastal populations and help mitigate climate change.
  • The ocean is also a good investment - every $1 invested in the ocean can yield $5 in benefits.    
  • We also learned that we do not have to choose between protecting the ocean and producing more from it.

In fact, we can and we must produce more from the ocean.

And we have to do it in ways that mitigate climate change, preserve biodiversity, regenerate ocean health and leave no one behind.

If we create a healthy ocean and sustainable ocean economy, we will unlock the ocean’s potential to help solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges.

In sustainable ocean economy, effective protection, sustainable production and equitable prosperity must go hand in hand.

As the world looks to recover from the impacts of COVID-19, it is crucial that we restore economic activity without restoring old patterns of environmental damage.

Making the ocean a cornerstone of COVID-19 recovery can help create a more resilient and sustainable future.

Investment in areas such as ecosystem restoration, mariculture and offshore renewable energy could create jobs, spur economic growth and help protect the ocean.    

To help create sustainable ocean economy, Ocean Panel members have set an ambitious goal to achieve 100% sustainable ocean management of areas within national jurisdiction by 2025.

We have also committed to supporting a global target of protecting 30% of the ocean.

Ocean Panel members manage nearly 40% of the world’s coastlines and nearly 30% of its exclusive economic zones.

This means that by 2025, an ocean area roughly the size of Africa will be sustainably managed.

Ocean Panel members will achieve the 100% commitment by putting into place sustainable ocean plans.

These plans represent a change from business as usual.

Rather than managing the ocean sector by sector, these plans will seek to manage the ocean in an integrated way, and for the 100% target to be adapted to local conditions.

These plans require that science and knowledge on all relevant aspects of sustainability need to be brought to the table when making political or management decisions on sustainable protection and use of the ocean environment.

While the pandemic brought a significantly different backdrop to 2020 from that expected, the Transformations are a cause for celebration.

The 14 countries, all at different stages of development and with different perspectives, came together amid a pandemic.

They reached political consensus on an issue that is essential to the well-being of the economy and to humanity.

Efforts are already underway to scale and finance this new ocean action agenda.

Stakeholders from the private sector, research organisations and civil society are coming together to accelerate the work of the Ocean Panel by forming action coalitions.

Coalitions focused on ocean renewable energy, tourism and shipping are already underway.

For too long the ocean has been out of sight and out of mind, and largely absent from global policy conversations.

But the tide is turning.

We have the knowledge and policy, and now is the time to act together.

At the World Ocean Summit, where the worlds of finance, policy and research meet, we have the people who can implement these solutions.

Together we can - and we must - provide the finance, skills, and expertise we need to accelerate the transition to a sustainable ocean economy.

We thought the ocean was too big to fail, then too big to solve.

Now we know that the ocean is too big and too central to humanity’s future to ignore.

To achieve a sustainable ocean economy it is critical that other world leaders, businesses, investors and civil society join the Ocean Panel in our efforts.

By working together, the world can ensure that by 2030, all ocean areas under national jurisdiction are sustainably managed.

The ocean gives us so much, we invite you to join the Ocean Panel members in giving the ocean 100%. 

And we invite you to support and use the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.

Ocean science will not only be good at diagnosing problems of the ocean but will also deliver solutions - that benefit people, planet and the economy.