“Ending the ocean emergency is a race we must win.” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated as he addressed the Ocean Race Summit Mindelo in São Vicente on Monday. “And by working as one, it’s a race we can win. Let’s all become the champions the ocean needs. Let’s end the ocean emergency and preserve this precious blue gift for our children and grandchildren.”
On Friday night, Cabo Verde was announced as the first West African nation to host a stop on the Ocean Race, a triennial (sometimes quadrennial) global regatta that takes sailors around the world. The summit led in preparation for the Ocean Race is part of the nation’s push to bolster its Blue Economy. According to the World Bank, Blue Economy is the “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, and ocean ecosystem health.” Following the UN Ocean Conference held in July in Lisbon, research-backed data proved the need for–and called for further funding of–Blue Economy investment. Each ship in the fleet sailing around the world in the Ocean Race will house equipment to collect valuable scientific data contributing to the further development of Blue Economy initiatives.
“It represents tourism, desalinated water, blue economy, submarine fiber optic cables, clean energy, biotechnology, aquaculture, canning industry for export, a competence center and nautical events such as the Ocean Race.” Cabo Verde Prime Minister, Ulisses Correia e Silva, spoke on the nation’s identity and the imperative adoption of a Blue Economy as over 99% of its territory is ocean. Fellow Cabo Verdean and UN Special Adviser on Africa, Cristina Duarte remarked, “We might be creatures who are more from the ocean than from the land. For Cabo Verde, the oceans are a matter of survival.”
While Cabo Verde’s pursuit of adopting a Blue Economy is a step in the right direction, Monday’s summit stressed the long road ahead for a tangible intersection of preservation and economic growth to prevail. “The ocean is life. The ocean is livelihoods. And the ocean is in trouble,” Guterres commented. “Some have called 2022 the ocean’s ‘super year.’ But the race is far from over. We need to make 2023 a year of ‘super action,’ so we can end the ocean emergency once and for all.”
Amid the excitement at the Ocean Race Summit, is an underlying tone of urgency to further efforts in protecting and preserving the ocean, the earth’s vastest resource. Several key issues Guterres cited were: the over-exploitation of global fish stocks (35%), global temperatures, salinization, and rising sea levels. “Toxic chemicals and millions of tons of plastic waste are flooding into coastal ecosystems – killing or injuring fish, sea turtles, seabirds and marine mammals, making their way into the food chain and ultimately being consumed by us.” The UN estimates there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050.
Guterres once again called for action from wealthy nations and billion-dollar industries that have capitalized on the ocean’s resources. The shipping industry alone must commit to net zero emissions by 2050 in order to protect the vitality of the ocean. “Developing countries are victims of a morally bankrupt global financial system, designed by rich countries to benefit rich countries.” Without deliberate action by wealthy nations to prioritize protecting the ocean against climate change, the Blue Economy efforts are little more than an idea. “Bias is baked into the system. It routinely denies developing countries – particularly vulnerable middle-income countries and Small Island Developing States like Cabo Verde – the concessional financing and debt relief they need.”
While the Ocean Race is a welcome development to Blue Economy efforts, it hardly marks a watershed in efforts to combat climate change. The only path to concrete change will be the result of substantial moves from global superpowers and multinational corporations prioritizing conservancy and preservation efforts.