15 May 2019 - Visiting Fiji for the first time as Secretary-General, António Guterres outlined two “fundamental challenges” facing leaders attending the Pacific Islands Forum on Thursday, namely climate change and the world’s rising ocean, which threatens to submerge low-lying nations.
“The Pacific region is on the frontline of climate change”, he said. “That means you are also our important allies in the fight against it”.
Climate change also threatens the well-being of the world’s ocean and seas, which are critical to the economies and traditions of the Pacific.
“Oceans are warming and becoming more acidic, causing coral bleaching and reducing biodiversity” the UN chief told the Forum, stating that global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius would cause “severe damage to tropical reefs”.
Moreover, if warming reached two degrees Celsius or more, “it would be catastrophic for marine life and humans alike” he said. “Food security would decline. Economic growth would suffer”.
But seas and marine life are also under attack from other directions. Mr. Guterres painted a picture of overfishing; underwater deserts in effect, with no oxygen; seas filled with poison and trash, and species becoming extinct within decades.
“Every year, more than eight million tonnes of harmful plastic waste end up in the ocean” he said. “According to one recent study, plastic could outweigh fish in our seas by 2050”.
While many countries are finally rejecting single-use plastic, the UN chief underscored that “we must do even more” to address the unsustainable levels of stress on marine and coastal ecosystems.
He commended Pacific countries for ensuring the adoption of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development, saying that his Special Envoy for the Ocean, Fiji’s Peter Thomson, is promoting the SDGs and the outcomes of the UN Ocean Conference.
Photo: UN Photo/Mark Garten
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