Greenpeace protests at UN Ocean Conference, and responds to UK Government’s £154m for global oceans

Greenpeace International activists have today (Thursday 30 June) protested leaders’ half-hearted commitments to ocean protection outside the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, following the UK government’s pledge of £154m to support coral reefs and mangroves and boost sustainable small-scale fishing in developing countries.

Commenting, Will McCallum, Head of Oceans at Greenpeace UK, said: “Financial commitments are one way of showing leadership, and the UK has shown its willingness to contribute to international ocean protection with its announcement. But unless governments agree to a strong Global Ocean Treaty at the United Nations in August, it may well be going to waste. And if the Treaty isn’t finalised this year, it will be impossible to protect 30% of our planet’s ocean by 2030.

“The UK Government has committed on the world stage to delivering ‘30 by 30’, and it’s vital that they stick to that promise. Right now, the UK is an example of exactly how not to manage its domestic waters, with protection on paper only and not at sea. Our so-called Marine Protected Areas are still being plundered and decimated by destructive fishing. Why is the Government not investing to protect its blue carbon habitats from bottom-trawling, or its porpoises from supertrawlers? It’s hypocrisy. They must do much more on UK shores – before time runs out, otherwise why should other countries listen when they call on them to support 30×30?”

In Portugal today, Greenpeace International activists have attempted to display large placards, showing sharks killed by destructive fishing, outside the Altice Arena in Lisbon, where the UN Ocean Conference is being held.

The placards, which read “Strong Ocean Treaty now”, intended to send a clear message to assembled leaders that while they pay lip service to meaningful protection in Lisbon, the ocean crisis deepens. However, the activists were stopped by police. Instead, they displayed banners outside the arena, reading “Strong global ocean treaty now” and “Protege os Oceanos”. Photo and video is available here.

As governments delay meaningful action to protect the oceans, people’s lives and livelihoods are at stake. Marine biodiversity loss hinders the ocean’s ability to provide food for millions of people.

Sharks are apex predators and vital for the health of marine ecosystems, but  populations have declined by 70% globally in the last 50 years. The number of sharks caught and brought to land by EU vessels tripled between 2002 and 2014. And approximately 13 million sharks were killed by EU vessels between 2000 and 2012.

This week’s UN conference in Lisbon is the last major political moment before the final Global Ocean Treaty negotiations in August 2022. 49 governments, including the EU and its 27 member states, have committed to finalising this ambitious Treaty by the end of 2022.

Without a strong Global Ocean Treaty this year, it will be nearly impossible to protect at least 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030. This is what scientists say is the absolute minimum required to give the oceans space to recover from centuries of human exploitation. Currently, less than 3% of the oceans are protected.

Laura Meller, of Greenpeace’s Protect the Oceans campaign, who is part of Greenpeace’s delegation inside the UN Ocean Conference, said:

“Our leaders are failing to deliver on their promise to protect the oceans. While governments continue to say fine words about ocean protection, like they’re doing here in Lisbon, millions of sharks are killed every year by vessels from the European Union. The world must see through their hypocrisy.

“Leaders like EU Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius have repeatedly promised to deliver an ambitious Global Ocean Treaty and protect 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030. Even the UN secretary general António Guterres said we are facing an ocean emergency.  The Treaty needs to be finalised in August, we don’t need more time to discuss how to protect the oceans, we need to get ocean protection done.”