Over the next ten years, the international community must invest massively in ocean sciences to find innovative solutions to major global challenges. This is the objective, the very raison d’être of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021-2030, which will begin on 1 January by proclaiming “The science we need for the ocean we want!”.
At the beginning of the third millennium, oceanography has the capacity to identify problems and offer solutions, provided we stop neglecting its contribution. As the world adapts to new normalcy with the emergence of the coronavirus, ocean sciences will play an important role in post-pandemic recovery efforts. Audrey Azoulay, director-General of UNESCO
Although oceanographic research is one of the most promising areas of applied science, States on average only spend 1.7% of their research budgets on ocean sciences, much less than on other areas scientific areas of research, according to the Global Ocean Science Report, published by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) ON 14 December.
This is all the more difficult to justify given that the contribution of the sea to the world economy was estimated at US$1.5 trillion in 2010 by the OECD, a figure that is far from negligible and probably underestimated. In the same year, the maritime economy provided full time employment to then 30 million direct full-time jobs.
Fishing represents the ocean’s largest contribution to the global economy: the ocean provides a livelihood for more than three billion people. The seas also play an essential role in a wide range of economic activities: trade, energy transport, tourism, fossil fuels, oil and gas, and, increasingly, renewable energies with the development of offshore wind power. Human health, safety and well-being depend on the health and knowledge of the ocean as a whole. This work is carried out by UNESCO which notably coordinates tsunami early warning systems and ocean education to combat the plastic pollution of the planet’s blue lung.
Better knowledge of the ocean, which covers 71% of the planet, could contribute even more to development. To date, only about 20% of the seabed is mapped in high resolution. There are vast areas yet to be studied, notably the Arctic regions about which little, of its distribution of species, ecosystems, and ocean processes. At a time when the ocean’s capacity to mitigate global warming is stretched to the limit, a better understanding of ocean phenomena appears to be indispensable.
The United Nations General Assembly has endorsed seven outcomes for the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development leading to 2030:
- A clean ocean were sources of pollution are identified and reduced or removed,
- A healthy and resilient ocean where marine ecosystems are understood, protected, restored and managed,
- A productive ocean supporting sustainable food supply and a sustainable ocean economy,
- A predicted ocean where society understands and can respond to changing ocean conditions,
- A safe ocean where life and livelihoods are protected from ocean-related hazards,
- An accessible ocean with open and equitable access to data, information and technology, and innovation,
- An inspiring and engaging ocean where society understands and values the ocean in relation to human wellbeing and sustainable development.
The Implementation Plan for the Decade was developed through an inclusive of process consultations involving all ocean regions and approved by the General Assembly of the UN. In the words of the Executive Secretary of UNESCO-IOC, Vladimir Ryabinin, “We need to revolutionize the way we use ocean science.
The Decade creates the conditions for this qualitative transition by bringing about a paradigm shift in the production of ocean knowledge to guide the development of more sustainable solutions for the planet.” The international community committed to achieving the sustainable use of the ocean by 2030 when it subscribed to Sustainable Development Goal 14.
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