The ocean, our biggest ally against climate change, is in serious trouble. Last August, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, Peter Thomson, undertook an official visit to Venice to understand how a city at the forefront of the climate crisis is coping under increasing pressure. During his mission, his face-to-face interview with SkyTG24 investigated the importance of ocean protection for our futures. Thomson also dedicated some time to meeting the youth of our UNESCO Regional Bureau - potential crucial players of the Ocean Decade -, inspiring them to promote without reserve and passionately Ocean Literacy.
Ocean & Climate, we are far from the solution
The Ocean is the planet's largest ecosystem, regulating the climate and providing livelihoods for billions, but its health is in danger. A healthy ocean is critical to all life on Earth, and immediate action to reverse ocean decline should be taken. Many commitments, pledges and measures were presented at the 2022 UN Ocean Conference, held in Lisbon, Portugal, on 27 June-1 July.
In his speech at the conference closing, Peter Thomson pointed the finger at humanity waging war against nature and the world's ocean - the lungs of our planet and the primary source of food for more than a billion people - now facing a multidimensional crisis driven by climate change, overfishing, habitat loss and pollution. Yet, while the ocean is in trouble, solutions exist that can help us restore its health.
On 12 August, during his visit to the World Heritage site, Venice and its Lagoon, Thomson emphasised the urgency of adopting concrete measures to build ocean resilience and more sustainable communities. In the past 60 years, Venice has faced increased tides, flooding and ecosystem damage due to the effects of climate change. An initial tour of the lagoon organised by the Municipality of Venice revealed how the city had adapted its policies to address this ever-evolving issue through local and national initiatives.
The decline in ocean health is a wake-up call
Upon completion of the tour, SkyTG24 conducted an extensive face-to-face interview with the UN Special Envoy for the Ocean. Thomson stressed that there was still a long way to go. However, there have been some improvements since the COVID-19 pandemic, especially after the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon made enormous commitments to support ocean action.
Thomson expressed discontentment with how the ocean’s health is proceeding, and significant work will be required to move on the right track. “We continue to nudge against the 1.5°C increase in global average temperature, above which particular ecosystems will begin to collapse and break down. We are warned not to exceed the 1.5°C threshold as this will inevitably have untold effects on the human race,” he remarked.
2022 is turning out to be a central year for ocean health. Thomson further articulates that the decline in ocean health is a “wake-up call” and that there is no healthy planet without a healthy ocean. As a part of society, we can start by measuring the evident decline in ocean health and overfishing statistics by ocean acidification, sea level rise, plastic pollution, and ocean warming rates that lead to coral death.
“Nearly 750 million people live in areas below 5 metres below sea level, and all Member States of the world should agree to make a change; this cooperative union will make a difference in 2022,” he added.
“Success is through policy and educational pathways. Through teaching, we can prevent the incoming disaster and leave a brighter future for our descendants,” noted Thomson. “I am an active supporter of Ocean Literacy and Ocean Education. As underlined by Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, in her address at the One Ocean Summit in Brest earlier this year, blue education should practically be taught in schools around the world.”
"People protect what they love, and to truly love something or someone, in essence, you must know them well. To know the Ocean better, we must elevate research and education. It is estimated we only know 20% of the Ocean’s scientific properties, which is why the Member States of United Nations declared the Decade of Ocean Science, 2021-2030."
Peter Thomson, UN Special Envoy for the Ocean
Planet-saving Baton handed over to the next generation
On the occasion of International Youth Day, 12 August, Thomson paid a visit to UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe and held a dedicated discussion with the bureau's youth (35 years and under), culminating in a "handing off the baton" ceremony and an overview of the Relay4Nature initiative. (Picture from left to right: Lorenzo Castelli, Iuliia Kozlova, Zhi Ye, Andreas Mittermayr, Peter Thomson, Lidia Fernandes Pereira, Laura Bortolutti, Valentina Lovat, Costanza Fidelbo, Ivana Vrzic, Thi Ngoc Anh Nguyen and Enrico Green)
Relay4Nature is an ongoing global collaboration for the Ocean’s well-being, spearheaded by passing a special baton between relay teams, shining a spotlight on ocean leaders, innovators, advocates, and the ocean conservation work they are doing. The baton carries messages from all those who are willing to share their commitments and ideas for the environment.
Relay4Nature features several statements from heads of state and other illustrious personalities Thomson has met during these past years. After hearing the thoughts and opinions of the youth, he requested them to prepare and sign a message to be included in the Baton for its trip around the world.
Thomson closed his mission to Venice with a visit of the ‘Ocean and Climate Village exhibition’, docked in Venice, an example of how science can be communicated effectively to the wider public using ocean literacy tools and approaches. With his trip to Venice, Thomson gained further hope for the future of the ocean. Meeting the youth at UNESCO was undoubtedly one of his most memorable moments.
"We have a red alert. We’ve been waging war on nature; we have to make peace. Posterity is of utmost importance, and all actions must be taken to create a world where our descendants can live peacefully and healthily."
Peter Thomson, UN Special Envoy for the Ocean