Secretary-General: fast-track action on ocean health ‘before it is too late’

The Commonwealth is working to establish a fund to help member countries take practical action on ocean sustainability.

Ministers leading Commonwealth Blue Charter action groups met in Oslo with marine experts, investors and philanthropists to discuss the shape of the proposed fund.  The meeting took place during the Our Ocean Conference, to build partnerships between government, industry, science and civil society to meet the challenges facing the ocean.

The initiative comes at a time when coastal states are struggling to find the financial resources to deliver much-needed projects to sustain ocean health. Less than one per cent of all philanthropic funding goes towards marine conservation and sustainability, even though the ocean covers more than two-thirds of the planet. Large funds established to combat climate change appear to be reluctant to support work for the ocean, despite the close interrelation between the health of the ocean and of the environment more generally.

Resources mobilised from the public and private sectors through the proposed fund will contribute to a healthy ocean, sustainable enterprises and vibrant communities.

“Protecting the ocean for future generations is a shared responsibility and a matter of global urgency,” said Secretary-General Patricia Scotland, while stressing that more needs to be done “before it is too late”.

She continued: “Our Commonwealth Blue Charter recognises that no single country can solve these issues alone. Nor is it a matter simply for governments. We need broad and inclusive partnerships drawing together a range of expertise and resources to scale-up and accelerate our collective responses to ocean-related challenges.”

More than 30 countries have banned or restricted single-use plastics and the 53 countries of the Commonwealth have collectively protected more than 15 per cent of the ocean within their jurisdiction, surpassing the UN target of conserving at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas by 2020.

Seychelles’ Minister of Environment, Energy and Climate Change, Wallace Cosgrow, told colleagues at the meeting that in order to rebuild fish populations and protect marine habitats his country plans to extend marine protected areas from 26 to 30 per cent.

He said: “As a champion of the Commonwealth Blue Charter, we want to take this initiative forward with our member countries to inspire real action in saving the diverse sea life for our future.”

Commonwealth Head of Oceans and Natural Resources, Nicholas Hardman-Mountford, said: “This meeting is one of several interactions around the proposed fund in the lead-up to the 2020 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.  Once the fund is established, we hope it will harness the strengths of the public and private sectors to drive rapid actions on protecting our threatened ocean.”

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is a commitment by all 53 Commonwealth member countries to co-operate on tackling ocean-related challenges and meeting their commitments for sustainable development and protection. Twelve ‘champion’ countries are currently taking the lead in rallying fellow members to take action in nine key areas for ocean sustainability.

Also at the Our Ocean Conference, the Commonwealth signed a memorandum of understanding with Vulcan, which was founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. It will allow Commonwealth countries to use the Allen Coral Atlasa satellite-based mapping and monitoring system, to plan and manage their coral reef ecosystems.

Commonwealth action group on mangroves meets in Sri Lanka

Commonwealth countries are meeting this week in Negombo, Sri Lanka to decide on a work plan to help save the world’s mangroves.

The plan includes joint actions, projects and funding strategies for the short and medium term.

The activity is part of the work carried out under the Commonwealth Blue Charter – an agreement by all 53 Commonwealth countries to actively co-operate to solve ocean-related challenges and meet global commitments on sustainable ocean development.

The Blue Charter works through voluntary action groups led by ‘champion countries’, who rally around issues such as marine pollution and the sustainable blue economy.

Home to over 19,000 hectares of mangroves, Sri Lanka champions the Mangrove Ecosystems and Livelihoods Action Group (MELAG). To date, nine other Commonwealth countries have joined MELAG, including Australia, Bangladesh, Vanuatu, Bahamas, Nigeria, Jamaica, Kenya, United Kingdom, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Sri Lanka’s Director General of Ocean Affairs, Environment and Climate Change Hasanthi Urugodawatte Dissanayake said: “Given that Sri Lanka is ranked number 2 on the Global Climate Risk index in 2019, it is natural that Sri Lanka has stepped forward as champion of the MELAG.

“The first meeting of the MELAG has allowed Commonwealth members to share experiences and expertise to compliment global efforts in the protection and restoration of mangroves.”

The workshop highlights the importance of mangroves – which generate far-reaching environmental and economic benefits – as a global ocean issue.

Aside from being a habitat and nursery grounds for various plants and animals, mangrove ecosystems can absorb three to four times more carbon than tropical upland forests, helping to mitigate the effects of climate change. Mangroves prevent coastal erosion, protect shorelines, while also providing livelihoods for coastal communities, through fisheries and ecotourism.

However, more than half of global mangrove cover has been lost over the last 50 years, partly due to extreme pressure from human activities.

Commonwealth Adviser Heidi Prislan, who co-organised the event, said: “Several Commonwealth member states have very large areas of mangrove. This means that action taken to protect and restore mangroves in the Commonwealth will have a significant global impact.”

Activities being planned for the group include developing a database of mangrove ecosystems in the Commonwealth, sharing technical know-how and best practices on mangrove restoration, and strengthening community partnerships and legal frameworks.