PORTUGAL – United Nations has declared that the world is facing an “ocean emergency,” during the UN Ocean Conference 2022 hosted in Portugal.

The event is being co-hosted by the government of Kenya and Portugal and intends to create agreements that can end the reported 11 million metric tons of plastics entering the seas each year.

If current trends continue, the amount of plastic waste polluting the oceans will grow to 29 million metric tons a year by 2040, the equivalent of 50kg for every meter of coastline in the world as it stands.

Many of the countries most affected by this pollution have extensive coastlines and little infrastructure to handle plastic waste through recycling mechanisms.

Often, wealthier countries export their waste to these nations (like those in Southeast Asia) as a means of cheaply ridding themselves of pollution despite exploiting economically poorer regions.

The UN stresses that “to mobilize action, the Conference will seek to propel much needed science-based innovative solutions aimed at starting a new chapter of global ocean action.”

According to UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, the “egoism” of some nations is blighting efforts to bring ocean-bound pollution under control through a global treaty similar to the one agreed upon this year on plastic pollution.

Sadly, we have taken the ocean for granted, and today we face what I would call an ocean emergency. We must turn the tide,” he says.

The conference follows a collapsed effort in March this year, in which leaders failed to reach agreements on how to govern and protect the 64% of high seas that lie beyond territorial borders.

Currently, roughly 1.2% is protected from illegal fishing, waste dumping, deep-sea mining and other practices that pollute the oceans and destroy marine life.

Dr. Alex Rogers, Science Director of Rev Ocean, an ocean research NGO, described the formation of an ocean treaty as a “once in a lifetime” opportunity.

Despite the renewal of the UN’s Ocean Conference, fears abound that political power plays and rivalries among parties could once again derail the event’s intentions.

China is facing criticism for blocking Taiwan’s attendance at the conference as it is not a UN member, something that has driven the South Pacific nation of Tuvalu to withdraw from the talks altogether.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry says, “China’s arbitrary pressure on the UN Member States has only once again revealed its nasty nature.”

Meanwhile, authorities in Beijing condemned Taiwan’s “petty maneuvers” to “squeeze into the conference.”

Tuvalu, along with Taiwan, is under heavy threat by climate change and is expected to be completely submerged under water within a century.

However, in March, all UN Member States agreed to a binding global plastics pollution treaty, the details of which are still being negotiated. 

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