The world is facing “sea shortages”, warns the UN, while activists call for action | News about the climate crisis

The five-day UN Conference on the Sea in Lisbon, Portugal, focuses on restoring the health of the oceans.

The world is facing a “maritime crisis”, UN chief Antonio Guterres has warned, as thousands of activists, scientists and leaders gathered at the UN maritime conference in the Portuguese capital to call for stronger maritime protection measures.

“We have taken the sea for granted,” Guterres told politicians, experts and spokesmen at Monday’s opening session in Lisbon, describing how the sea has been hammered by climate change and pollution.

“I urge all participants in the UN Conference on the Sea to rectify these mistakes and do our part for the sea. We must take action and reverse the trend, he said.

The five-day ocean conference draws people from more than 120 countries and focuses on restoring the health of the oceans, which cover 70 percent of the earth’s surface and provide food and livelihoods to billions of people.

The ocean is home to an estimated 700,000 to one million species and produces more than half of the world’s oxygen. However, they have faced the effects of climate change, including global warming, pollution and acidification.

On a beach in Lisbon, activists with the Ocean Rebellion group held a demonstration on Monday with the posters that read: “When the sea dies, we die.”

“The world’s largest ecosystem … is still unprotected and dying while we watch,” the activist group said.

The five-day event has attracted leaders, researchers and activists from around the world [Armando Franca/AP Photo]

The conference, organized jointly by Portugal and Kenya, will adopt a declaration which, although not binding on the signatories, can help implement and facilitate the protection and conservation of the seas and their resources, according to the UN. The declaration must be approved on Friday.

At the event, Guterres appealed to governments and companies to commit to more funds to help create a sustainable economic model for ocean management.

Scientists warn that a drastic reduction in greenhouse gases is necessary to restore marine health.

Activists also say that climate change is pushing sea temperatures to record levels and making them more acidic. Absorption of about a quarter of CO2 pollution – even though emissions have increased in the last 60 years – has made seawater acidic, threatening aquatic food chains and the ocean’s capacity to absorb carbon.

“We are just beginning to understand the extent to which climate change is going to destroy marine health,” said Charlotte de Fontaubert, the World Bank’s Global Leader for the Blue Economy.

Making things worse is an endless stream of pollution, including plastic worth a garbage truck every minute, according to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

Global fishing will also be in the spotlight during the five-day event.

“At least a third of wild fish stocks are overfished and less than 10 percent of the oceans are protected,” Kathryn Matthews, chief scientist for the US-based nonprofit Oceana, told AFP.

European Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevicius during a clean-up session on the beach in Carcavelos, Oeiras, on the outskirts of Lisbon
EU Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevicius (standing, center) during a clean-up session on the beach in Carcavelos, Oeiras, on the outskirts of Lisbon, Portugal [Tiago Petinga/EPA-EDE]