By Aurora Kohn The United States will advance an agenda that focuses on helping island nations to address the effects of climate change and the ocean crisis, according to Secretary John Kerry, U.S. special presidential envoy for climate.
He noted that the island nations in the Pacific region are at the frontline, “feeling the greatest impact” of climate change.
“It has fostered an increased sense of outrage in certain parts of the planet that the places that are very negligible in terms of their contribution to the problem are paying the highest price,” Kerry said at a virtual press briefing after the opening of the 7th Our Ocean Conference in Palau.
According to Kerry, it is this realization that compels the United States to do its part.
“What we’re doing here, purposefully, is trying to highlight the challenge to island states, small states, and emerging economies around the world,” Kerry said.
The 2022 Our Ocean Conference formally opened on April 13. The theme of the two-day conference, which is the seventh in a series of conferences on the world’s oceans, is “Our Ocean, Our People, Our Prosperity.”
The conference aims to tackle six broad areas of action: addressing the climate crisis, advancing sustainable fisheries, fostering sustainable blue economies, promoting marine protected areas, supporting maritime security and combating marine pollution.
This is the first time that a small island nation is hosting the conference.
Kerry is co-hosting the conference with Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr.
At the press briefing, Kerry said this year’s conference has brought together more than 600 delegates coming from over 80 countries. The delegates bring with them “major commitments toward ocean preservation, protection and climate response.”
He said the six previous conferences on the world’s oceans elicited over 1,400 commitments from participating countries.
Kerry added that more than 350 additional individual commitments will be announced at this year’s conference.
Kerry said the United States alone has made 400 commitments with an aggregate value of $2.7 billion toward addressing the problems caused by climate change.
The commitments include the participation of 13 U.S. departments and agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy and the National Atmospheric and Ocean Administration.
In addition, the U.S. also has a $15 billion plan, called the President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience, which President Biden has included in the budget for next year.
Kerry said it is important that the world formally recognized in the prior Glasgow conference that the climate crisis and the ocean crisis are inextricably linked.
“It’s very significant because there’s a full recognition here that you can’t deal with the climate crisis without addressing concerns with the ocean," Kerry said. "You can’t deal with the ocean crisis without dealing with greenhouse gas emissions that acidify the ocean and are part of the warming, and the reason for 90 percent of the warming on the planet going into the ocean.”
The formal recognition of the relationship between the climate crisis and the ocean crisis has fortified the movement to address the significant issues affecting the health of the world’s oceans.
Monica Medina, assistant secretary of state for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, noted that this year’s conference has the best attendance of small island nations compared to the past conferences.
She added that this “is a great opportunity to hear from them.”
“The islands see themselves as not just victims but as part of the solution in climate. They are keen to bring forward climate solutions that they’ve innovated, and share that information," Medina said.
"We’re actually really pleased to be participating in something called the [Local2030] Islands Network and helping to support that to allow for communities of practice across islands, from Ireland to Palau, to learn about how to deal with the climate crisis that they’re confronting every day. So, it’s been a great place to learn as well as to hear about the challenges," she added.
Medina said 2022 is an important year for the oceans. Different conferences are scheduled this year that specifically focus on the problems plaguing the oceans.
Topics for discussions include conservation issues, plastic pollution, the need to preserve biodiversity and the negotiation of treaties to govern the high seas.
“This is a super year for oceans, and if we can’t get a handle on – and start to change – the things that are hurting our oceans, that are impacting their health this year, we will have lost a tremendous opportunity,” she said.
In line with this, the U.S. recently joined the Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance.
Washington has also provided grants to improve the recycling capacity and to reduce the amount of plastic in the ocean.
Additionally, the U.S. Department of Energy will reserve $25 million for research and development of marine energy, such as wave energy.
Kerry said these initiatives are potential opportunities for affected nations to “move forward” with solutions to some of the problems caused by climate change and the ocean crisis.