Barcelona Conference charts path to sustainable ocean economy


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In April 2024, the Ocean Decade Conference was held in Barcelona, bringing together more than 1,500 in-person participants and thousands of virtual participants. This event, organized by UNESCO and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, was marked by crucial discussions on the future of ocean science and governance. The conference focused on priorities for the years to come, highlighting strategies and initiatives needed to protect marine ecosystems, promote a sustainable blue economy and strengthen the resilience of coastal communities in the face of current environmental challenges.

By Laurie Henry

The Barcelona Conference is part of a global context of strengthening ocean governance, marked by recent developments such as the Agreement on Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ), the Global Framework for Biodiversity of Kunming-Montreal and the Ocean-Climate Dialogue of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. These initiatives highlight the urgency of improving our understanding and management of marine ecosystems in the face of increasing pressures from human activities and climate change. Marine pollution, ocean acidification, overfishing and habitat loss are all threats that require concerted action and innovative solutions to ensure the health of the oceans and the food security of coastal populations.

The goal of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science (2021-2030) is to mobilize the global scientific community to address critical ocean challenges. Since its launch, this initiative has catalyzed the creation of more than 50 international scientific programs, engaging transdisciplinary teams to achieve the ten challenges defined by the Decade, including understanding the impacts of marine pollution, sustainable fisheries management and climate resilience. coastal ecosystems.

Discussions at the Barcelona conference helped define a shared vision for future priorities, building on the results of the Vision 2030 process. This process identified key areas where ocean science can provide practical and sustainable solutions, thereby strengthening the capacity of communities to adapt to environmental changes and preserve marine ecosystems for future generations.

Collaborative methodologies for sustainable ocean management

The work of the Barcelona Conference was structured around discussions and workshops aimed at identifying scientific and management priorities for the years to come. These sessions made it possible to identify concrete areas of action, such as the co-design and co-implementation of scientific initiatives focused on the integrated management of marine and coastal ecosystems.

Priorities include understanding the impacts of marine pollution on human health and ecosystems, improving ecosystem-based management approaches for marine and coastal areas, and promoting the resilience of fisheries and aquaculture facing multiple environmental stresses. Innovation in aquatic food production, particularly as it relates to developing countries, was also highlighted, with a call to strengthen public-private partnerships to support this innovation.

Barcelona Conference 2024 © UNESCO

A key aspect of the conference was the importance of cross-sector collaboration, bringing together governments, NGOs, the private sector and local communities. This inclusive approach aims to integrate scientific knowledge into ocean management policies and practices, while promoting indigenous and local knowledge.

The conference highlighted the need to strengthen national, regional and international policy frameworks to serve as drivers for the generation and use of scientific knowledge. She also emphasized the importance of adaptive governance, capable of responding quickly to new data and environmental changes, and the critical need to invest in ocean science infrastructure, such as marine pollution monitoring systems and interoperable ocean observations.

Strategic outcomes and key initiatives for the future of the oceans

Among the priorities set for the Ocean Decade, experts highlighted the importance of mapping the global distribution of perennial pollutants and understanding their effects on marine and terrestrial food chains. Another priority area concerns the management of deep ecosystems, in particular their vulnerability to emerging economic activities and climate change.

The promotion of a sustainable and resilient ocean economy, integrating the management of industrial and artisanal fisheries as well as the development of new forms of aquatic food production, has also been identified as essential to guarantee the food security and livelihoods of coastal communities .

Among the major initiatives announced at the conference, the launch of new programs on sustainable ocean planning and ocean management in Africa is particularly notable. These programs aim to strengthen the capacities of African countries in the integrated management of coastal and marine zones, by promoting public-private partnerships and mobilizing international financing.

The creation of a collaborative center in Barcelona, supported by the Barcelona City Council and the Port of Barcelona, was also announced. This center will focus on the development of a sustainable ocean economy, integrating environmental, social and economic aspects. In addition, the introduction of the Ocean Matcher Tool aims to facilitate philanthropic financing of Decade actions, by connecting ocean projects with potential donors.

The conference highlighted the importance of adapting identified priorities to regional and national contexts, with particular emphasis on the needs of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Least Developed Countries (LDCs). This includes promoting South-South exchange and collaboration to strengthen local and regional capacities in ocean science. For example, new funding opportunities for Africa were launched by the Belmont Forum, and Ireland’s Marine Institute announced specific funds for SIDS.

In addition, emphasis was placed on the importance of training and capacity development, particularly for young ocean professionals, to ensure a competent and diverse succession in the field of ocean sciences.

See the UNESCO website

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