For three days, political leaders and representatives of the private sector, the civil society and the scientific community from around the globe gather in Nairobi, Kenya to discuss the perspectives and potentialities of a sustainable ‘blue economy’, namely the whole scope of human activities on and around oceans, rivers and lakes, and their impacts on development and the health of our planet.
Oceans, rivers, lakes, coast, mangroves and seabed are critical elements of our environment, which we massively and ever increasingly rely on: ocean-based industries contribute roughly US$ 1.5 trillion to the global economy, with fisheries and aquaculture supporting the livelihoods of 12 per cent of the global population, without mentioning tourism.
About 2.8 billion people live less than a hundred kilometers from a coast. Yet, a growing number of ecosystems and species are endangered by pollution, overfishing, destruction of habitats and climate change in the context of a steady growth of the global population.
This is where scientists have a major role to play. By understanding the subtle mechanisms by which all this is interrelated, they help us identify the threats and limits not to be exceeded to avoid irreversible disasters.
Joining forces with political authorities, the private sector and the populations, they are key players in framing the sustainable blue economy of today and tomorrow.
Their mobilisation and catalysing action have already produced results on the global stage. In 2015, the “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources” Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 14) was adopted, followed by the creation of the Oceans and Climate Platform during COP21 in Paris In June 2017, the first United Nations Conference Ocean Conference adopted nine Communities of Ocean Action to support and monitor the implementation of SDG 14.
Land-based plastic pollution in the oceans has finally made its way at the forefront of the international agenda, and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is working on a comprehensive Ocean Strategy.
Oceanologists and other specialists of marine habitats also greatly contribute to the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).
Along the way, the scientific community helped consolidate an international legal order of the environment, especially through the Multilateral Environment Agreements (MEAs) and the Regional Seas conventions.
looking ahead to the next UN Ocean Conference, to be held in Lisbon in 2020, the Nairobi conference gives the world another crucial, very timely opportunity to hear the scientists’ voices on what it takes to build a truly sustainable blue economy.
Hence, France is grateful to the University of Nairobi and the Kenyan government for mobilizing so many high-level participants for the Science and Research Symposium.
The upcoming One Planet Summit, also held in Nairobi in March 2019, will build on the findings of the Nairobi conference to move even more forward down the sustainable blue economy path, with a focus on concrete action in Africa.
Sustainable blue economy is dealt with at a multilateral level for a reason: oceans, rivers and biodiversity do not recognize borders, and joining forces is the only way to achieve anything.
Science makes no exception in this regards. Hence, France bets on multinational and multidisciplinary teams and coalitions of scientists to produce and promote state-of-the-art knowledge. Indeed, all the French scientists present at the Nairobi conference belong to multinational teams working on multinational projects: the PADDLE Consortium, working on more inclusive marine spatial planning, production and ocean governance models, is funded by the European Union and gathers partners from France, Portugal, Germany, Senegal, Brazil and Cape Verde, the whole being coordinated by a French scientist from the Research and Development Institute (IRD), Dr Marie Bonnin.
Closer to Nairobi, researchers from Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique Madagascar and Vietnam are members of the West Indian Ocean Delta Exchange and Research (WIODER) Network, supported by the French and Canadian research, and focusing on socio-ecosystems and landscape transformations in river deltas.
Another example is the West Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA), currently presided by a senior Kenyan scientist of the Kenyan Marine and Fisheries Research Institute, Dr Jacqueline Uku, in partnership with IRD at La Réunion island.
Present in all three oceans, a member of all 6 Regional Seas conventions and strong of the world’s second largest Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ, 11 000 000 Km²), France has systematically advocated in the international fora to expand existing marine protected areas and create new ones.
Marine protected areas cover 22% of the French territorial waters, including the largest in the world in New Caledonia (1 300 000 Km²). With a sense of urgency, France also tirelessly advocates for the protection of endangered species such as whales, the fight against plastic pollution in the oceans and the preservation and restoration of coral reefs and mangroves.
Recently it has been actively involved, along with the European Union, in putting together a new international instrument to protect biodiversity in the high seas, in the context of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Our lakes, rivers, seas and oceans are essential elements of the environment in which we live, build and thrive.
Scientists are firsthand witnesses of their functioning and benefits, but also of the damages uncontrolled human action can produce on them and, ultimately, back on us.
It is, therefore, their duty to alert us on those threats. But it is our collective responsibility to lend them a careful ear, and then take proper action.