The “dire state of the ocean was universally recognised at the second UN Oceans Conference in Lisbon, which took place from 27 June to 1 July 2022. UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, set the tone when he declared an “ocean emergency” on the opening day. However, while the climate emergency is now widely acknowledged and climate Conferences of the Parties (COPs) attract a wide range of stakeholders, the general public and the media, the state of the ocean remains a somewhat niche issue. It was therefore even more important that several thousand participants came together in person in Lisbon for a week of discussions on more ambitious ocean policies. 

Seas At Risk was present in Lisbon with a delegation of five staff members. Our highlights and key takeaways of the week are described below. 

1. Ocean Basecamp and civil society mobilisation 

The voice of non-state and non-profit actors is essential to address the ocean as a global common good. Our Portuguese member, Sciaena, in partnership with Seas At Risk and the Oceano Azul Foundation, ran a week-long non-governmental organisation (NGO) “Basecamp” in Lisbon Marina, which became a vibrant hub of discussions and networking. Several official side events were hosted at the Basecamp, including prominent speakers such as legendary ocean explorer, Dr Sylvia Earle. The “Blue March” for the climate and the ocean was a powerful moment of street protest, including indigenous peoples, Extinction Rebellion and Ocean Rebellion, young people, NGOs and concerned citizens.  

2. Tide turning for deep-sea mining 

On the opening day of the conference, the Pacific Island state of Palau announced the formation of a UN Member State coalition against deep-sea mining, together with Fiji, Samoa and, later, Guam. On the second day, French MEP Marie Toussaint joined the Pacific Parliamentarians Alliance and launched a global initiative of elected parliamentarians against deep-sea mining,  which is already supported by 146 parliamentarians from 42 countries. On the third day, young people held a silent protest at an International Seabed Authority event, placing signs on their desks calling for a moratorium on deep-sea mining. That protest was stopped by security at the request of one panelist. Nevertheless, the wave of support continued, with day four seeing the French President, Emmanuel Macron, calling for a ban on deep-sea mining in the high seas. That declaration makes France the first country holding an exploration licence to support such a ban.  While these developments towards a moratorium are highly encouraging, it remains to be seen if they translate into concrete measures at the next session of the ISA in July. 

3. Shipping: better (and slower), not more! 

Seas At Risk, together with the governments of Sweden and Finland and other civil society actors, co-hosted a high-level event on “Joining the dots between sustainable maritime logistic and planetary boundaries”. The panel was live-streamed and recorded on UN web TV. It moved beyond discussing technical fixes and instead addressed reducing maritime transport – both in quantity and speed – in order to limit the disastrous impacts of this polluting industry. New technologies such as wind technology and clean renewable fuels were discussed, with the panel highlighting the need to change the way we do things, including considering whether or not all current shipping is really necessary. Policy must reduce waste and seek to transition away from linear models of make, use and dispose, in favour of a circular economy. While industry representatives agreed that we must act now, it is clear that technological fixes alone are not enough, and must be accompanied by questions about what, how and why we ship.  

4. Just transition for low-impact fisheries 

Small-scale and low-impact fishers raised their voices to advocate for their rights (including access to traditional fishing grounds) and underline their historic stewardship role for a healthy ocean. The Rise Up Call for Action, a global campaign “to set the ocean on a course to recovery”, was particularly vocal in its demand to “empower and support coastal people”. Seas At Risk hosted a high-level working session that included prominent ocean advocates such as UN Special Envoy Peter Thomson, legendary ocean explorer Dr Sylvia Earle, and seasoned researchers, Enric Sala, Diva Amon and Joachim Claudet, as well as an official side event featuring fishers’ representatives from around the world. Phasing out destructive fishing practices (e.g. bottom trawling) is a key challenge, as is a just transition to low-impact fisheries. These changes will require continuous dialogue with the fishing community in order to shift the political economy of fishing towards a system that is good for people and planet alike. 

5. System change 

 The conference paved the way for binding agreements in upcoming international negotiations, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (aiming to protect 30% of the planet’s land and sea by 2030), the future High Seas Treaty, and the next climate COP. However, the systemic connections with biodiversity loss, climate change and human rights violations in the seas were explored only superficially. The multiplication of global crises illustrates that we are locked in a system so fragile that specific disruptions (e.g. just-in-time shipping logistics; coral bleaching due to climate change) have unforeseeable consequences. The “need for transformative change” that was recognised in the final declaration of the conference is not yet accompanied by a vision of an alternative political economy that respects planetary boundaries and the social rights of the world’s population. Exploring and advocating for a global well-being-driven ocean economy that addresses the root causes of ocean depletion, such as overconsumption and a drive towards infinite growth, will remain a major task and mission for Seas At Risk.