As we embark on this new year, it is valuable to reflect on how far our ocean community has come. Like the ocean itself, the global ocean community connects us. Its reach and scope is multifaceted and diverse. By working in partnership, we have succeeded in raising the visibility and vital role of the ocean on the global agenda, as well as the recognition of its importance for our climate, biodiversity, economy, cultures and communities.
Pause to consider the advancements and achievements accrued in the 13 months between December 2022 and December 2023:
- Adoption of the Global Biodiversity Framework, with 196 governments committing to a nature-positive future.
- Adoption of a global ocean treaty that will help secure the protection and effective management of the high seas, including new networks of marine protected areas.
- Important progress on a global plastic pollution treaty.
- Progress toward ratification and effective implementation of the WTO Fisheries Subsidies Agreement and to continue efforts to eliminate harmful fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing.
- Increasing recognition of the role of ocean-climate action and solutions for mitigation and adaptation, including in the outcome of the Global Stocktake at COP28; new finance commitments to drive ocean conservation and resilience.
Despite these accomplishments, we know the challenges facing our ocean are escalating, underscoring the urgency of our work. While celebrating our collective progress, it is crucial to recognize that commitments and words alone are insufficient; tangible actions and investments are paramount. Governments and public and private sector partners must swiftly transition from commitments to implementation, focusing on delivering impactful results.
So, as we look at the important opportunities upcoming on the ocean agenda for 2024 – and there are many – our ocean resolution for the year should be to keep our collective “I’s” on the ocean. To ensure integrity, by aligning ocean actions and investments with principles of sustainability, fairness and equity; embedding inclusivity, by involving diverse stakeholders including the meaningful engagement of Indigenous Peoples and local communities; securing the integration of ocean action across biodiversity, climate and sustainability agendas; prioritizing implementation, by moving from words to action and from commitment to delivery; and, finally, to delivering impact, by measuring our results, correcting course when necessary, and ensuring accountability in order to deliver tangible results for people and nature.
When we harness our collective experience and expertise, we are a powerful force – putting wind in the sails of the many agencies and organizations responsible for delivering on the promise and potential of the agreements noted above. We understand that even governments with the best intentions may struggle with some of the ambitious targets and commitments made in the past year. As a community of ocean experts and advocates, we must help fight indecision and inertia with practical guidance, examples of scalable successes and the sort of positive peer pressure that spurs a race to the top.
2023 showed us what a difference a year can make. This time next year, I can envision dozens of vanguard countries implementing plans that will advance significant progress toward effectively conserving and equitably governing at least 30% of their waters, while recognizing and respecting the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities. Through our ocean community, we can facilitate knowledge sharing, so pitfalls can be avoided and progress accelerated.
Even at a time of political polarization, the ocean can provide a counter-current of cooperation. Protecting the global commons of the high seas and the deep seabed, reducing the scourge of plastic pollution, making the fishing industry fairer and more sustainable – when we achieve these collectively, we will create benefits that extend beyond borders and effect generations to come.
2024 must also be a year of unprecedented investment in marine and coastal ecosystems to tackle the linked threats of biodiversity loss and climate change. We know mangroves, seagrasses, kelp forests and coral reefs, among others, support biodiversity, coastal protection, climate resilience, and sustainable livelihoods. These nature-based solutions deliver for people, nature and the climate, and we need to see their conservation and restoration funded, prioritized and integrated into Nationally Determined Contributions, National Adaptation Plans, and long-term strategies and actions by governments.
Let us resolve that 2024 is the year when we urgently accelerate progress on the water and in communities where it matters most. The goal is clear – a healthier ocean, more resilient communities, and a climate that allows us all to thrive on our singular blue planet. Let’s expand our ocean community through inclusive and equitable partnerships and use the busy year ahead to advance a nature-positive future for the ocean.
Pauli Merriman, Head of Policy, WWF Global Oceans Practice
Pauli is the Head of Policy for WWF’s Global Oceans Practice, a community of 550 marine conservation and fisheries experts working across 60 WWF regional and national offices. Read our recent Impact Report and follow @WWFLeadOceans on X to keep updated on our work.