Our Sustainable Future - Insights from Our Ocean Wealth Summit 2019

Our Sustainable Future – Insights from Our Ocean Wealth Summit 2019

On Monday 10th of June, Cork played host to what was an incredibly exciting and thought-provoking day. The Our Ocean Wealth Summit is Ireland’s flagship event for the marine sector. This year the Ocean Wealth Summit had a focus on small island nations, with the theme ‘Shared Voices from Small Island States’. With representatives from across 30 island nations, global leaders and over 750 delegates, Monday’s Ocean Wealth Summit was a convergence of inspirational leaders from both home and abroad. Speakers relayed with passion their determination, their hope, and their belief in a sustainable future.

When is the last time you read about acid rain?

The keynote address at the Ocean Wealth Summit was delivered by Former US Secretary of State John Kerry.  He left attendees in no doubt about the immediate need for global action and concerted political will to catalyse the pace of global decarbonisation. As he put it: “there will be no ocean wealth without ocean health” and climate action. Very much airing on the side of man’s potential to act, to solve a man-made problem with a man-made solution, Mr. Kerry drew the audience’s attention to previous global environmental issues that were addressed successfully by working together. “When is the last time you have read or talked about acid rain?” he challenged the audience, adding that climate change can be tackled if we decide collectively to collaborate stating “It’s not whether we can do it, but whether we decide to do it.” Adding, “We have no right to rest on the laurels of commitments made at the last meeting, commitments that aren’t being met”, referring to the national targets (pathways) under the Paris Agreement for greenhouse gas emission reductions to 2030, and prior to that the 2020 targets. Mr. Kerry concluded that step change is pivoted on the adoption of sensible energy policies. We have the means, we have the knowledge and capacity, but we need to seize the opportunity to adopt new technologies, to make brave political decisions and in his own words “to get the job done.” He added that the “greatest danger is futility, the belief that there is nothing one man or one woman can do”, rallying for innovation, insight and investment and encouraging global action and collaboration to meet this challenge.

Island Nations can be the incubators of change

An Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney referenced how our history and our people are shaped by events in the oceans. Sadly in 2019 “our world is shadowed by crises, nearly all of them man-made.” Mr Coveney commended multilateralism among the small island nations as a key tool in protecting our oceans’ health; “Acting together, we have a voice.”

In 2018, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) released a special report with a stark planetary health warning to us all, with a powerful call to action stating the world has just 11 short years to curb a climate catastrophe.  The report highlights the imperative that action is needed now, and fast, to cut the risk of extreme heat, droughts, floods and poverty. The IPCC Special Report outlines the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Beyond 1.5°C by even a half degree, we are opening wide the planetary front door to increasing our risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for millions upon millions of people.

The cost of Inaction

Currently Ireland is a laggard, consistently missing national and international carbon emission reduction targets. Our greenhouse gas emissions are nearly three million tonnes outside the pathway identified to meet 2020 targets. The cost of inaction is far off balance with the benefits of action when you consider the financial penalties payable of up to €150 million per annum. We are missing out on opportunities to shift to a clean energy and tech society and the benefits that this could bring to our wider economy, society and environment. The pathway to 2030 is our chance to make this shift and how we approach this will be our talisman of good fortune or missed opportunity. A report from EuroFound, the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, highlights the positive economic and employment benefits of a green transition for the EU as a whole, highlighting that governments must implement policy measures now to ensure that all of society can benefit from a move to a low carbon future.

The Earth is Our Home

Preceding John Kerry’s address, 17 year old youth activist Alicia O’Sullivan from Skibbereen, West Cork took to the stage at the Ocean Wealth Summit engaging the audience with her determination and leadership. Alicia spoke passionately about the need to refocus “across all institutions, policy, laws and economic structures on the core values of people, culture, home and our environment” winning the praise of both John Kerry and An Tánaiste Simon Coveney. Alicia had the full attention of the all attendees when she summed up young people’s frustration about the global climate inaction amongst leaders, saying “we are scared that we will not have what you had.”

Island Voices: The Ocean Wealth Summit

The Permanent Representative of Palau, Ngedikes Olai Uludong, to the United Nations had encouraging words for her island nation counterparts highlighting the scale and capability of island nations to make the difference, to act as ‘small incubators for change’. Ngedikes proudly talked of the efforts in Palau to conserve marine life and territories with 80% of their marine territory designated as fully protected marine reserve with no fishing or mining permitted. Palau, an archipelago of over 500 islands is smaller than New York City, and has the sixth largest marine  reserve  in the world, larger than the US state of California, a clear statement in recognition of the criticality of the ocean to their nation’s future survival.

The business and innovation potential in sustainability was highlighted through the success story of CuanTec, whose founder and CEO Dr Cait Murray-Green recounted the growth of CuanTec as one of Scotland’s leading companies in the bioeconomy area. CuanTec have developed a circular economy approach to using technology from the marine environment to prevent further ocean pollution and also to reduce food waste.  Dr Murray-Green emphasised the importance of innovation, and the potential for new technologies and processes.

Changing tides

Across the breadth of speakers at the Ocean Wealth Summit, the audience were left in no doubt about the opportunities for change, and the need for a step change in how we interact and counter climate change and environmental degradation to ensure a sustainable future. A future that protects our ocean’s health, and its vast and largely undiscovered and unexplored potential. As eloquently concluded by Mr. John Kerry: “There is no blue economy, there are no fisheries, if we cannot protect our oceans”.

This overview is but a brief snapshot of the summit, the full line up of speakers can be found here.

Seafest and the Ocean Wealth Summit will be back in Cork in 2020 and 2021.

View the Ocean Wealth Summit website here.

You may be interested in the Cork Metropolitan Area Transport draft plan, view here.

Read more about the our 8 main focus areas here.

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