At the eighth annual Our Ocean Conference, which took place in Panama March 2-3, participating countries and organizations made 341 commitments totaling ca. $20 billion, including funds for the expansion and improvement of marine protected areas and biodiversity corridors.
At the start of the event, US White House climate envoy and former secretary of state John Kerry said that the meeting was “so incredibly important because it is a conference that is focused on action, not on talk. It’s about real commitments and real solutions.”
Nearly $6 billion in US commitments spread across 77 projects to protect the high seas in 2023 was announced by Kerry, including technical cooperation to foster “green shipping corridors.”
The European Union announced it would direct €816.5 million to ocean-related projects in 2023, with €320 million going towards research on how to protect marine biodiversity and address effects of climate change on the seas, and €250 million going towards the launch of the Sentinel-1C satellite, which will monitor melting ice and impacts of climate change.
Panama, which was the first Latin American country to host the conference, announced it would add protections for more than 54% of its marine territory, by adding 36,058 sq mi to its existing Banco Volcán Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Caribbean Sea, an area of high biodiversity and deep-sea mountain ranges.
As described by the president of Panama, Laurentino Cortizo Cohen, who inaugurating the event, the conference was a chance for “countries of the world to hold frank conversations with the purpose of committing ourselves to actions for the preservation and strengthening of life in the ocean.”
He added in a statement, “As Panamanians, we inhabit a narrow strip surrounded by blue. To protect it, we should all think of the ocean as a source of life and recognize it as a great ally in our fight against the climate and biodiversity crises.”
In addition, the country intends to stop the import and consumption of more than 160,000 tons of plastic, eliminating plastic packaging, single-use plastics and virgin plastic, according to the ministry of environment.
To encourage the improvement and expansion of marine protection, the Bloomberg Philanthropies and Arcadia announced the establishment a fund of US$51 million, to assist governments, NGOs, local communities and indigenous peoples in their efforts to meet the goal of protecting 30% of the oceans by 2030, the aim of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, which was agreed at the UN Cop 15 in December 2022.
To shore up marine protections for the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor (CMAR), which encompasses over 500,000 sq km (193,000 sq mi) of highly biodiverse and productive waters around Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Panama, the Connect to Protect Eastern Tropical Pacific Coalition (an alliance of several groups) announced a recent commitment of US$118.5 million of public and private funding.
From commitments to action
Oceans and climate director at the NGO Blue Marine Foundation, Dan Crockett, who attended the event, remarked on the impressive sums in commitments announced at the conference and felt encouraged seeing countries working together to establish marine protected areas that stretch over political boundaries. “There was a strength to the amount of money being put on the table,” Crockett told Mongabay over a call. “And that’s one of the biggest challenges that we face in this space.”
Crockett added, “If environment ministers can set down their differences and come together around ambitious ocean conservation, it provides a lot of hope for the potential for 30 by 30.”
Chief executive officer of the platform Global Fishing Watch, Tony Long, who was also in attendance, said while conference participants demonstrated a “clear commitment to providing ocean sustainability,” the crucial next step is putting these commitments into action. He added, “The more we see the community come together to drive those actions forward, the quicker the health of our ocean will be maintained.”