Ministers call for collective ocean action ahead of CHOGM, COP29

Delegates attending the inaugural Commonwealth Ocean Ministers Meeting in the Republic of Cyprus committed to take forward their consultations to upcoming global summits.

According to an official announcement released by the Deputy Ministry of Shipping on 22 April, the Ministers agreed to lead on ocean protection and management through the Commonwealth Blue Charter and a proposed Commonwealth Ocean Declaration, which will for the first time identify their shared priorities and collaborative actions around sustainable governance of the seas. The Declaration is expected to be adopted at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Samoa in October. CHOGM takes place ahead of the November’s UN Climate Summit, COP29, in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Representatives from 28 countries and 12 observer organisations attended the Meeting under the theme ‘Our Resilient Common Ocean: From Cyprus to Samoa’.

It marks exactly six years since Heads of Government adopted the Blue Charter - a commitment by Commonwealth countries to work together on tackling ocean issues and acting to safeguard the ocean.

At the opening session, Commonwealth Secretary-General, The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC stressed the importance of collective action and regional and global cooperation to address the challenges faced by Commonwealth members in managing the ocean, including climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution.

The Secretary-General said: “All of us here know how urgent our task is. We know that there can be no healthy planet without a healthy ocean. It gives us the air we breathe. It provides us with food, income, culture, and spiritual nourishment – the tools we need to survive. It is a critical pillar of climate stability.

“It is the most precious, life-giving – yet undervalued, under-researched and recklessly exploited – natural wonder of our planet. The pressure human actions are putting on the ocean have brought us to the brink. Its current stress levels are unprecedented and impossible to sustain.

She added: “Humanity derives almost incalculable benefit from the ocean, yet up until now we have been unwilling to invest in its protection. That makes no sense – and I have no doubt that this paradox will come to an end this week here in Cyprus.”

The meeting was co-chaired by Dr Maria Panagiotou, Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment, and Mrs Marina Hadjimanolis, Shipping Deputy Minister to the President of the Republic of Cyprus.

Speaking at the opening session, the Shipping Deputy Minister said: “Cyprus being an island maritime state acknowledges that our seas and ocean are valuable resources and an integral part of our economy, not to mention our identity. We firmly believe that it is of crucial importance to intensify our efforts for conserving the marine ecosystems and preserving marine life. It’s time to commit and act to reverse the biodiversity loss, and prevent ecosystems degradation from pollution, climate change and other human activities.”

In his special address, Ambassador Peter Thomson, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean said:

“With 49 of its 56 member countries bordering or surrounded by the ocean, it is only logical that the Commonwealth should play a leading role in global efforts to implement SDG14, to engage with the UN Decade of Ocean Science, and be at the forefront of developments in the Sustainable Blue Economy.

Ambassador Thomson added that in the six years since Commonwealth leaders adopted the Blue Charter, action on the ocean had burgeoned.

“The Commonwealth Blue Charter, with its shared principles and priorities, can justly take much credit for this progress,” he said.

At the meeting:

The UK Government and the Commonwealth Secretariat announced a new project to support the swift ratification of the UN Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) Agreement by Commonwealth countries. Aiming to enhance marine biodiversity conservation in areas beyond national jurisdiction, this project seeks to provide technical support to countries, especially in the Global South, to accelerate the Agreement's ratification.

The Commonwealth, the Shipping Deputy Ministry of Cyprus and the Cyprus Marine and Maritime Institute signed a three-year memorandum of understanding (MoU) to establish a Blue Charter Centre of Excellence.

The Centre of Excellence will provide support and expertise in creating policies to assist Commonwealth and other island and coastal countries on topics such as the management, protection and restoration of marine and coastal ecosystems, the prevention and elimination of marine pollution, and the sustainable use of living marine resources.

Trinidad and Tobago stepped forward to co-lead the Blue Charter Action Group on Mangrove ecosystems and livelihoods with Sri Lanka.

A Blue Charter Ministerial Steering Committee to oversee the strategic direction of the Commonwealth ocean programmes will also be established.

Ministers and delegates agreed to set up a Commonwealth Working Group on Sustainable Ocean Finance. Sustainable Development Goal 14 – Life Below Water – receives the least funding of all SDGs and the Commonwealth Secretary-General has said it is an imperative that this is changed, given the enormous challenges facing the ocean.

The Commonwealth Secretariat launched a toolkit to promote gender-responsive practices in marine conservation and restoration, ocean science, fisheries, maritime transportation, and tourism. Turning the Tides of Inclusion: A Toolkit for Gender Equality in Ocean Sectors is for policymakers, organisations, and individuals to promote more inclusive practice and unlock the full potential of sustainable blue economies.

The Commonwealth Secretariat provided updates on its ocean activities, including progress on the Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Groups, the Blue Charter Project Incubator, training and capacity building, as well as bilateral technical assistance programmes for sustainable ocean governance and maritime boundary delimitation.

In the wings of the meeting, a roundtable event hosted by ORRAA – the Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance - focused on access to international funding for ocean initiatives, including blended finance, building a pipeline of implementable and bankable sustainable blue economy projects and working together to build-out match-making opportunities for projects and investors.

On Thursday, at a side event co-hosted by the Government of Samoa, the Waitt Institute, National Geographic Pristine Seas, Dynamic Planet and the Commonwealth Secretariat committed to work with Commonwealth members to achieve their commitments to protect at least 30 per cent of the ocean by 2030 in line with the Global Biodiversity Framework.

Kenya offered to host the next Commonwealth Ocean Ministers Meeting.

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