UAE governs healthiest oceans in region according to latest Ocean Health Index, says H.H. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed.

With effective and timely action, the world’s most valuable resource – its oceans – could be saved. In creating a sustainable ocean economy, countries around the globe have a real chance at protecting their biodiversity and safeguarding their food and climate security. These were the key takeaways on day one of the sixth World Ocean Summit, currently underway at the St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort in Abu Dhabi, attended by H.H. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

Held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, the event marks its first-ever edition to be held in the Middle East. The annual gathering, which runs from 5th � 7th March this year, is supported by the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, EAD, and the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development, DED, on behalf of the Government of Abu Dhabi.

The Summit convenes over 500 delegates – including heads of state, political leaders, policymakers, corporate heads and academics from over 26 countries � to share dialogue on how best to innovate, govern and promote a sustainable blue economy, and explore new ways to mitigate the adverse impacts of human pressures on ocean health. Abu Dhabi will leverage its role as a nexus for Africa, Europe and Asia encouraging dialogue on ocean issues with the aim of bringing greater collaboration across regions and, connecting the world to new ideas and perspectives.

Commenting on the occasion, H.H. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed said: “The World Ocean Summit in Abu Dhabi marks a momentous occasion for the UAE as it welcomes its very first edition in the Middle East. It provides an invaluable opportunity to showcase our nation’s leadership in marine environmental protection, which is guiding by the legacy of our founding father, Sheikh Zayed. Promoting the sustainable development of our ocean is a key priority for the UAE as we work to ensure that rapid economic development does not come at a cost to our marine biodiversity and natural ecosystems, which are critical to sustaining the livelihood of our coastal communities.”

He added: “The fact that the UAE governs the healthiest oceans in the region according to the latest Ocean Health Index reflects our steadfast commitment to marine conservation and preservation, but there is still lots more yet to be done. The World Ocean Summit in Abu Dhabi will shine the spotlight on regional economies as changemakers in the global sustainability dialogue. We have been overlooked in these discussions in the past, but we believe our participation and impact can be significant and far-reaching. Platforms such as the summit are critical to keeping the dialogue alive and strong in order to inspire collective, global action towards the development of sustainable oceans.”

Delivering the opening remarks on behalf of the UAE, Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, said: “The UAE has been closely connected to its marine environment for centuries. In the past, pearl trade, fishing, and transport of basic materials were a major source of livelihood here. Now, 42 percent of Abu Dhabi population and 90 percent of the UAE population are living in coastal areas. The blue economy contributes 68 percent of the GDP, and desalinated water accounts for 98 percent of the country’s fresh water.”

He added: “The UAE Government has long realized that the country is blessed with rich marine biodiversity and assigned a great importance to preserving it and ensuring its sustainability. It has worked towards striking a balance between economic growth and environment protection. To meet the priority of sustaining natural resources and biodiversity, it has devised multiple strategies, plans, visions, and initiatives. Prime examples are the Environmental Impact Assessment Programme, Abu Dhabi Plan Maritime 2030, Zayed Protected Areas Network, the Marine Water Quality Network, in addition to the UAE Sustainable Fisheries Programme, Aquaculture Policy, and the many laws protecting our marine environment.”

Dr Al Zeyoudi noted that despite the international measures being taken to restore balance in oceans, the magnitude of pressure on the marine environment is colossal. He said: “We all need to join forces and expedite the pace of collective efforts to mitigate the common challenges our marine environment faces, such as climate change, overfishing, and pollution. Through hosting the World Ocean Summit, the UAE seeks to convene international decision makers, experts, and specialists to drive innovative, actionable mechanisms and solutions that effectively contribute to the protection of marine environment and ensure biodiversity sustainability, in a bid to create a better future for this generation and generations to come.”

During the opening ceremony discussion on the UAE’s Blue Economy, Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Managing Director of EAD, underscored the importance of collective action towards the protection of vital marine ecosystems: “Hosting the Summit in the UAE this year is an especially opportune moment as the nation gets ready to assume presidency of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) for the first time since becoming a member in 1999. Ocean rim countries such as the UAE need to play a defining role in promoting healthy oceans given that almost 90 percent of the world’s trade is carried by sea, and nearly 80 percent of the world’s maritime oil trade flows through three narrow passages of water in the Indian Ocean alone.

“All this comes at a time when the oceans are at a tipping point – climate change, marine pollution, unregulated fishing, and the loss of habitats and biodiversity are all adding to the strain on sea life, placing a crucial need on effectively and sustainably managing the pressures of urbanisation and industrialisation on our oceans,” she added.

For his part, Saif Mohammed Al Hajeri, Chairman of DED, said; “The World Ocean Summit underscores the need to achieve our economic goals but not at the expense of our oceans and marine resources. The UAE Government has long taken proactive steps in the protection of our oceans, while at the same time, formulating key policies fundamental to addressing present concerns and anticipating future challenges”.

“The fact that the event is being held for the first time in Abu Dhabi and the entire Middle East shows that the UAE is a critical partner in the global movement for global ocean protection and conservation of the maritime system worldwide. We take this role very seriously, as such, we have adopted a sustainable planning approach for our marine and coastal areas, consistently giving emphasis on joint actions and cooperation among partners and stakeholders. Our objective is to always find a balance between economic gains and the health of our environment in response to the directive of our wise leaders for the country to establish a green economy,” Al Hajeri added.

Prince Albert II, Sovereign Prince of Monaco, shared a video message on the importance of ocean conservation. This was followed by a keynote panel discussion on ‘A bridge over troubled waters defining the task’, which examined the most critical issues impact ocean sustainability in 2019. Moderated by Beddoes, the panel included five ocean ambassadors: Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Managing Director of EAD; Susi Pudjiastuti, Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries of Indonesia; Jane Lubchenco, University Distinguished Professor at Oregon State University; Wendy Watson-Wright, Chief Executive of the Ocean Frontier Institute; and Nomvuyo Nokwe, Secretary General of IORA.

The summit highlighted the role of innovation for ocean sustainability with a panel discussion themed ‘Stretching the technological horizon’. The discussion, moderated by Andrew Palmer, Executive editor, The Economist, featured Nina Jensen, Chief executive, REV Ocean, Michael Selden, Chief executive and co-founder, Finless Foods and Thor Sigfusson, Chief executive, Iceland Ocean Cluster.

A third thought leadership session held during the day focused on the shipping industry and the proposed 2050 targets to reduce greenhouse gases by 50 percent compared to 2008 levels. Speaking on the need for tech disruption to achieve this goal were Bud Darr, Executive Vice President of Maritime Policy and Government Affairs at Mediterranean Shipping Company, Adam Goldstein, Vice-chairman of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Global Ghair of Cruise Lines International Association, and Shizuo Takahashi, Executive Vice President and Chief Information officer, Mitsui OSK Lines.

With close to 13 million tonnes of plastic entering the world’s oceans every year, fish stocks being harvested at biologically unsustainable levels, and with close to 60 per cent of the world’s oceans lying outside national jurisdictions, there is an acute need for urgent action to protect the oceans through local, regional and global partnerships. Through spotlighting these challenges and facilitating collaborative solutions by representatives from governments, businesses, academia and civil society, the World Ocean Summit continues to remain a catalyst in the global movement towards ocean sustainability.

Source: UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs