Blue Leaders Breakfast call to action on ocean and climate

Dr. Philippe De Backer, minister of the north sea belgium

Your Highnesses,
Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is our honour to host the first meeting of this most distinguished group of Heads of State and Governments, as well as Ministers, Ambassadors, friends of the Ocean from around the world to talk about actions and solutions needed to address the findings of the IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and the Cryosphere in a Changing Climate released this morning in Monaco. Greenhouse gas driven global heating is the leading cause of pervasive, long-lasting, dangerous changes in the ocean, including accelerated sea-level rise; melting polar sea ice, mass coral bleaching; extinction and redistribution of species; and huge and growing dead zones around the world.

The ocean has absorbed 28% of all our CO2 emissions since 1750; today it absorbs over 1 billion kg of CO2 from the atmosphere every hour, changing the chemistry of seawater and threatening multiple marine species. Tackling this emergency means we all have to go beyond words and declarations. Tackling this emergency means all States must commit to more ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions in 2020 to ensure the faster, deeper emission cuts needed to keep to 1,5°C.

When Martin Luther King was fighting for fundamental and equal rights — here in the US — he did not say: “I had a nightmare.” He said: “I have a dream.” It is our shared responsibility to make this common dream of a cleaner, safer and prosperous world a reality. I’m a scientist and a politician and it has always struck me how little room scientist get to state the facts. It is high time to put evidence-based policy making at the heart of current political action. I always tell my colleagues: you have the right to your own opinion, not your own facts. And when the facts are clear, the path of action also becomes clear.

My country, Belgium, has always been and will continue to be a pioneer in ocean policy and research — although we only control a little part of the global sea. By being an advocate for international cooperation — like we were by leading a High Ambition Coalition in the International Maritime organisation, setting clear targets for cutting emissions of the shipping industry. Or by investing in science-based marine spatial planning, protection 35% of our part of the North Sea, doubling our capacity for offshore wind energy and investing in coastal protection.

And by getting the private sector on board in setting strong ambitions. The Belgian shipowners association — representing the 10th biggest global fleet — has established the Shipping Decarbonisation Council, building up research and implementing solutions towards zero-emission shipping in the near future. Carbon capture and storage investments are underway in the Port of Antwerp; the second largest European port and industrial cluster in Europe. It can be done. It will be done.

We need ambitious solutions to help the ocean deal with effects of the warmth, acidification and loss of oxygen. Just as a healthy person is better able to face physical challenges than a sick one, a healthy ocean is better able to cope with the effects of climate change, than a sick ocean.

Therefore in Belgium’s view, it is critically important to both urgently reduce greenhouse gas emissions and take bold action to enhance ocean resilience. In our view, this must be achieved by fully protecting at least 30% of the global ocean by 2030, including through a robust new international agreement for the conservation of the high seas.

I am looking forward to hearing the Blue Leaders gathered here today to give their take on this and other solutions. And to make their actions speak louder than words.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today, I am wearing this 30by30 pin. This pin means we are taking the IPCC report seriously. It means we want to give our ocean a fair fighting change to sustain itself, and us. I invite, no, I encourage all colleagues to pick up their pin, wear it proudly and walk out of this room today knowing that they are stewards and ambassadors of the ocean, that they truly are Blue Leaders.

It is with pleasure that I introduce the moderator for this event, Ms. Sophie Mirgaux, Belgium’s special envoy for the Ocean.