It’s about nothing less than saving the oceans. Politicians, researchers, activists and stars meet in Lisbon for the UN Ocean Conference. It is clear right from the start: a lot is at stake.

“People, we need change!” Hollywood star Jason Momoa (42/”Aquaman”) from Hawaii calls out to the audience – and UN Secretary-General António Guterres speaks of an “emergency”.

The second United Nations Ocean Conference began on Monday in Lisbon with emotional appeals and urgent calls to save the world’s oceans, which are increasingly suffering from litter, overfishing, climate change and acidification.

Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke only flies to the Portuguese capital on Wednesday evening. What is primarily at stake, however, she made clear on Monday in a ministry statement for the five-day conference: Healthy seas are “essential for us humans to survive”. “That’s why we need to move from talking to action and give marine protection much higher priority.”

Almost 30 heads of state and government, other politicians and scientists, some very young activists and representatives of non-governmental organizations and companies will discuss how the resources of the world’s oceans can be better protected and used as sustainably as possible.

Lemke: Endangering our own livelihoods

“If we don’t stop destroying the seas, we are not only endangering wonderful natural resources, but also our own livelihoods. Marine protection helps us in the fight against the climate crisis, the pollution crisis and species extinction,” said Lemke. The Green politician believes that one must “think more comprehensively and reconcile the protection of the seas and oceans with nature-friendly and environmentally friendly use”.

The minister emphasized that Germany is developing a national strategy to strengthen the protection of the seas: “A separate sub-department for marine protection within the ministry is currently being set up.” In addition, the Federal Government’s first Commissioner for the Sea will start work this summer.

Guterres calls for “drastic measures”

But national initiatives and the progress made in recent years are far from enough, Guterres warned. “We have to do a lot more, all of us.” He called for global efforts and called for “drastic measures”, especially to combat marine pollution with plastic. The largest plastic island in the Pacific is already as big as France, plastic particles can now be found in the most remote corners. In 2021, new records were set for sea level rise, ocean warming and acidification, and greenhouse gas concentrations.

Like Lemke, the environmental protection organization WWF also called for “acts” instead of “announcements and promises” at the start of the UN conference. Heike Vesper, head of marine protection at WWF Germany, said that the world community had to “make a consistent political change of course in favor of the seas”. According to the WWF, the conference “must bring about progress, especially in the ongoing negotiations on the agreement on the protection of the high seas and the protection of 30 percent of the sea surface by 2030 and on a moratorium on deep-sea mining”.

No binding agreements planned

On Friday, a “Declaration of Lisbon” with “innovative, scientifically based proposals for solutions” will be published. Meanwhile, environmentalists have expressed skepticism because no binding agreements are to be made.

After the first conference in New York in 2017, the second ocean conference will take place two years late due to Corona. According to official information, in addition to Guterres and Lemke, former US Secretary of State John Kerry and French President Emmanuel Macron will take part in the meeting. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson may also want to stop by. Sports stars like the world’s best giant wave surfer Maya Gabeira are also there. Irrespective of the Russian war of aggression, representatives of both Russia and Ukraine have announced their participation.

The world’s oceans cover more than 70 percent of the earth’s surface and are home to over 80 percent of life on earth. For billions of people they are the basis of work and nutrition. The oceans are also a crucial part of the global climate system.