On the 22nd and 23rd of February of 2021, the online International Conference “The Ocean that Belongs to All” was organised bearing in mind the objective to contribute to Ocean literacy and intended to signal the beginning of the United Nations (UN) Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.

Themes with global impact were brought to the discussion: “Messing up with the Biosphere: plastics invading food chains”; “Extending continental shelves”; “Melting of the Arctic: between a climate disaster and a brand-new sea lane for containers”; “On (un)safe waters” and “A Blue Economy beyond fish and minerals”. Issues directly related to Portuguese concerns and priorities were also discussed, namely: “The Ocean, Strategic Priority of Portugal at the UN” and “Ocean’s Research Priorities”. Finally, a group of millennials of various oceanic geographies discussed the motto of the UN Ocean Science Decade: “The Ocean we need for the future we want.”

Opening Session

With around 40% of the world population living within hundreds of kilometres off the coasts, and 31 million jobs directly dependent on it, the Ocean is fundamental to human lives. Although it is one of the least environmentally damaging transport most countries use, in 2018, ships calling at European Union (EU) ports emitted around 140 million tons of CO2; in 2018, emissions produced by the entire water-born transport sector - including international, domestic and inland waters navigation - represented nearly a quarter of all nitrous oxide emissions in the EU.

New developments in alternative fuels and advances in autonomous shipping led many to start thinking about the possibility of having commercially viable zero-emission ships on the seas by the end of the decade. There is a need for new ship designs, new propulsion systems, new operation standards, and most importantly, an influx of people with different skills in the industry. It is also worth noting that shipping is a part of an interlinked system, a logistical and operational chain. Therefore, changes in shipping should go hand in hand with changes in the shipbuilding industry, port sector, logistical operators, alternative fuel production and supply chain, infrastructure development, and consumer perception.

Messing up with the Biosphere: plastics invading food chains

What is the real dimension of the ongoing invasion of food chains by plastics in the Ocean? Is this perceived and treated as a global threat? Is the problem due to ineffective, uneconomic ways to deal with plastic or to a lack of public concern?

The participants perceived plastics in the Ocean as a menace that should be dealt with and treated locally and globally. The dimension of the plastics which are already in the seas is not only huge at the surface; its major danger comes from microfibres that are eaten by the fish and enter into the food chains. Ineffective, uneconomic ways to deal with this problem, lack of public awareness and, fortunately, less today than before, political neglect, are obstacles for the resolution of this threat.

There was a general view that what is important is to process plastics on land, engage more strongly with the different actors and extend the possibilities offered by the circular economy to avoid by all means the practice of throwing plastics and microfibres into the rivers and the seas. Ocean crises are only now being perceived by people as financial, migration, security, and economic crises. The dimension of the problem is colossal. The deposition of plastics and microplastics at the current rate will surpass the biomass of the oceans, e.g., fish, in the middle of this century. Ten rivers are responsible for 80% of the terrestrial pollution, mainly in Southeast Asia and Africa, because these are deltas of regions where there are no advanced waste collection and recycling systems. In the case of microplastics, industrialised regions, like Europe and the United States, contribute enormously to marine pollution through the disposal of textile fibres, car tires, and fertilisers, - which are made of mud originating from sewage systems (that already contains microplastics in itself).  Few people understand that the Ocean starts in bathrooms, in kitchens, it starts in people’s houses.

Hence, the importance of a mentality change, and of agreements at the global level, that can respond to this calamity. These problems need global responses, including the creation of marine protected areas for the high seas, reduction of plastic pollution in the Oceans, solutions for biodiversity loss, and the Ocean’s biomass pollution. This is why it is important to count on the participation of Heads of State at the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon in 2022. These questions are related to governance. The importance of having the ambition of getting to a Global Ocean's Pact in the future is exactly the way it should have been in the other framework conventions. The Ocean was completely absent from the discussions in 2009 on the first attempt to have a Climate Pact in Copenhagen. The Ocean was referred to in one word in the preamble of the 2015 Paris Agreement, but finally got, in 2019, in Madrid, the attention it deserved. It took 20 years to establish a nexus between Ocean and Climate.

In 2041, the stock of plastic in the Ocean would be four times as much as it is today. The base cause is human dependence on fossil fuels for energy and the increasing creation of new products with single-use packaging. Recycling is very important, but only 20% of plastics are economically recyclable. Despite 70% of microparticles actually coming from car tires, most plastic items found on European beaches are plastic cotton buds, straws, plastic plates, plastic cutlery, beverage stirrers, balloon sticks, food containers, beverage containers, and so on. These are all products that can either be made from alternative materials, or that can perhaps be avoided altogether. Avoiding or innovating to find alternatives for these products can eliminate 70% of the plastic garbage in Europe that is polluting the seas. There is a large amount of fishing gear made from plastic in the seas, which not only pollutes, but that also has very harmful effects on the sea animals and fish, for example, when the nets are floating around the water.  Avoiding sending more plastic into the seas until 2030 should be a priority by replacing plastic with materials that are made from biological renewable resources. This is a global problem and is the way forward in which the economy should be modelled.

There are encouraging initiatives coming from novel enterprises. PlanetCare is working to push industries to install microfibre filters in washing machines to prevent 90% of these from ending up in rivers and the Ocean. Cruz Foam produces a compostable foam made from the chitin of discarded shrimp shells, thus solving two problems at once. Shrimp shells, which are considered a waste in the seafood industry, may acquire value for the circular economy, and at the same time using them as a compostable material can replace some packages, reducing the use of plastics. Novoloop is trying to recycle plastics to insert them in cars, construction materials and 3D impressions. Mymizu is one of the first water refill apps that helps citizens to access free refilling points. However, this is still not enough. A Blue New Deal focused on the Ocean as the central key to balance climate and to recover the planet’s health is needed.

Extending continental shelves

How do strategic, security issues affect the extension of continental shelves? What are the major obstacles involved in its implementation? Is diplomacy and the Law of the Seas being effective to help solve maritime border disputes?

Participants highlighted that some of the major obstacles involved in the extension of continental shelves relate to diverse and contradictory interests of countries that dispute the same spaces. However, it was also noted that the most important and effective tool to settle disagreements has been diplomacy and that the Law of the Seas was a major achievement to help solve maritime border disputes.

The main types of conflicts, or frictions, between states with extending continental shelves are the disputes of areas that go beyond 500 miles maritime borders, or about what is an island, and what is a rock. This happens as there is a lack of agreed rules that could define the continuity of the territory. Major states and powers are driving the disputes and trying to push the interpretations of those types of conflicts for their own profit, and ultimately, there have been fights between the power of law and the law of power. In Eastern Mediterranean, maritime demarcation has been debated for many years with two obstacles - the big islands on the Aegean, and the division of Cyprus. Militarisation is also ongoing in the Arctic and mainly in the seas surrounding China, where disputes between China, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan, and others are looming

Better use of the seas is completely possible in terms of biotechnology for the industries around cosmetics and medical drugs. In fact, only a small part of the Ocean is mapped, and a lot of possibilities are waiting for research, investment and cooperation.

The Arctic is made up of 52% geologic continental shelf, being a very resource-rich area. 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil, and 20% of undiscovered natural gas are estimated to be in the Arctic. Despite this kind of reality set pushing for potential conflict, countries have been following the existing law very closely, as exemplified by the Arctic Five Meetings, that have been taking place for the last 15 years, where geologists and geophysicists are mapping and working on the communal shelf and diplomats gather to discuss these topics each year.

Regarding the extension of maritime shelves, China has excessive claims in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. China made a claim based on the nine-dash line - which refers to the ill-defined demarcation line used by the People's Republic of China (China) and the Republic of China (Taiwan), for their claims of the major part of the South China Sea. This nine-dash line and historical rights cannot be justified under the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS). China is doing scientific research in the Japanese exclusive economic zone (EEZ), ignoring the median line. To operate a submarine, the seabed needs to be mapped, and data collected, so China is doing the scientific research in the Japanese sea - a warship operation in the upper North is becoming a concern for Japan. There is also growing military tension between China and the US, particularly over Taiwan. Clearly, China is at the centre of disputes regarding maritime borders and the extension of continental shelves in Asia. As for the Arctic, Japan, China, and South Korea are very interested in the Arctic shipping lane.

Melting of the Arctic: between a climate disaster and a brand-new sea lane for containers

What are the geopolitical implications of the foreseen melting of the Arctic? How can the high seas be affected by this climate disaster? Can a similar event occur in the Antarctic? What kind of geoeconomic implications arise from the progressive expansion of a major new sea lane for containers throughout the Russian coast to Europe and North America?

The debate was a tour through the cryosphere, in the sense that the problems which arise at deep seas and in the Antarctic were also brought to the discussion. Some of the geopolitical implications of the foreseen melting of the Arctic were debated, namely those related to the dispute over natural riches amongst some of the countries that claim a share on the exploitation of resources, but also about the danger that is arising with the melting of the Arctic and the Siberian frozen plains, under which there is a huge quantity of CO2 that could derail the planet’s climate balance decisively. High seas are already being affected by the rise of the level of waters (and temperature), and some islands and flat border continental land will suffer from the expected melting.

As to the Antarctic, the importance of preserving the huge production of food for living creatures that come from cold waters in that region was stressed. On a more positive tone, panellists referred to the multilateral collaboration happening amongst three dozen countries and many private and civil society organisations, to keep the health and safety of the Antarctic – the major preoccupation expressed being related to the rise of temperatures. On the geoeconomics’ implications from the progressive expansion of a major new sea lane for containers throughout the Russian coast to Europe and North America, it was stressed that some major container companies, like Maersk, have already declared they are not eager to use that route mostly because of economic and environmental reasons, but, on the contrary, other companies, for example, the Chinese Cosco, are already preparing for the possibility of using that route to spare time and costs.

Shallow Arctic waters (up to 200 metres deep) are on the Russian coast. If the ice melts, the technical accessibility to natural resources in the seabed and sub-seabed of the Arctic Ocean needs to be improved. For safety reasons, navigation is much better when there is less ice; the Arctic can be thought of as a route for trading, namely between Asia, Europe and North America.

The Arctic Council is composed of 30 countries and a number of NGOs. There have been conflicts because there is an issue that is not solved - boundaries related to continental shelf extension. Canada and Russia are the main coastal states in the Arctic and may consider those waters to be their territory.

From another perspective, the rising of the mean sea level probably will not be an unsolvable problem for the Netherlands but could be for the islands in the Pacific Ocean due to huge economic differences and capacities.

Now in the Arctic route, there is a flow of goods of around 18 million tons, but only 5% is transit - ships that go from the strait of Bering to the Atlantic -, all the rest is cargo that stays in local ports, Murmansk being the main one. The Chinese shipping company, Cosco, which is the 3rd largest container company in the world, decided to bet very heavily on this route. The bigger the ship, the less expensive it is to carry a container, but it is still very difficult to transport big containers in that route, turning this into a less attractive commercial passage. Maersk, MSC - the second largest shipping company in the world - the French company CMA CGM - which is number four -, and Hapag-Lloyd - which is number five -, stated openly that they will not use the Arctic as a sea route. 

Some other good news for climate should also be noted. The Poseidon Principles is an initiative by the largest lending banks of the shipping industry (22 banks control almost 80% of all the loans for shipping), in which they have decided that the climate performance of the vessels would be used as a criterion to lend money to buy new or second-handed ships. The Getting to Zero Coalition, an alliance of 120 worldwide companies - mostly shipping companies, leaders in ports - have committed to zero gas emissions by 2030. Considering that a container ship typically lasts 20 years, that could mean that by 2050 every ship operating in the world would be emission-free. An alliance called Clean Cargo - having a large number of shippers that control 85% of all the cargo that is transported by containers - is going to start using the performance of ship carriers as a criterion to determine which ships are going to be used to transport their cargo. 

The gains in using the Arctic route are very small for the time being, and this is the major reason why, commercially, all the other big ship companies, apart from Cosco, decided not to look into it – for now. But the problem is not now, the problem is what is going to happen 20 years from now, and if nothing is done, the melting of the Arctic may change these positions. 

As ice sheets in the Arctic and Greenland glaciers melt, the physical, chemical, and biological nature of the planet is fundamentally changing. At the same time, the emissions of carbon dioxide, as well as black carbon in the Arctic, are creating a threefold crisis: climate disruption, biodiversity loss, and pollution threatening our viability as a species. To combat this tragedy, a more inclusive and more networked multilateralism, a new global deal among countries to ensure that benefits and opportunities are shared more broadly and fairly is needed. 

Unlike the international waters of the Arctic, the Antarctic has a robust governance system in place, dating back to the late 1950s at the height of the Cold War, where the Antarctic Treaty was put together, and declared Antarctica a place of peace and science to ensure that nuclear weapons weren’t placed in the continent. The Antarctic Treaty is focused on its protection, environmental protection, and therefore, extracting minerals and mining in the Antarctic was put on hold. From another perspective, the Arctic is ahead of the Antarctic in setting up a moratorium on commercial fisheries in the high sea areas of the Arctic. 

The very serious impacts that are now taking place in the entire Ocean should not be underestimated, as a result of climate change, the climate emergency and the biodiversity crisis. Decisions to protect large areas of the Antarctic have been blocked (by the US and Russia), but something must be done urgently as Arctic polar change and weather worsening are impacting and putting in danger the currents that feed the fish, for example.

On (un)safe waters

How do piracy, trafficking and military threats affect peace, the wellbeing of people and freedom of navigation? What are the major threatened areas? Are the multilateral approaches to deal with the safety of the Ocean being effective and coherent?

The debate was around piracy and trafficking of drugs and people, in some of the major areas of the globe where these phenomena are unravelling, namely the Malacca and other nearby straits, the Gulf of Guinea, and the Mediterranean. The regional and global collaboration of states and agencies to combat these threats has been debated, also in the framework of the need to secure freedom of navigation. 

What is changing in the Atlantic? Global geopolitical patterns with increased competition. The strategic lines of communication, be it commercial ones or underwater lines, are being increasingly challenged. There are at least two other aspects attached to increased competition for resources: one is an intensification of the claims about the areas of responsibility of coastal states, about continental shelves, which can trigger frontier disputes, another relates to illegal exploitation of resources belonging to states that cannot protect their own waters. Piracy is one of the biggest threats to the commercial flows, and the Gulf of Guinea has become by far the major worldwide focus of piracy, with 95% of the worldwide attacks in 2020 taking place there - just a few years ago the Gulf of Guinea represented less than half of worldwide attacks. On one hand, drug trafficking - which involves South America as a producer, Africa as a staging post, and Europe and North America as consumer markets -, and, on the other hand, the finance of terrorism in the Sahel are also major security preoccupations. Dynamics involving drug trafficking are extremely corrosive of state structures, with the risk of state capture by organised crime. Developments in space technology can help us to monitor, forecast, and develop appropriate humanitarian responses with the whole of the Atlantic in mind. 

Human trafficking, tobacco smuggling, and arms trafficking are important security challenges in the Mediterranean Sea. There is a business model behind it, and there are people that make money out of trying to bring people across the Mediterranean Sea. Tobacco smuggling also comes from East mafias. More dangerous than cigarettes are narcotics. Europe is a big consumer market of all types of narcotics, there are big profit marchands and a lot of people trying to smuggle it into the EU. Some of those narcotics are coming from South America and Africa to the EU through different routes. A typical hotspot, for example, is the border area between Morocco and Algeria, which is well-known for fast speed boats. The ongoing conflict in Libya, and the war in Syria, are types of conflicts that also generate arm trafficking, which is also common in the Mediterranean Sea route to the Black Sea, mainly to the Crimea region. 

Piracy is active in several straits. Due to the huge vigilance in the Malacca and Singapore Straits, piracy is now greater in the Celebes Sea, which is a tri-border area between Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. This region has been plagued with insecurity at the hands of terrorist organisations like Abu Sayyaf. The golden triangle, which has historically been an area for the production of opium, and cocaine, bordering Thailand, Laos and Myanmar, has now emerged as one of the global centres for synthetic drugs production. 

Other routes are now coming to global awareness, for example, the Mozambique Channel. The issues at the Mozambique Channel affect inland countries such as Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and many of the large cities, ports, and towns within the region that are linked to port cities in Mozambique. But the African States, its involvement, and participation are actually quite minimal. A very small number of islands in the Mozambique Channel also face potential border disputes (France, Madagascar and Mozambique) over sovereignty and resources, even if this issue lays dormant in this part of the world. A big problem facing this part of the Indian Ocean is increasing coordination and cooperation between the Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states but also bringing into the conversation, gas companies, for example. The weak and absent African countries’ navy is a crucial factor as well because even if a lot of suspicious traffic is picked up, it is very hard to deploy or intercept these kinds of operations. On another note, an increase of the population in coastal areas means that coastal resources are going under significant stress and more pressure is added by coastal migration, which could be caused by conflict over limited resources, further inland pushing people to the seas. The number of people seeking refuge for climate change reasons is increasing, as small islands like Seychelles and Mauritius are becoming very vulnerable. That increases the importance of partnerships, of applying lessons learned, of coordination and experience sharing, particularly between the EU and the African Union in terms of maritime safety, surveillance, and in terms of the blue economy. 

A Blue Economy beyond fish and minerals

Is the path of transition from marine resources economy to blue economy enough to spare the seas and the planet? Will the Ocean be a major source of biotech, renewable, clean energy solutions?

These issues were put into discussion, most of them in a very positive manner. As a matter of fact, new technologies have been developed, and new discoveries have been made, which allowed people to start looking at the Ocean as a huge source of clean energy solutions that could power the planet in the future. The same has been discussed about the seas as sources of major biological discoveries and biotech solutions for a lot of industries, including food and pharmacy. 

Industries based on the sea were, ten years ago, fisheries, with more than 1/3 of the total of 31 million employees and assistants in economics at sea and more than 1/3 of added value. This shows that the two most relevant economic activities in the economy of the sea, one in terms of total added value and the other in terms of employment, are two extractive industries, respectively, of fossil energy and of living resources. But projections are changing. Reports from the OECD point that, by 2030, many ocean-based industries will continue to maintain the potential of responding to the growth of the global economy as a whole, but that the fastest employment growth is expected to occur in offshore energy, in marine aquaculture, in fish processing, and in port activities. 

The perception of the environment and the economy not as opposites, but as allies, is happening. In this context, industry and production must be adapted to the commitments of this ecological pact, focusing on circular economy and the health of the Oceans. As for deep-sea mining, it does not exist now because of economic costs. In Portugal, biotechnology hubs would be interesting added-value industries, as well as those related to technologies and engineering, where there is great potential, as there are excellent researchers. However, there is a lack of relevant international links and cooperation, as oceanic sciences require heavy infrastructure and costs. Cooperation between nations needs to be sped up to promote a paradigm change and support the circular economy, the fight against climate change, the protection of the environment, all without demonising what are also the needs of the society.

The study of the interaction between the Ocean and the atmosphere is crucial and, in this regard, Azores and Madeira are two of the best places in the world to do that - e.g. with the establishment of a big Atlantic University. 

Portugal has good conditions to invest in blue bio-economy, with extraordinary waters with temperatures that are very suitable for producing, for example, algae, invest in marine agriculture, and in replacing plastics with biological products. Industries have the skills to transform garbage into resources, bet on the circular economy, on bioenergy, and on bio-industries. The sea is a hidden energy factory: the wave energy, the tidal ranges, the salinity differences, the geothermal gradients, the estimated potential of this energy varies between 20 to 80 thousand terawatt hours. Twenty thousand terawatt hours is the total consumption of electricity on the planet today, that is, the sea alone can provide up to 4 times this energy, but this energy has to work on the basis of the transformation of all production systems. 

COVID-19 taught a very important lesson, the only security for the life of the human species depends on biodiversity, which is being destroyed. The amphibian extinction rate is exponential, and the extinction of species is fast-growing: 1/3 of the world's reef corals, 1/3 of all freshwater molluscs, 1/3 of sharks and rays, 1/4 of mammals, 1/5 of reptiles, and 1/6 of birds. And so, the sixth mass extinction is not a mirage, it is occurring, and if biodiversity is allowed to die out at this rate, the human species will be part of the sixth extinction. 

Between 200 and 1000 meters deep in the Ocean, there is the mesopelagic layer, i.e. the twilight zone, and what is going on there is extraordinary. The first discovery is that the biological resources concentrated there are ten times larger than what was estimated. That is fundamental for the decarbonisation of the planet, for the reabsorption of carbon dioxide, and is critical for stability. The biggest migration of species takes place every day when the sun goes down. Billions of organisms that come to the surface eat the so-called sea mist, micro-organism debris, and everything in between, and this plays a key role in the planet's decarbonisation cycle. 25% of carbon dioxide is absorbed by the oceans, much more is absorbed by forests, about 40%, and this is vital. In the last 20 years, 800 thousand square kilometres of the Amazon forest were lost, which is crucial for the planet. 

People can fish sustainably, based on science and knowledge and not by disturbing the future life of ecosystems, but by giving them conditions of sustainability. 

The next Glasgow conference on climate will play a major role. The tragedy of the commons stems from a problem that economists know very well, which is that of the stowaways – free riders. In Glasgow, what is needed is a simple measure: to raise the price of carbon to $100 per ton. The US is responsible for 16% of the planet's CO2 emissions and China for 25%. Renewable energies like hydrogen are not a delusion, they are the solution for the future, but this solution has to come from the combination of several factors: oil and gas companies quickly diversifying their portfolios, therefore, not betting on assets that are more carbon-intensive, betting more on gas, betting more on renewable energies. These companies can also, if driven to it, develop the entire range of hydrogen. If it is produced from renewable energy sources, green hydrogen could be one of the great solutions of the future. Decarbonisation of the economy may not be just electrification, it may be electrification plus hydrogen, fuel cells plus batteries. 

Mapping the Ocean's ecosystems is vital, and economic or extractive activities cannot, in any way, disturb them. On-shore cobalt reserves in the world are 15 million tons, whilst in the Ocean, there are over 1000 million tons, and therefore, one cannot have the electrification of the car fleet in the world without access to these minerals. The other strategic minerals are rare earth and are indispensable for computers, cell phones, and communications, so there has to exist a way of extracting these materials without harming nature, and energy companies should be regarded and pushed to be allies and protagonists. In the circular economy, in the EU, each year, 4 billion tons of waste are produced. If that waste is recycled and treated, between 25 to 30% of the strategic metals and minerals can be recovered. But in any way, a process of the energy transition is always needed.

There are a lot of challenges right now with the Oceans: the acidification problem, seabed mining, waste. A circular economy offers an alternative economic system for these challenges. People can recycle a lot more, recover a lot more scarce products, put them back into the system, so there would be no need to extract so much. What is the relationship with the sea, then? Today, a lot of important economic materials are scarce on land, and not available in all countries, which leads to large seabed mining. So, the researchers are exploring a part of the Ocean where little is known yet. Today, there is also a movement for a 10-year moratorium (also pulled by Sustainable Ocean Alliance, which asks countries to stop this exploration to first understand the impacts of this and try to investigate how to recover these materials and intensify the research on bioplastics, to produce materials that are less harmful to the environment, that can biodegrade faster, that are compostable. 

The Ocean, Strategic Priority of Portugal at the UN

This session stressed the importance and the priorities given on the part of the Portuguese government to the Decade of Ocean Science, moving from a vision in which Ocean exploration is essentially based on resource extraction to something much more complex, comprising various economic activities that require more sophisticated types of governance, which go beyond the mere limitation of borders. From an environmental point of view, one is also witnessing a transformation in the understanding of the importance and fragility of the Ocean and marine resources, and therefore the need to protect them, for present and future generations, supporting the Intergovernmental Conference for the Elaboration of a Treaty for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biodiversity. The United Nations adopted, in 2015, the 2030 Agenda, with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), among which the SDG 14 on Oceans, Seas and Marine Resources. The Ocean has to be preserved to guarantee the very survival of the planet and humankind. The use of the Ocean and marine resources should be regarded as a mechanism of development, to safeguard conservation and sustainable use, by setting precise and measurable targets, including them within the SDG 14. Portugal is now mobilising, together with Kenya, the Second Edition of the United Nations Ocean Conference, that will take place, if sanitary conditions allow it, in 2022, in Lisbon.

Ocean’s Research Priorities

The session was about the Portuguese interest in the Ocean as a major source of research, which is seen by the increasing number of experts and projects presented, some of them being already in development. One of the interesting statements that have been made was the fact that the government strategy is very sensitive to suggestions given by the experts’ community.

Portugal invested around 0.4% of the wealth generated in research in the 90s. Today, it is estimated that these values are around 1.6% of GDP. Whereas 30 years ago, roughly 75% of the research was financed and carried out in the public sector, today, around 53% of research is carried out in the private sector, together with three large associated laboratories. A package of around 272 million Euros is set for the training of young people and adults on sea matters, to build a new generation of experts on aquaculture, Oceans, and climate. The role of governments is to provide the incentives in close articulation with scientists and, when necessary, with the economic sectors, as these are the ones that define priorities.

The Ocean we need for the future we want

Millennials from different geographies debated on these issues, as well as on public, multilateral, societal policies, and personal behaviours. All the major Ocean geographies were represented by young experts that dealt with the preservation of the biosphere, the Arctic, safe seas and blue economy, having all of them stressed the importance to put the Ocean at the forefront of public concerns and raising the political priorities that are (not so much) given by national authorities. 

In this panel, it was noted the increasing awareness among younger people of the problems related to the rise of Ocean temperatures, the invasion of plastics in food chains and the importance to push for more effective national and global policies and projects to protect the health of the seas. 

Civil society has a big role in the climate movement, and that has been fantastic to see, but often the Ocean has been lacking in those discussions. Rise Up is a common agenda that outlines 29 priority actions that would contribute to a healthy Ocean,  bringing civil society’s voice to the floor. Over 450 organisations have signed on and support this programme to reach out to decision-makers to impact change. Decision-makers have to bring youth to the table, not as a token, not as a pat on the head, but as a real stakeholder, because youth have the most to lose from the environmental crisis, and the most to gain from action. 

People being absent from politics has led to a lack of understanding of policymaking. Young people cannot wait for long term impacts. There is a point of urgency, people need to change in the short term. What is being seen is that we have education and awareness, and the changes in behaviour have been very slow and with very little impact. Policymaking can have a huge impact on up to 30 million people in a short-term span. Awareness and education get the right people to contact the right authorities. And also, policy needs to come with a campaign of awareness that also looks to change common sense, common knowledge, even ancestral traditions, one that can touch the hearts of people. Indigenous people's experiences are crucial but these also need to be regulated, because even if most of their practices are good for the planet, there can be some that are still harmful. For example, some indigenous communities in Peru still eat marine sea turtles. Education is vital, but policy needs to come with those facts, and there is a need to look into alternatives. 

Policy has a central role, as well as civil society. Balancing the economic interest and the environment is critical and the role of the government is to consider the long-term consequences because business sectors tend to only see the short-term profit. There is a good momentum now towards the “net-zero” by 2050. 

Civil society has an important role in dealing with the people and policy, but also to link with academia and think tanks. In Malaysia, NGOs and think tanks from Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines have worked together on discussing what are the common interests and what should be the best advice for governments in regard to conducting negotiations. The greatest challenge to politics is to balance the economic and the environmental interests, because, for instance, banning plastic or the full use of plastic, would confront a very significant part of businesses. Interests and profits could deteriorate, and that would certainly influence the government incomes from taxes. Overlapping maritime claims is a very serious problem: in the Philippines' coastal communities, a lot of fishermen are losing or feeling threatened by warships that go to the region, reminding the importance of cooperation in tackling the Ocean’s issues, with the UN leading the way.

When it comes to awareness of the people concerning the Ocean, there is a knowledge gap between coastal communities, society, and academics. It cannot be achieved without everyone being aware of their responsibilities. Political leaders want to see the real effect happening, they want to see the impact. It is important to create a platform in which every nation could implement what is trying to be enforced within the Ocean, to try and create an environment where all can implement what has been decided. 

Closing Session

In the closing session, it was stressed that most coral reefs will be lost if the sea temperature rises 2 degrees Celsius. Coral reefs are home to 30% of marine life, they are the bunkers of marine biodiversity and it is an understatement to say their loss will have major consequences for the health of the Ocean. The transformative action to which all are called on is that of moving to a net-zero economy by 2050. Science established that this is the destination to reach, one in which there is no more carbon dioxide to be removed from the atmosphere. The Ocean's health is currently in decline. The chief cause of that decline is the burgeoning levels of anthropogenic greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere, which are then absorbed into the Ocean causing acidification, deoxygenation, and warming. Just now, Ocean acidification is mainly caused by carbon dioxide gas in the atmosphere which is absorbed into the Ocean. This leads to a lowering of the water's pH making it more acidic and life conditions increasingly difficult for calcium carbonate-based life forms, such as shellfish corals. Deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas for the human industry are other causes of Ocean acidification. Developing a sustainable blue economy will mitigate climate change, create massive employment in blue-green industries and provide the medicines and the healthy nutrition needed for a secure future. The answer is a massive intensification of science, planning and finance. The COP26 in Glasgow should be where firm evidence of a strong move away from fossil fuels and major commitments towards new patterns of production and consumption is established. 


The Conference had 1167 online viewers in Portugal and other 40 countries around the globe. It was streamed through Zoom and Youtube. From the registries in Zoom around 39% of the viewers were between the ages of 18 and 35 and 56% of the total viewers were female. One week after the event, the Club of Lisbon social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Youtube) registered a total of 336 000 interactions and a reach (only on Instagram and Youtube) of around 218 000 people. 

The conference had 30 speakers and 7 moderators of 16 diverse nationalities – researchers, decision-makers,  managers, members of multilateral organisations and of the military and security spheres, and activists of civil society. 

The event was organised by the Club of Lisbon in partnership with the Oceano Azul Foundation, the Portuguese Hydrographic Institute and the Sustainable Ocean Alliance. It had the collaboration of the European Maritime Safety Agency and the support of the Lisbon Municipality and the Institute Marquês de Valle Flôr. It was held with the cooperation of the Embassy of Japan in Portugal

More information:


Bios of Participants 


Content: Fernando Jorge Cardoso

Design: Marília Ferreira da Cunha

Photo: Shutterstock

Promotional video: Âmago