Norway hosts ocean conference
World leaders and experts convene at Our Ocean 2019
M. Micharl Brady
Our oceans nurture life on earth, providing food, energy, communication pathways, and jobs. But the oceans are threatened by climate change, pollution, over fishing, and diversity degradation. Accordingly, in 2014, the U.S. Department of State implemented a diplomacy-in-action incentive that created the two-day Our Ocean Conference to seek remedies for the maladies affecting the oceans. The first Our Ocean Conference was held that year in Washington, D.C. It was so successful that at its end, then-Secretary of State John Kerry outlined an action plan for future annual conferences. Since then, conferences have been held in Chile in 2015, Washington, D.C., again in 2016, Malta in 2017, Bali in 2018, and now Oslo in 2019.
The tone of the Our Ocean 2019 Conference was set by three high-level Norwegian participants, in the order of their presentations in the program: Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide, Prime Minister Erna Solberg, and Crown Prince Haakon. Opening the conference on Oct. 23, Søreide placed it in the overall scheme of things by observing that its intent was to bring about action. That goal was to be accomplished through six areas of action: marine protected areas, marine pollution, climate change, a sustainable blue economy, sustainable fisheries, and maritime security. The hope is that action may soon be evident round the globe, as around 100 countries were represented at the conference.
Solberg observed that having grown up by the sea in Bergen, in a country that relies on the oceans for two-thirds of its export revenues, she knew that one cannot choose between ocean protection and ocean productivity, as both are essential. Accordingly, she convened the high-level panel for a sustainable ocean economy together with Palau’s President Tommy Remengesau. She went on to identify the spectrum of challenges faced, reflecting that the relevant remedies depended mostly on political will.
On the second day, Oct. 24, Crown Prince Haakon summed up the spirit and structure of the conference. He began by observing that we humans have an evolutionary bond to the ocean, as a few hundred thousand years ago, our ancestors crawled up from water onto dry soil. So our genetic heritage dictates that taking care of the oceans amounts to taking care of ourselves. In front of a photo of himself and his family in water, dressed for surfing, he continued with the personal anecdote that like many other Norwegians, for summertime recreation, they seek out water sports. He then summarized the reasons why the ocean today is not in good health and discussed the ongoing incentives for its betterment, including the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals and the World Resources Institute report, “The Ocean as a Solution to Climate Change.”
The conference was in step with the mood of the day, in part by including a short speech by Penelope Lea, a Norwegian teenage activist, who like Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg, passionately appeals for stronger environmental action. The conference also reflected the trend of preserving historical buildings in the city. Its venue was the Carlton Hotel The Hub, originally the Hotel Viking built for the 1952 Olympic Winter Games in Oslo
This article originally appeared in the November 15, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.