Speech by Steffi Lemke at the UN Ocean Conference

Bundesministerin Steffi Lemke
The protection of the seas is of outstanding importance for the federal government. The goal is to keep the seas healthy. This is the only way that resources can continue to be used in an environmentally friendly manner.

Side Event: Ocean Governance - From scientific information through political commitments to effective management and action

– Check against delivery –

Ladies and gentlemen,

our oceans, which are the largest ecosystems in the world, are under extreme pressure. We use them as trade routes, a source of food, a link between continents and, unfortunately, far too often as a rubbish bin for plastic waste and harmful substances – and we expect our oceans to endure. These activities endanger the many important functions our oceans perform – as a habitat for vast numbers of animals and plants, an important source of food and a climate regulator.

Protecting our oceans is an issue of paramount importance to me personally and to the German government. Our goal is to keep the oceans healthy. This is not an end in itself. It also serves the common good, because this is the only way we can continue to use the oceans’ resources while respecting the environment and nature.

This is why I have called on the German government to launch a Marine Protection Initiative. If we want to improve the state of the oceans, marine conservation and protection in Germany must adopt a more cross-sectoral, integrated approach. Activities like fishing, shipping and energy production on the one hand and conservation measures on the other mutually affect one other. It is neither useful nor efficient to view them in isolation. For this reason, Germany’s initiative will include a binding, comprehensive marine strategy that pools national measures and reflects our global responsibility. In the future, German marine policy will be overseen by a marine policy coordinator.

At international level, we will continue to advocate for an ambitious global ocean policy. We want to support and further advance the processes that have already begun.

Three issues are particularly important to me:

Firstly: protecting biodiversity. Together with our international partners, we are working to conclude the UN negotiations for an agreement on marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, if possible at the next round in August. This would be the first time that an agreement would be reached on universal standards, rules and processes to protect the high seas.

In addition, we continue to strongly advocate for new marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean, specifically in the Weddell Sea and East Antarctica. There is still some work to be done to convince the sceptics.

Secondly: potential deep-sea mining. The hunger for raw materials does not stop at the deep sea. The German government’s position on this issue is clear. Due to the considerable gaps in knowledge, we do not yet see a sound basis for mining raw materials in the deep sea. At the same time, however, we remain committed to negotiating effective exploitation regulations. If deep-sea mining does proceed, there must be strict and binding environmental requirements. And Germany will continue to conduct research to establish the necessary knowledge base.

Thirdly: pollution caused by plastic waste. UNEA took a groundbreaking step in March this year by adopting a mandate for a legally binding UN agreement to combat plastic pollution in the environment and oceans. It is important that the international community now translates this success into action. This is why I am personally supporting the preparations for the formal negotiation process that are already underway, so that a legally binding agreement to combat unnecessary, harmful plastic and plastic waste can be quickly introduced.

Given the large number of processes and measures to protect the oceans, it is essential to ensure that the measures are consistent with goals and effective in the long term. An important component in these efforts is research. We already have a wealth of scientific knowledge on the oceans – certainly enough to take immediate action. But we still have a long way to go before we fully understand the complex system of the oceans.

For example, we do not know enough about the cumulative effects of human activities on marine ecosystems in the long term. The link between the triple environmental crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution in the ocean has also not yet been sufficiently researched. One thing that will help us move forward is the construction of a state-of-the-art German research icebreaker, the Polarstern II. Germany has a long tradition of conducting outstanding marine research. This research serves as an indispensable basis for policy strategies and legislation. Research capacities must be further expanded and the transfer of marine technology ensured. “The science we need for the ocean we want.” This vision of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development is our guiding principle for reversing the current deterioration of the oceans.

A second component for effective action is strong ocean governance. We also need the integrated approach of the German Marine Protection Initiative and marine strategy internationally, so that marine conservation and protection is coherent and not fragmented, pursued only as a side issue in various organisations and conventions. The BBNJ agreement can take us a big step forward here.

This brings us full circle to the UN Ocean Conference. We can only achieve our goals through active and goal-oriented cooperation between policymakers, the scientific community and social groups. This side event today is a good example of how this cooperation can succeed.

Thank you very much.

30.06.2022 | Speech Marine Conservation

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