The Environment

Looking Ahead to the United Nations Ocean Conference

June 24, 2022  • Taylor Goelz

Later this week, I’ll be heading to Lisbon, Portugal as part of a team representing the Aspen Institute Energy and Environment Program (EEP) at the United Nations Ocean Conference (UNOC). Co-hosted by the Governments of Kenya and in Portugal, this conference was originally scheduled for summer 2020, and is finally taking place at the tail end of World Ocean Month 2022 and after a two year COVID 19-induced delay. 

This is only the second time that the United Nations has hosted the Ocean Conference, and the organizers are acknowledging the drastically different place the world is in since the first conference in 2017 and especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. On the website, the organizers address that this conference and focus on the ocean in particular “comes at a critical time as the world is seeking to address many of the deep-rooted problems of our societies…which will require major structural transformations and common shared solutions.” 

Our work at EEP, especially our shipping decarbonization work, is honing in on the transformational power of the ocean – from launching Cargo Owners for Zero Emission Vessels (coZEV) where we’re working with climate-leading cargo owners to accelerate the shipping sector’s transition to zero emissions, to working with partners to establish a first-of-its-kind transpacific green shipping corridor on one of the world’s busiest container shipping routes between the ports of Los Angeles and Shanghai – and I’m excited to see how the conference executes a new vision for the ocean as a climate hero over the course of the week. 

Here are the top five things I’m looking forward to learning during UNOC:

1. Incorporating Shipping Decarbonization into the Agenda

While there were some conversations focused on the shipping sector during the first UNOC in 2017, I’m excited that in Lisbon the Aspen Shipping Decarbonization Initiative (Aspen SDI) team will join our partners to more broadly incorporate shipping decarbonization conversations throughout the UNOC agenda.

In addition to an official side event that Aspen SDI is co-organizing alongside the United Nations Foundation, United Nations Global Compact, UN Climate Change High-Level Champions, Global Maritime Forum and Ocean Conservancy entitled “Ocean-based climate solutions in action: from offshore renewable energy to a clean, resilient maritime sector”, the UNOC calendar is full of events focused on different aspects of shipping decarbonization, like creating actionable green shipping corridors and the economic opportunities of shipping decarbonization in Africa. 

The conversation around the shipping sector’s decarbonization has come a long way since 2017 (remember, the International Maritime Organization’s Initial Greenhouse Gas Strategy wasn’t released until 2018!), and I’m hoping UNOC will continue to move the conversation forward.  

2. Serving as a Mentor at the Youth and Innovation Forum

The weekend before UNOC starts, the Governments of Kenya and Portugal are partnering with the United Nations Global Compact Ocean Stewardship Coalition and Sustainable Ocean Alliance to host the UN Ocean Conference Youth and Innovation Forum. During the two-day event, hundreds of young people from around the world will have the opportunity to focus on youth-driven solutions that address Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 – Life Below Water

In particular, youth are invited to participate in an “Innovathon,” a 24-hour hackathon meant to allow young innovators to create and propose new ocean solutions related to one of five “Tipping Point” topics: Sustainable Seafood, Decarbonized Shipping, Ocean Renewable Energy, Mapping the Ocean, and End Waste Entering the Ocean. I’ll be one of the mentors for the Decarbonized Shipping “Tipping Point” to help youth explore how decarbonizing shipping can help achieve the SDG’s through increasing sustainable global trade. After working in the shipping space for a year and a half, I hope to impart some wisdom as these energized young people tackle decarbonizing this “hard-to-abate” sector and learn from them based on their insight of the shipping decarbonization challenge – we need all hands on deck to decarbonize this sector!

3. Breadth of Ocean Topics on the Agenda 

Beyond the shipping related events, the UNOC agenda boasts a wide variety of other important ocean topics from marine plastics and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing to regionally specific conversations regarding the development of Island blue economies or ocean conservation innovations in Chile. 

While my day-to-day focus on the EEP team is focused on shipping decarbonization, I really enjoy opportunities to “jump ship” and immerse myself in some of the other hot topics in the world of ocean conservation and ocean climate action. In particular, I’m hoping to attend as many sessions as possible about the next wave of ocean food. The increasing popularity of “smart blue foods” like those produced via aquaculture have the potential to address environmental and social sustainability concerns, and I’ll get to learn from the experts while in Lisbon. 

4. Moderating discussions for the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development

In a blog post I wrote for the Energy & Environment Program in honor of Earth Day 2021, I provided an overview of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (Ocean Decade) and in particular highlighted this “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the global environmental community to rethink how we live with, study, play in, utilize, and appreciate the ocean.” I’m really passionate about the approach and ideals of the Ocean Decade and it’s a topic I’ve been working on since I was a John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellow in 2020. 

Because of my history of work on the Ocean Decade, in particular the podcast I host entitled “The Ocean Decade Show”, I’ve been asked to moderate several conversations hosted by the Ocean Decade team at the UN’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC). In addition to the great discussions, I’m also looking forward to meeting the IOC team, many of whom I’ve been working with for over two years and have never met!     

5. Ambitious UNOC Commitments 

An important part of all global environmental conferences are the commitments made by governments, corporations and leaders from civil society to address the various ocean-relevant issues that affect their stakeholders or region. I’m hoping to see announcements centered around the UNOC’s eight thematic dialogues that, to borrow language from the Ocean Decade,  will help global society create “the ocean we want by 2030”, or at least be on the path to helping us get there. 

The UN Ocean Conference is set to be a celebration of all things ocean – from how we manage the most vulnerable ecosystems to how we can sustainably grow and invest in ocean “blue” economies. While I’ll be wearing many different hats in Lisbon, I’m looking forward to bringing EEP’s focus on ocean climate action and corporate partnership  to all the conversations I have about the role the ocean can play in addressing climate change. 

The opinions shared in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the Energy & Environment Program or the Aspen Institute.