Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.
A very good morning to you all.
I express my sincere appreciation for convening this important briefing. The significance of being counted among the world’s ‘Blue Leaders’ is not lost on me. We represent countries blessed by the Ocean’s beauty and natural bounty. We rely on the Ocean for our sustenance and livelihoods. Our citizens are the most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, and rising sea-levels.
It was exactly four years ago this month, the world agreed to adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and to pursue the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 14 – Life Below Water is one of the most important to the Maldives, given that 99% of our national territory is ocean.
The Ocean is the planet’s largest biosphere, and home to over 80% of life on Earth. It is also the largest carbon sink on the planet. Protecting it is vital.
Today the Ocean is being threatened, due to several reasons, including: population growth, over-exploitation, pollution, plastic litter, and most importantly, climate change.
As global warming, and other environmental problems, bear down upon us, we must step up our efforts to transition to sustainable, blue economies. This is a key priority of my Government.
We aim to build climate smart and resilient islands, significantly strengthen our Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement, rapidly switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and move to low carbon transport. Just last week, I nominated two entire atolls as UNESCO biosphere reserves. If endorsed, three of the Maldives’ twenty atolls will be designated biosphere reserves.
Tackling the climate crisis and limiting global heating to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, in line with the Paris Agreement, is essential for averting ecological disaster in the global ocean. All States must commit to more ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in 2020 to ensure the faster, deeper emissions cuts needed to keep to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Moreover, this afternoon, the Maldives will sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Blue Prosperity Coalition, to undertake a comprehensive Marine Spatial Planning exercise across our nation. Guided by science, in the coming years we aim to fully protect at least 20% of our ocean, in order to boost fish stocks, enhance marine life, and safeguard peoples’ livelihoods.
I call upon the Governments to commit to fully or highly protecting at least 30% of the ocean by 2030 and take steps to ensure the remaining 70% is sustainably managed. This updated, more ambitious goal should be agreed at the 2020 UN Biodiversity Conference in Kunming where new targets to protect life on Earth will be agreed.
I also call upon the Governments to support the conclusion in 2020 of a robust new international agreement for the conservation and management of the high seas that provides for the creation of fully protected Marine Protected Areas and robust assessment and management of human activities on the high seas to prevent significant adverse effects.
Further, my administration remains committed to combatting plastic pollution. For the Maldives, the proliferation of plastic litter in our ocean risks damaging our marine biodiversity, destroying our coral reefs and ruining our country’s natural beauty. That is why my administration will soon begin implementing measures to phase out single-use plastics, including most single-use bottles and bags, by 2023. We urge our international friends to do the same.
In the Maldives, the words “blue economy” are almost redundant. The ocean is the economy. We are making these investments in its future, to protect it as an inheritance and a birthright for future generations.
Before I conclude, I would like to take a moment to reflect on the primary victims of inaction on climate change – the youth, many of whom have been participating in climate strikes around the world. My delegation in New York, for the first time, includes a youth delegate who will participate in UN meetings on climate change and other important issues. It is young people who are most at risk of inheriting an uninhabitable planet. We owe it to them to take urgent action to combat climate change and environmental degradation.