Saving the Oceans by…listening to a panel?

Saving the Oceans by…listening to a panel?

By now, you may have seen blog posts from Mariah Gill, one of Yale F&ES’s “Ocean Angels,” about our efforts to help create a UN-based Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on oceans. I’m another member of the Angels. And while Mariah wrote about some of our more glamorous exploits — meeting UN ambassadors, witnessing the formation of coalitions over brunch — I’m here to talk about some of our more mundane (but no less important!) activities.

In early November, a conference was held at Yale, entitled “Rio+20 to 2015.” If that name doesn’t make a lot of sense to you, that’s understandable. Let me explain. In 1992, an important environmental conference took place in Rio de Janeiro. The full name for the conference is the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, but everyone just calls it the Rio Conference. Twenty years later a follow-up conference, called Rio+20, allowed environmentalists to come together to re-evaluate global environmental goals. The conference at Yale serves as a check-up: a year after Rio+20, where are we? And where will we be by 2015?

Now, you may be wondering what this has to do with the Ocean Angels and our mission: I was skeptical at first, too. On the first day of the conference, I reluctantly went to a panel on oceans, regretting the time not spent doing something more proactive. I listened to five panelists deliver rapid-fire presentations. Each speaker came from a very different organization and background:

• Ambassador Stuart Beck discussed international politics and stressed the importance of creating an oceans SDG
Valerie Hickey from the World Bank talked about financing ocean conservation, and stressed that even the World Bank’s resources aren’t big enough to protect the oceans
Elliott Harris, from the United Nations Environmental Programme, discussed how what we do on land, such as throwing away trash, can hurt the oceans
Lisa Suatoni of the Natural Resources Defense Council spoke about ocean acidification and the importance of sharing scientific knowledge
Kate Brown, of Global Islands Partnership (GLISPA), discussed coalition building and commitment creation among the many islands of the world

I soon realized the importance of the panel. What was amazing was that, despite the drastically different background of each speaker, and despite the stark differences in their organizations (for example, the World Bank has over 9,000 employees to GLISPA’s 1½!) — all five speakers reiterated similar themes. First, the oceans are in trouble. Without rapid action, we may not be able to save them. As Ambassador Beck put it, the international community has been making many “pin pricks” in ocean conservation. Now it’s time for something much, much bigger.

Secondly, all five panelists stressed the importance of coalition-building. No one group or one country, no matter how big or powerful, can protect the oceans. We need all types of people to help save the oceans: from scientists sharing data, to the funding and support of major investment organizations, to political support and coalitions — we need it all.

Instead of time wasted in an auditorium, the panel discussion represented an important step toward creating a common ground to talk about oceans. It helped get people from different organizations on the same page, and helped everyone realize that each group, while so different on paper, is working toward the same goals. The session served as an important platform for understanding and inspiration: Now we just need to turn that inspiration into action.

Angel out.