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Ministers call for collective ocean action ahead of COP29

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Deputy Minister of Shipping Marina Hadjimanolis

Delegates attending the inaugural Commonwealth Ocean Ministers Meeting in Cyprus on April 19 have committed to advancing their discussions at upcoming global summits, according to a statement released on Monday.

According to the statement, delegates have reached a consensus on leading ocean protection and management initiatives under the Commonwealth Blue Charter and a proposed Commonwealth Ocean Declaration.

This declaration, anticipated to be adopted at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Samoa in October, will for the first time outline their collective priorities and collaborative actions for sustainable ocean governance. Notably, CHOGM will precede the UN Climate Summit, COP29, scheduled for November in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Under the theme ‘Our Resilient Common Ocean: From Cyprus to Samoa,’ representatives from 28 countries and 12 observer organisations participated in the meeting. This event marked the sixth anniversary of the adoption of the Blue Charter—a commitment by Commonwealth countries to collaborate on oceanic issues and promote ocean safeguarding.

During the opening session, Commonwealth Secretary-General, The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC, emphasised the critical need for collective action and regional and global cooperation. She addressed the challenges Commonwealth members face in managing the ocean, including climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution.

The Secretary-General highlighted the urgency of the situation, saying that “all of us here know how urgent our task is. We know that there can be no healthy planet without a healthy ocean. It gives us the air we breathe. It provides us with food, income, culture, and spiritual nourishment – the tools we need to survive. It is a critical pillar of climate stability.”

She continued, “It is the most precious, life-giving – yet undervalued, under-researched and recklessly exploited – natural wonder of our planet. The pressure human actions are putting on the ocean have brought us to the brink. Its current stress levels are unprecedented and impossible to sustain.”

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Adding to the dialogue, Maria Panayiotou, co-chair of the meeting and Minister of Agriculture, and Cypriot Deputy Minister of Shipping Marina Hadjimanolis, both highlighted the significance of the oceans to Cyprus, an island maritime state. They stressed the vital need to intensify conservation efforts for marine ecosystems and marine life preservation.

Ambassador Peter Thomson, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, noted the logical extension of the Commonwealth’s role in oceanic leadership, given that 49 of its 56 member countries are bordered or surrounded by the ocean.

He remarked on the progress since the adoption of the Blue Charter, stating, “The Commonwealth Blue Charter, with its shared principles and priorities, can justly take much credit for this progress.”

Significant developments emerged from the meeting. The UK Government and the Commonwealth Secretariat announced a new project aimed at supporting the swift ratification of the UN Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) Agreement by Commonwealth countries. This initiative seeks to enhance marine biodiversity conservation in areas beyond national jurisdiction and provide technical support, particularly to countries in the Global South.

Furthermore, the Commonwealth, the Cypriot Deputy Minister, and the Cyprus Marine and Maritime Institute (CMMI) signed a three-year memorandum of understanding (MoU) to establish a Blue Charter Centre of Excellence. This centre will focus on creating policies to aid Commonwealth and other island and coastal countries in managing, protecting, and restoring marine and coastal ecosystems, preventing and eliminating marine pollution, and sustainably using living marine resources.

Additional collaborative efforts included Trinidad and Tobago stepping forward to co-lead the Blue Charter Action Group on Mangrove ecosystems and livelihoods with Sri Lanka. A Blue Charter Ministerial Steering Committee to oversee the strategic direction of Commonwealth ocean programs was also established. Ministers and delegates agreed to set up a Commonwealth Working Group on Sustainable Ocean Finance, recognizing the urgent need to address the minimal funding currently allocated to Sustainable Development Goal 14 – Life Below Water.

To promote inclusivity, the Commonwealth Secretariat launched a toolkit titled Turning the Tides of Inclusion: A Toolkit for Gender Equality in Ocean Sectors. This toolkit is designed for policymakers, organizations, and individuals to foster gender-responsive practices in marine conservation and restoration, ocean science, fisheries, maritime transportation, and tourism, thereby unlocking the full potential of sustainable blue economies.

The meeting concluded with updates from the Commonwealth Secretariat on its ocean activities, including progress on the Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Groups, the Blue Charter Project Incubator, training and capacity building, and bilateral technical assistance programs for sustainable ocean governance and maritime boundary delimitation. A roundtable event hosted by ORRAA—the Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance—focused on accessing international funding for ocean initiatives, including blended finance strategies for sustainable blue economy projects.

Lastly, at a side event co-hosted by the Government of Samoa, the Waitt Institute, National Geographic Pristine Seas, Dynamic Planet, and the Commonwealth Secretariat committed to supporting Commonwealth members in their goals to protect at least 30 per cent of the ocean by 2030, aligning with the Global Biodiversity Framework. The next Commonwealth Ocean Ministers Meeting will be hosted by Kenya, continuing the dialogue and collaborative efforts in ocean conservation.

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