At the end of the month, world leaders, young people, entrepreneurs and civil society will gather in Lisbon, Portugal, for the second United Nations Ocean Conference, to mobilize action and launch innovative solutions based on Science.

Co-hosted by Portugal and Kenya, the event will be a platform to effectively address the challenges currently facing the ocean.

Ambassador Ana Paula Zacarias, Permanent Representative of Portugal to the UN, and Ambassador Martin Kimani, Permanent Representative of Kenya to the UN, share a passion for the ocean and the mission to ensure conservation and the sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development for all.

Before heading to Portugal, they spoke with UN News in New York to talk about the Conference and what the event – ​​and its outcomes – mean for their countries and the world.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

UN News: What does the UN Ocean Conference mean to Kenya and Portugal – and what are the main expectations of it?

Ana Paula Zacarias: This is a fundamental conference for Portugal. The ocean is very much linked to our history, our culture, our physical landscape, our economy. There is also a link with our commitment to strengthen multilateralism and to move forward on the Ocean agenda, as well as on issues related to climate change.

We hope to have around 12,000 participants from all over the world. And we have already received confirmation from 15 Heads of State and Government, as well as many non-governmental organizations, civil society actors, academics, youth organizations and local communities. Even some celebrities – [US climate envoy] John Kerry, and famed Aquaman, [actor and environmentalist] Jason Momoa will be in Lisbon, which is especially important to give voice young people.

Martin Kimani : The Conference indeed represents an important opportunity and responsibility. An opportunity for sustainable economic development, improved food security and jobs for young people around the world. And a responsibility because we must ensure that the oceans are protected from pollution and the effects of climate change. As co-hosts, Kenya and Portugal want a bold and positive global ocean agenda to emerge from the conference.

There is growing recognition that we need to reverse the decline in ocean health and achieve Sustainable Development Goal 14. To build on this, Kenya and Portugal, together with the United Nations, are laying the groundwork for decisions that will scale up ocean action based on science and innovation. Boat builders on the south coast of Haiti.© Unsplash/Caleb GeorgeBoat builders on the south coast of Haiti.

UN News: Oceans are providers – Kenya’s rural coastal population mainly engages in fishing and farming for their livelihoods; and Portugal with its long coastline also has a strong and fruitful relationship with the ocean. How can we ensure that we protect coastal communities and their livelihoods?

Martin Kimani : Kenya’s coastline is endowed with rich natural resources that include mangrove forests, coral reefs, upland forests, sandy beaches and seagrass beds. These generate great biodiversity and productive waters which, in turn, support economies and livelihoods.

Working closely with coastal communities, the government has prioritized improving the well-being of coastal communities in terms of economic opportunity, social protection, resilience to natural disasters and the impact of climate change, and reducing the risk of overexploitation and risky methods of using ocean resources.

For example, the Mikoko Pamoja project, which means “mangroves together” in Kiswahili, is a community-based blue carbon credit project in Kwale County on the southern coast of Kenya. With technical support from the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) and other partners, coastal communities are working to replant, manage and restore degraded mangroves, which have been proven to fight climate change through carbon capture and storage.

Mikoko Pamoja has been trading mangrove carbon credits since 2013. The revenue generated is used to support community projects in water and sanitation, education and environmental conservation.

In concrete terms, this means that local people are empowered to make democratic decisions on spending and investments, such as the purchase of new school books, furniture and the provision of water points. At least 73% of the 6,000 inhabitants of the villages of Gazi and Makongeni depend on the water points provided by the project.

And this innovative carbon offset project is now being replicated and scaled up in nearby Vanga mangroves in Kwale County and other mangrove areas in Africa.

Ana Paula Zacarias : This [project] highlights a fundamental question at the center of this Conference. We need to show and prove with data that there is a link between the oceans and the climate, especially since these two elements are fundamental to what we want to achieve with local communities, who often feel threatened by the situation. combination of climate change and sea level rise. Their involvement in the search for solutions is essential.

And these solutions must be sustainable and consider their livelihoods. We need to establish a strong dialogue with stakeholders but also with local and regional governments, because they also have a say in what we can do. That’s why we are organizing a special event during the conference. This event, Localizing Action for the Ocean: Local and Regional Governments, focuses on how we can engage with local communities, contribute their knowledge and discuss with they are ways to become more sustainable, to have more sustainable fishing and more sustainable coastal tourism.Coastal and marine ecosystems provide food, livelihoods and coastal protection to over a billion people around the world.Photo: UNCTADCoastal and marine ecosystems provide food, livelihoods and coastal protection to more than a billion people around the world.

UN News: How are your countries working towards a blue economy, and how will the Conference contribute to this goal?

Ana Paula Zacarias : The oceans are fundamental for life on Earth, they are providers of food, but also of so many other important elements of our life. We can use the oceans for pleasure, for tourism, for sport, for shipping, and there are so many ways the oceans are providers of sustainability for community life.

I really hope this conference will stimulate that. We will hold an interactive dialogue on sustainable blue economy – when we talk about sustainable blue economy, we have to think about fisheries, biodiversity, as well as all the wealth that lies at the bottom of the sea.

The ocean offers immense wealth that we can all benefit from, but we must be very careful not to interfere with delicate ecosystems. We need to consider pollution issues and make sure that we receive all this wealth with open hands, and at the same time we provide all the care the oceans need.

Martin Kimani : Kenya has prioritized the sustainable use of ocean resources and the blue economy as a catalyst for our Vision 2030. [Kenya is] an emerging economic frontier, and the blue economy should contribute to our economic development through food and nutrition security, coastal and rural development and incomes along aquatic value chains, maritime transport and tourism.

In addition to national efforts, Kenya remains a willing partner with the regional and international community to develop a common position on how to address ocean-related threats and challenges. Two-thirds of the world’s waters are found in areas beyond the national jurisdiction of exclusive economic zones [EEZs]. This, of course, requires that we all work together to coordinate knowledge and data sharing and financing for development. The Seychelles decided in March 2020 to protect 30% of the marine environment.ICS/Craig NisbetSeychelles decided in March 2020 to protect 30% of the marine environment.

UN News: The role of youth will be central in Lisbon, with young entrepreneurs working on innovative, science-based solutions to critical issues an important part of the dialogue. How do you see the participation and involvement of young people in safeguarding our oceans?

Martin Kimani  : Recognizing the role of young people, we will also organize the Youth Ocean Forum, a special event on the sidelines of the Conference that will provide a platform for ocean action and the implementation of youth-led solutions at scale to meet SDG14. We need to provide a space for young people to participate in and contribute to the growing blue economy sector.

Unemployment, especially along Kenya’s coasts, predisposes young people to crime, drugs and radicalization into violent extremism conducive to terrorism.

Beach Management Units (BMUs), which work at the community level by recruiting young people with formal and informal education, provide them with conservation training and create modest social enterprise opportunities and stable incomes in aquaculture .

The Government of Kenya is also committed to educating and motivating young people in the maritime domain to enhance the commercial benefits of ocean resources.

Ana Paula Zacarias : We have seen the relevance of youth participation in everything related to climate action. I think the younger generation understands very well the challenge this represents for their life, for their future and for the lives of their children.

It is therefore absolutely fundamental to also involve young people in the conversation on the sustainable use of the oceans. And as Ambassador Kimani mentioned, the Youth Forum will be used as a forum for innovation, where we aim to bring together all young people from different fields of knowledge and action and empower them to think innovative way about the oceans and their relevance.

It’s really, really important [to have] young entrepreneurs and young climate and ocean activists. They can make a huge contribution to this agenda. Thus, we hope that through their involvement in this forum, they can provide solutions that can be used not only by governments, but also at the UN level. Ambassadors Ana Paula Zacarias from Portugal and Martin Kimani from Kenya, co-organizers of the United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon.UN Photo/Mark GartenAmbassadors Ana Paula Zacarias of Portugal and Martin Kimani of Kenya, co-organizers of the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon.

UN News: This year’s Conference will also set the level of ambition for the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. What are the next steps, to ensure that we continue to work for a healthy ocean, after Lisbon?

Martin Kimani : Science tells us that the oceans are essential for the future of humanity and that human activities are the greatest threat to the well-being of the oceans. We continue to put ocean systems under immense stress that jeopardizes the vast opportunities and potential of ocean resources that we often refer to.

Nations must commit to an urgent global mechanism and a time-bound implementation framework backed by scientific evidence that would compel countries to strike a balance between conservation and exploitation by holding them accountable for their actions .

We also need investment in scientific research that contributes to global food and nutrition security, maritime spatial planning and climate change management.

As I said, the Ocean Conference will assess our level of ambition to bring about transformative change. The world badly needs good news to offer hope to people struggling under the burden of a pandemic, wars and the effects of climate change. They must see our meeting in Lisbon as a torch illuminating the way to effective and impactful multilateral action. We will do everything we can, as Kenya, to make that happen.

Ana Paula Zacarias : It is indeed, for us and for our friends in Kenya, a major undertaking as we host this Conference. At a time when the tide is rising, as we are often reminded, it is time to talk about the oceans and to talk about all these elements in the context of climate, sustainable development, migration and security.

For example, when we look at the situation in several Pacific islands, we see the hardships people are facing and the possibilities of increased conflict due to the challenges they face having fewer resources.

This Conference is the second major event organized on this subject, and we hope that there will be at least another one, and a third conference should be organized within the framework of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science.

Also, as part of the negotiations on climate change and biodiversity, the [UN climate conference] and the biodiversity convention will meet now, so we need to bring all of these together and be able to continue to work not in silos but in a holistic approach so that all these agendas can work at the same time. It is fundamental if we want to have a better world, a safer world, a more sustainable world for future generations.

“We must together provide the oceans with the care they need” – Kababashir