We live on a blue planet, with oceans and seas covering over 70% of the Earth's surface. The oceans feed us, regulate our climate, and generate most of the oxygen we breathe.
But growing threats such as marine pollution, rising sea levels and overfishing damage these aspects of our lives and undermine the human rights attached to them. Research from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) shows, for example, that plastic pollution leaks into aquatic ecosystems have increased sharply in recent years and are expected to more than double by 2030.
In October 2021, the United Nations Human Rights Council recognized for the first time that a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a human right - a historic step in the fight against the triple global crisis of climate change, loss of nature and biodiversity, pollution and waste.
In this celebration of Human Rights Day, which took place on December 10, UNEP Marine and Freshwater Branch Chief Leticia Carvalho outlines five reasons why a clean and healthy ocean is important for the fulfillment of human rights obligations related to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
1. The ocean is our life support system
One-third of the total human population, or nearly 2.4 billion people, live within 100 km (60 miles) of an ocean coast, and all human life depends on oxygen and fresh water. 'she creates.
Many societies - but not all - have access to water, for drinking, sanitation and irrigation. For the vast majority of them, it is normal that they take for granted. In 2010, the UN enshrined water as a human right. Without our ocean to fuel the planet's water cycle and create fresh, breathable air, we wouldn't exist.
2. The ocean provides food, jobs and livelihoods
The annual economic value of the ocean is estimated at US $ 2.5 trillion, equivalent to the 7th largest economy in the world. It provides food, medicine, and renewable mineral and energy resources. It supports jobs in fishing, recreation and science. Our ocean is the original “super-highway”, which links economies together and transports goods and people around the world.
Find out how UNEP is helping decarbonize this economy.
3. The ocean helps fight the climate crisis
The ocean moderates the climate and influences our weather. Since the start of the industrial era, it has stored over 90% of the heat from human-caused climate change and a third of global carbon emissions. Vital ecosystems such as mangroves, seagrass beds and salt marshes could help us store more than 1.4 billion tonnes of carbon emissions per year by 2050 if protected and restored.
4. The ocean is home to a vast biodiversity
According to the Convention on Biological Diversity, deep sea populations alone are home to between 500,000 and 10 million species. But it's hard to know for sure, as about 80% of the ocean remains unexplored and 91% of marine species remain undescribed. What we do know is that we are continually making new discoveries.
In 2020, scientists discovered a detached coral skyscraper 500 meters taller than the Empire State Building off the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Valuable and vulnerable coral reef ecosystems occupy less than 1% of the ocean floor, but are home to at least 25% of marine life. The ocean is home to vast mysteries, from the largest animal on the planet to microscopic organisms, which make up 98% of the ocean's biomass. These microbes are essential for the food chain, for the production of nutrients for the land and sea, and for the health of all animals and humans. In this Decade of Ocean Science, it is time to prioritize understanding and caring for our ocean so that it can take care of us.
5. The ocean brings benefits to the well-being of all mankind
Most cultures on Earth have celebrated, valued and sometimes feared the ocean. It provided myths and legends, and inspiration for art, music, and games. For example, UNEP is working with the video game industry to raise awareness in the oceans.
In our leisure time, many of us enjoy beaches and activities such as swimming, surfing, sailing and diving, or just the peace of mind that comes from being near the water. The United Nations Happiness Day recognizes happiness as a fundamental human goal.
And in this quest for the rights to safe water, health, livelihoods and a clean environment, the ocean has a fundamental role to play.