As an ocean advocate and someone eager to see change and commitment for the protection of our marine ecosystems, I was very excited to be invited to the Global Oceans Dialogue organized by UN Environment and the Government of Costa Rica from 6-9 of June in Puntarenas, Costa Rica. The two days before the dialogue, NGOs and active individuals were invited to participate in the Annual Regional Consultative Meeting of the Latin American and Caribbean Civil Society in preparation for the third session of UN Environment Assembly (UEA) under the theme “Towards a Pollution Free Planet.” This session will take place in Nairoi, 4-6 December of this year where ministers of the Environment of all countries around the world, private sector representatives, and civil society organizations will come together to discuss the actions needed to be taken to address our current pollution issues in all its forms: air, water, soil, land, and marine.
As this was one of my first times attending this sort of event, I was a bit skeptical and did not know what to expect. The purpose of the consultative meeting was to increase the number of civil society organizations that work with the UN Environment and to provide a space to communicate about UEA’s theme “Towards a Pollution Free Planet” with a special focus on clean oceans and seas. As well as to create an opportunity for the civil society to become more involved in UN Environment and 'UEA-3' and to facilitate the exchange with the different groups on the challenges and opportunities for partnership and cooperation and possible commitments.
During the first two days of the Regional Civil Society meeting, we spoke much about the process of UN Environment, what each organization is doing in their countries, and what we would like to see come out of this meeting. At one point, we broke up into separate groups. One group (those new to UN meetings and reunions like myself) were responsible for coming up with questions we might have about what needs to be cleared up for the general public and how these processes can be more transparent. The other group discussed how to improve these processes. As we came up with our questions a discussion between two people from different backgrounds started to evolve; Monica Araya, a journalist devoted to clean development, clean energy, and climate politics and founder of Costa Rica Limpia and Isis Alvarez with the Global Forest Coalition representing NGOs, Indigenous People’s Organisations, and grassroots movements. Araya argued that if we want to win the battle and see big changes, we have to learn how to sit down with climate polluters in order negotiate effectively with them. Alvarez stood her ground with noting that climate polluters and the private sector will always put profit and power first at the expense of human rights so what we need to do is continue to strengthen the grassroots and civil society participation in these different processes so their voices can be heard as well.
I couldn’t help but notice that both equally intelligent and passionate women had a point. How will we ever bridge the gap between the public and private sector, scientists and businessmen, politicians and citizens if we don't begin to talk to one another? But how can we feel we’re making a difference when every time we reach one small goal, corporate and political greed seems to push us a million steps back? One thing that is certain, is the generalization and pointing fingers has to stop if we want to see meaningful actions. We need to stop pointing our fingers and saying that all corporations and all politicians are corrupt and stop generalizing that all environmentalists are radicals. For the sake of the good seeds in these groups, we need to learn to work together to amplify each others strong suits and improve each others weak points. As Araya mentioned, how can it be that Costa Rica, a small nation of 5 million, still has not figured out how to advance in clean and public transportation? We MUST prioritize and work together.
The last two days were dedicated to the Global Oceans Dialogue hosted at Villas Caletas, a beautiful hotel overlooking the Pacific Ocean. We heard some inspiring talks and presentations from Pelayo Salinas a Conservation Scientist with Pristine Seas at the Charles Darwin Research Station in the Galapagos Islands, Maria Eugenia Arreola with the Mexican Fund for the Conservation of Nature in charge of a Leadership program empowering the next generation of Mesoamerican Reef Conservation leaders, the Minister of Environment and Energy of Costa Rica Mr. Édgar Gutiérrez, as well as our President Luis Guillermo Solís, with an inspiring speech:
"Being a nation between two oceans, Costa Rica is aware of the incalculable benefits that the seas provide to life on Earth. With this in mind, we are striving to become a plastics-free country and expand marine protected areas along with local governance models to manage fisheries and tourism sustainably."
I met many representatives from different nations that would like to collaborate with me on youth actions and Earth Charter projects. I was thrilled to meet the representative of Sea Shepherd Costa Rica, Jorge Sendero who I will work alongside with to help develop further his campaign For the Oceans, as well as Pedro Cunha who I will be working with as a focal point for the Major Groups Facilitating Committee (MGFC) for Latin America and the Caribbean for this initiative of Dialogue and Action for the Ocean.
Let’s see what will get done after this reunion, many including myself would like to see less talks and more actions. I’ll be honest, I didn’t seem as hopeful as I thought I would be after this reunion. We seem to travel to all corners of the world to “talk” about how we can find solutions to our Earth’s most pressing climate problems. But when will we start to see some real changes and improvements?
I will say that last week on World Oceans Day, Costa Rica announced the designation of Cabo Blanco in the central Pacific and Southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica as a new marine protected area expanding Costa Rica’s protected areas from 12.68% to 15.69%. This expansion contributes to the global effort to achieve the Aichi Target 11 of the Convention on Biological Diversity to protect at least 10% of the world's marine and coastal areas by 2020 (ONU Medio Ambiente). We’re currently at 5.7% and we have 3 years to get there. We have the manpower, the will, the technology, and the compassion to get there, what we don’t have anymore is time. We need to ACT now.