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March 15, 2021

Protecting life underwater: a collective need

Perché l’obiettivo 14 dell’Agenda 2030 è così importante

It is not hard to identify the Earth at a glance from space: the huge blue patches made up of expanses of water differentiate our planet from other visible planets because they cover three quarters of its surface. 
This is why protecting water resources is so important for the Earth’s well-being and, as a result, ours. Accordingly, the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development introduced in 2015 includes a goal dedicated to protecting life underwater.

Our oceans make up 99% of living space by volume

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development has various targets. The principle targets to be achieved over the next ten years include:

– By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, particularly from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution.

– Minimize and address the impacts of ocean acidification, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels.

– By 2030, increase the economic benefits to SIDS and LDCs from the sustainable use of marine resources, including through sustainable management of fisheries, aquaculture and tourism.

– Ensure the full implementation of international law for the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources by their parties.

– Increase scientific knowledge, develop research capacities and transfer marine technology taking into account the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Criteria and Guidelines on the Transfer of Marine Technology, in order to improve ocean health and to enhance the contribution of marine biodiversity to the development of developing countries, in particular SIDS and LDCs.

Why is SDG 14 so important? 
Because it covers the management of the planet’s largest ecosystem: our seas and oceans make up 97% of the water present in our planet and their surfaces are three times greater than the sum of all our continents. This enormous ecosystem’s impact on our life is huge as shown by data provided directly by the United Nations:

– Seas and oceans provide roughly half the oxygen necessary for life and absorb one third of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  
– The oceans host approximately 200,000 identified species.

– The oceans are the largest reserve of protein in the world, with more than three billion people dependant on the oceans as their main source of protein.

– 40% of the earth’s oceans is heavily affected by human activity, whose impacts include pollution, depletion of fisheries and the loss of natural habitats along the coasts.

The equivalent of a lorry load of plastic is dumped in the sea every minute.

The temperature, chemical composition, currents and life of the oceans drive the global systems that make the Earth habitable for humankind. Our rainwater, drinking water, food, the oxygen in the air we breathe, weather and climate are all provided and regulated by the sea. All these facts point to an inescapable truth: the correct management of water resources is fundamental for a sustainable future

‘Oceans are the point at which planet, people, and prosperity come together. And that is what sustainable development is about. It is about all of us as shareholders of Earth, incorporated, acknowledging and acting on our responsibility to the planet, to the people, and to its bloodstream, the oceans.”  
In 2012, Elizabeth Thompson, Co-Executive Coordinator for the Rio+20 Conference at Oceans Day, stressed the importance of the ocean resources. However, eleven years after this statement, the situation is not very reassuring: pollution and misuse of the oceans are threatening the survival of more than 200,000 living species. Research carried out by the Commonwealth Industrial and Scientific Organisation provides a frightening figure: there are around 14.4 million tonnes of microplastics on the seafloor. This is more than double the plastic pollution on the earth’s surface.  

The WWF’s most recent report on sustainable development sounds the alarm on the failed progress on SDG 14. Progress is only being made on two of the six targets related to the conservation and sustainable use of marine resources. The lack of monitoring and accurate reports makes it difficult to assess the successful achievement of the targets.  

Focus on the marine environment is increasing but financing continues to be inadequate

Despite the social and economic importance of the seas to our country, Italy continues to be one of the EU member states making little progress. With respect to the targets of SDG 14, the member states must do more to reduce all forms of marine pollution, especially waste from land-based activities dumped in the sea. The protection of the marine ecosystem through resilience strategies that guarantee its restoration and return to its initial nature state is a key issue. All the large-scale activities like fishing and the acidification of the waters must be scaled back to achieve this.

While the EU member states are failing to meet their objectives, there are many companies that have taken steps to reduce their impact on seas and oceans. Examples of these environmentally-conscious companies are the well-known sportswear brand, Adidas, which partners with the environmental organisation Parley, to deal with the huge quantity of plastic in the oceans. They firstly found how the plastic we throw away becomes part of the food chain that kills marine fauna and destroys the marine environment. For example: if the quantity of waste that ends up in the oceans does not change over time, by 2050 they will contain more plastic than fish. Adidas decided to start by reusing plastic: waste abandoned on the beaches and along the coasts is recovered and transformed into a raw material that is used to manufacture an entire clothing line. In 2015, the company developed the first sneaker model created with yarns and filaments reclaimed and recycled from ocean waste and gillnets recovered from the depth of the ocean. Since then, Adidas has extended its production to millions of shoes and an entire line of high performance clothing. From 2015 to 2019, its partnership with Parley has ensured a very impressive 2,810 tonnes of plastic have been kept out of the oceans.  

By 2050, oceans will host more plastic than fish

Another example is Lush – the UK brand of hand-made cosmetics. It decided to reduce product packaging to the absolute minimum and sells its products “naked”, without any packaging, whenever possible. If it cannot eliminate plastic, Lush opts for reusable and recyclable materials. Its sustainability policy goes far beyond its products as seen with the opening of its first “naked” plastic-free store in Milan in 2018. The Via Torino store sells completely packaging-free solid products to raise awareness about alternative cosmetics that do not require the massive use of plastic.

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