There are less than thirty years left. The space occupied in the oceans by plastic will then exceed that used by fish. There are a lot of fish, some of them very large, while we are relatively smaller but more numerous and much less provident. The fish take what they need from their environment and leave the rest intact, while we take more than we need and destroy any obstacles that lie between us and our objectives. We also do this on dry land, but there is less room there, because 70 per cent of the planet is covered with water. Anyway, we think it is legitimate to destroy the forests that give us oxygen, and we also think it is only fair to pollute the oceans, which are responsible for 50 per cent of what we breathe on the planet, are home to an enormous quantity of species, and contain over 80 per cent of the living creatures that inhabit the Earth.

And that's not all. We are endangering ocean currents, which have a decisive role in regulating the climate. If they did not exist, for example, north European countries would be much colder on average. In the meantime global temperatures are rising and, if the effectiveness of the action performed by the oceans were limited further in this critical situation, the consequences would be devastating. Many marine species would risk extinction, entire areas of the planet would cool down and pollution levels would undergo a rapid increase.

This was discussed during the second United Nations Ocean Conference held in Lisbon from 27th June to 1st July. The aim was to extract a commitment from the international community to find sustainable solutions for the conservation, protection and responsible use of marine resources, according to Sustainable Development Goal 14 of the 2030 Agenda. This would entail each of us changing our habits, and States - meaning us again, anyway - revising their economic development model. The planet's biological clock is ticking away noisily and sending clear signals, but these have fallen on deaf ears with us up to now.

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres has supplied a disturbing set of data, defining the current situation as an "ocean emergency". What has to be done is well known, but not very advantageous in the short term and this seems to be the problem: we must start to think in the long term, which we have not been doing in past decades. In his remarks on this subject to the Youth and Innovation Forum, which concluded in Carcavelos the day before the start of the Lisbon Conference, Guterres apologised publicly for the state in which the seas have been left to the young. "My generation and those who were politically responsible, as in my case, were slow or sometimes unwilling to recognise that things were getting worse and worse in these three dimensions: oceans, climate and biodiversity. And even today, we are moving too slowly in relation to the need to reverse the threat, rehabilitate the oceans, rescue biodiversity and stop climate change. We are still moving in the wrong direction".

However, at least we now know what to do and we have acknowledged that there is a problem, which is the first step to trying to solve it. The path is marked out clearly, but it is neither easy nor painless. First of all, it is important that investments in the oceans and the exploitation of their resources are carried out in a sustainable manner. "This would help the ocean to produce up to six times more food and generate 40 times more renewable energy than it currently does", said Guterres. As well as this, it will be important to replicate the strategies that have worked in the past to safeguard coastal zones and scale them up. The Secretary General also asked for greater protection of the waters, especially for improving the lives of the people who depend directly on the seas and oceans. 40 per cent of the world's population live in coastal areas and it is therefore essential to tackle climate change by investing in infrastructure capable of resisting the current emergency and a possible worsening of the situation. But we need new tools to do all this, and for this, Guterres highlighted the need to intensify scientific research in the sector and to focus on innovation to lead mankind towards what he defined as "a new chapter of global ocean action".

"Save our ocean, protect our future" was the slogan chosen for the Conference. Understanding the meaning of the word "our" would be a good start.

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