The global community on Wednesday June 8 celebrated World Ocean Day, which was first declared in 1992 after the United Nations (UN) Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The main objectives of the annual event is to raise awareness of the impact of human actions on oceans, develop a worldwide movement of people who want to take of the world’s oceans and unite the global population on a project for the sustainable management of the oceans.
The World Ocean Day also seeks to promote knowledge about the world’s oceanic system and how it is increasing risk from climate change, rising pollution, acidification of ocean water, increase in average temperatures, to a reduction in ocean biodiversity while bringing to the fore the role of the oceans in our everyday life.
During this year’s celebration, the United Nations noted: “The Ocean connects, sustains, and supports us all. Yet its health is at a tipping point and so is the well-being of all that depends on it.”
While the world celebrates, enough evidence, however, reveals that our care for the ocean and the environment not only runs contrary to the above dictates and demands, but remains a direct opposite.
Out of many examples, there are two compelling developments that rendered or better still qualified this year’s event more as a day of deeper reflection than that of celebration.
The first example is the alarming report that plastic pollution has become endemic in recent times. The report revealed that up to 500 billion plastic bags are produced every year, with more plastic produced in the last decade exceeding that of the last century and that an estimated 1 million plastic bottles are purchased every minute, in addition to the world’s usage of 500 million plastic bags each year, with at least 8million tonnes of plastics ending up in the ocean, an equivalent of a full garbage truck every minute.
The second specifically refers to Nigeria and it has to do with an unimaginable volume of crude oil that is daily and on the pretext of crude oil exploration, emptied into Atlantic Ocean, thereby resulting in pollution, degradation and destruction of aquatic life.
According to recent data from the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), which recorded a total of 4,486 cases of oil spillage, amounting to 242,193 barrels of oil between 2015 and 2021. The reported figure for the volume of spilled crude oil is equivalent to 38.5 million litres, representing an average of about 62 cases and 3,362 barrels of oil spills in a month, per data from NOSDRA’s satellite website on April 16, 2022.
Making it a reality to worry about is that the same way rivers, lagoons, seas and oceans are daily polluted by human activities, even so is the land degraded and destroyed.
For too long, humans have been exploiting and destroying the planet’s ecosystems. Every three seconds, a report noted, the world loses enough forest to cover a football pitch. Over the last century, we have destroyed about half of the world’s wetlands.
Also lamentable is the fact that as much as 50 per cent of the world’s coral reefs have already been lost. Up to 90 per cent could be lost by 2050, even if global warming is limited to an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Ecosystem loss is depriving the world of carbon sinks, like forests and wetlands, at a time when humanity can least afford it. Global greenhouse gas emissions have grown for three consecutive years and the planet is one place for potentially catastrophic climate change. We must now fundamentally rethink our relationship with the living world, with natural ecosystems and their biodiversity and work towards its restoration.
If all these are challenges, the issue of climate change resulting from human activities is a crisis.
Another report indicates that global warming – particularly since the mid-20th Century —is occurring much faster than r before and can’t be explained by natural causes alone.
Putting it plainly, the Greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions that humans generate are said to be the leading causes of the earth’s rapidly changing climate. Greenhouse gases play an important role in keeping the planet warm enough to inhabit. But the volume of such gases in the atmosphere has shot up in recent time. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the concentration of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxides “have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years.”
The burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas for electricity, heat, and transportation is the primary source of human-generated emissions. A second major source is deforestation, which releases sequestered carbon into the air. It is estimated that logging, clear-cutting, fires and other forms of forest degradation contribute to 20 per cent of global carbon emissions.
Although our planet’s forests and oceans absorb greenhouse gases from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and other processes, these natural carbon sinks can’t keep up with the rising emissions. The resulting buildup of greenhouse gases is causing alarmingly fast warming worldwide.
To further explain the challenge facing the world, it was noted that as the earth’s atmosphere heats up, it collects, retains and drops more water, changes weather patterns and makes wet areas wetter and dry areas drier. Higher temperatures lead to the melting of ice, which in turn leads to ocean surges, floods, storms and other natural disasters. The changes in weather patterns, drought and flooding affect the livelihood of humans.
As to what should be done to this appalling situation, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has made climate action a major part of his global advocacy, calling on all member states to double their efforts to save our planet.
While this is ongoing, we are all called to adjust in psychological, social, or economic systems in response to actual or expected stimuli and their effects or impact. We need to bring in changes in processes, practices and structures to moderate potential damages or to benefit from opportunities associated with climate change. In simple terms, countries and communities need to develop adaptation solution and implement actions to respond to the impact of climate change that is already happening, as well as prepare for future impact.
*** Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy) of the Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos.