The United States on Friday joined all 192 other UN member-states in releasing a “Call to Action” to save the oceans but disassociated itself from joint efforts to combat climate change.
The declaration capped the UN’s first-ever ocean conference, which opened on Monday under the shadow of the US exit from the 190-plus Paris agreement on climate change.
“The United States remains committed to working with all stakeholders, within and outside the UN system, to protect our ocean and promote development through its sustainable use,” said David Balton, the US deputy assistant secretary for oceans and fisheries.
But he went on to offer “clarifications” about the US position, recalling that President Donald Trump had announced the US withdrawal from the Paris agreement on June 1.
The “Call to Action” raised alarm over the impact of climate change on the ocean and recognized the “particular importance” of the 2015 Paris agreement to combat global warming.
By signing on to the appeal, governments voluntarily commit to reduce the use of plastics, take measures to reduce acidification and to address the harmful impacts of climate change on the ocean.
Pacific island-states, which face oblivion from rising sea levels caused by global warming, led the charge at the conference for strong action to mobilize governments.
“Yes the ocean is rising,” Palau’s President Tommy Remengesau said at the closing session. “But so are we.”
The United States, the world’s biggest carbon emitter after China, signed the Paris agreement last year under the previous administration, but Trump has argued that the deal would harm the US economy.
During his address to the conference earlier in the week, Balton put the spotlight on global efforts to combat illegal fishing.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres opened the conference with an appeal for countries to put aside national gain to save the oceans and avert a “global catastrophe.”
“Pollution, overfishing and the effects of climate change are severely damaging the health of our oceans,” he asserted, singling out plastic pollution as particularly harmful.
Guterres cited a recent study that showed plastic could outweigh fish by 2050 if nothing is done.