Crossroads blog | 01 Jul, 2022

Panama’s climate diplomacy: a model for marine conservation

The challenges facing our ocean today cannot be resolved by any one nation, but marine conservation has not traditionally been a priority for diplomats. The Republic of Panama connects the two largest oceans and so has a unique role to play in global efforts to safeguard precious marine ecosystems; writes Her Excellency Erika Mouynes, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Panama, as the 2022 UN Ocean Conference closes.

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Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Panama

The ocean is the Earth's largest carbon sink and our most powerful ally in the fight against climate change. It is also a source of food for much of the world's population and a driver of the global economy; according to the United Nations, 40% of the global population depends on the ocean for food and work, while 90% of the world's trade is transported by sea.

Yet today, this invaluable natural resource is endangered by our actions. Pollution and overexploitation of marine ecosystems threaten the ocean’s health, and therefore our health. The immensity of the ocean makes us forget its fragility in the face of each individual action. We still live on a planet where rivers and seas are seen and used as rubbish dumps.

The rich marine biodiversity on which we depend is also at risk. The heartbreaking image of a single boat full of fins illustrates the hundreds of sharks mutilated and discarded at sea. Some shark populations have declined by 80% in recent decades; a clear example of the devastating effect of illegal activities such as "finning", or overfishing which are detrimental to the delicate balance of our marine ecosystems.

Leading nations must advocate for ocean health. As the country that connects the two largest oceans, Panama has a unique role to play in this effort.

The ocean needs our attention and leading nations must advocate for its health. That is precisely why the UN has declared this the Ocean Decade. As the country that connects the two largest oceans, Panama has a unique role to play in this effort; according to NASA, the emergence of today's Panama is the most important geological event of the last 60 million years. Despite accounting for a tiny portion of the Earth, the Isthmus of Panama has an enormous impact on the world's climate, affecting ocean currents and global biodiversity.

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Panama assumed the Presidency Pro Tempore of the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor in April 2022.

Panamá asumió la Presidencia Pro Tempore del Corredor Marino del Pacífico Este Tropical en abril de 2022.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Panama

The ocean is intrinsically tied to Panama’s identity. We are the guardians of one of the most important inter-oceanic waterways on Earth, the Panama Canal. We operate the largest merchant marine fleet in the world. Most Panamanians, in one way or another, rely on the ocean for their sustenance and livelihoods. All of these connections enable us to take actions that have a greater impact than our size might initially suggest. For example, the shipping industry is aware that it is the eighth largest carbon emitter in the world and is looking to move towards cleaner practices. The Panama Canal is key to facilitating this transition, having implemented incentives in toll procedures to promote greener transit.

 

We are also making important progress on the conservation front. Panama is one of the few countries in the region to have a National Policy for Oceans, a framework that articulates and guides regulations related to the oceans with a comprehensive and sustainable approach. In June 2021, we became the first country to reach the protection of 30% of our territorial waters, achieving the status of Blue Leader. Panama doubled down on this approach at the 2022 UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon just this month, when my colleague Milciades Concepción – Panama’s Minister of Environment – unveiled a commitment to raise the level of protection to 40% of our total waters by 2024. Every action, small or large, counts.

The challenges facing our ocean today cannot be resolved by any one nation. It requires sustained collaboration among global actors to make change.

Yet the challenges facing our ocean today cannot be resolved by any one nation. It requires sustained collaboration among global actors to make change the planet will notice. Conscious of the role we play, Panama has geared our country's diplomatic service to foster strategic partnerships with states, organisations and initiatives dedicated to ocean conservation and to mitigating threats to marine life. Put another way, Panama is advancing climate diplomacy in our region and around the world.

Our experience shows that international collaboration between partners can amplify the impact of each nation’s conservation efforts. At COP26, for example, the presidents of Panama, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Colombia agreed to protect the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor, a 500,000 square kilometer swathe of ocean home to some of the most biodiverse marine ecosystems on the planet. By combining our territorial waters and cooperating to protect migratory routes, our countries are ensuring the passage and survival of wonderful but threatened species such as the leatherback turtle, the striped marlin and the whale shark.

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The 500,000 km2 Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor marine protected area was formed by Panama, Ecuador, Costa Rica and Colombia to conserve biodiversity and promote the sustainable use of resources within the maritime boundaries of the four countries.

La región marina protegida, el Corredor Marino del Pacífico Este Tropical, de 500.000 kilómetros cuadrados, que era formada por Panamá, Ecuador, Costa Rica y Colombia para conservar la biodiversidad y promover el uso sostenible de los recursos dentro de los límites marítimos de cada país.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Panama

This announcement was a standout moment at COP26, and it affirmed the central role of diplomacy in achieving real progress toward protecting our oceans. We must now capitalise on this momentum by welcoming other countries to join us in making marine conservation a foreign policy priority.

In March 2023, Panama will host the 8thOur Ocean conference: the premier global marine conservation event. Since 2014, the Our Ocean conferences have convened government officials, scientists, activists and philanthropists from around the world, catalysing more than 1,800 commitments that have translated into USD 108 billion and the protection of more than 13 million square kilometers of marine area.

The 8th Our Ocean conference will be an opportunity for other countries to join Panama and our neighbors in placing ocean conservation at the forefront of diplomatic efforts, and contribute to the global goal of protecting 30% of the Earth’s oceans by 2030.

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Panama’s Coiba National Park – one of more than 45 Panamanian marine protected areas – was awarded Blue Spark status by the Marine Conservation Institute in recognition of Panama’s efforts to preserve the region’s marine biodiversity.

El Parque Nacional Coiba de Panamá, una de más que 45 áreas marinas protegidas de Panamá, recibió el estatus de Blue Spark del Instituto de Conservación Marina en reconocimiento a los esfuerzos de Panamá para preservar la biodiversidad marina de la región.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Panama

This will be an opportunity for other countries to join Panama and our neighbors in placing ocean conservation at the forefront of their diplomatic efforts, with each country leveraging its unique strengths to contribute to the global goal of protecting 30% of the Earth’s oceans by 2030.

It is true that preserving the health of our oceans has not traditionally been a priority for diplomats and foreign ministries. Yet if we are to meet our global climate goals and safeguard our precious marine ecosystems for future generations, we must move beyond the traditional boundaries and expand our international collaboration to address this pressing issue that impacts us all. Together, we can form the partnerships that will ensure clean, healthy and protected marine environments. This is our moment. It is our chance to take on a global leadership role and become the leaders and advocates our oceans need.

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User name: Lynn
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on Sun, 10 Jul 2022 by Lynn (not verified)

Dear Excellency Mouynes,
Thank you for this great blog, I have shared it on LinkedIn! Looking forward to March 2023 to the next Our Ocean Conference too!
Kind regards,
Lynn

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