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Exclusive ODP Our Ocean Interview: Sally Yozell, Stimson Center Director of Environmental Security program

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Exclusive ODP Our Ocean Interview: Sally Yozell, Senior Fellow and Director, Environmental Security, The Stimson Center

Sally has been at the center of every Our Ocean Conference since they began in 2014.  The fifth annual conference gets underway today with Indonesia hosting.

ODP:  The Our Ocean Conference (OOC) has become the most important venue for governments, corporations, and philanthropic organizations to make tangible commitments to ocean conservation.  Why has it been such a success? 

SY:  In a word, it’s leadership. At the beginning in 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry wanted to raise the plight of the ocean to the foreign policy level, making safeguarding ocean health a foreign policy imperative. He recognized the link between healthy oceans and healthy economies, food security, and economic security, and his leadership got us started on the right foot.  Now other leaders — including the Foreign Ministers of Indonesia (this year), Malta (last year), Chile (2015), and Norway and Palau in the years to come — have all joined in leading this movement for conserving “our ocean.”  It has been a thrill to watch it grow!

ODP:  What can we expect from this year’s conference? 

SY:  This year the conference’s impact will be bigger than ever — building on our successes.  The theme this year is “Our Ocean, Our Legacy” and we will have at least 6 heads of state, more than 40 Foreign Ministers, and 70 nations represented.  This year our biggest issue focus will be on addressing marine pollution with an emphasis on plastics because it is such a problem in Indonesia and throughout the world.  Great progress is being made — awareness is much greater now in many parts of the world — but we still use way too much plastic.  I suspect that will be a focus at Our Ocean for many years to come. But we also have five other areas of action, including climate change and the blue economy.  

ODP:  You have helped to plan every one of the conferences. What has been your personal highlight of all the conferences so far?  

SY:  The OOC is all about commitments and action — since 2014, there have been 663 commitments totaling $18 billion committed for ocean conservation and 12.4 million square kilometers protected ( 3.4% ) of the ocean. Unlike other conferences, heads of government, business leaders, directors of NGOs and philanthropies are all treated as equals at the Our Ocean conferences.  And these are not just talk, they are real actions — all commitments are tracked and followed up, and the information is made public. Those making the commitments are held accountable.  So we know we are having an impact in the water.

ODP:  Tell us about the Youth Summit.  How has that event grown? 

SY:  We have had an incredible response from young people and each year the Our Ocean Youth Summit gets bigger and more impressive.  This year’s Youth Summit will have over 150 students from 60 countries.  They held a Bali beach clean up and a film festival.  Most importantly, they had access to government and business leaders and their views are heard.  If I had a second thing I am most proud of beyond all the commitments, it is that we made young people’s participation a key element of the conference from the beginning.

ODP:  Is the U.S. ceding its leadership?  And if so, who is taking up the mantle of leadership in our government’s place?

SY:  Our Ocean is not about any one country.  It is about our collective commitment to the oceans we share.  That said, I am very pleased that the U.S. government stepped up and is making a number of very important commitments, in keeping with past years.  I am also pleased that we have Norway committed to host next year and Palau has agreed to host in 2020. In my view, the ocean is resilient if we take care of it by working towards sustainable fisheries, healthy marine habitats, ending pollution, slowing the effects of climate change. We are up against the clock. But I am hopeful that the Our Ocean Conference, with its strong actions and commitments, is helping to buy the blue planet the time it needs to recover. 

Thank you, Sally, for all you have done to make this progress possible!

To Go Deeper into Our Ocean, click here.  You can also follow the Conference on Twitter #OurOcean2018.

This article was originally published in South China Morning Post on October 14, 2018. View the original article here.

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