COMMENT: Environment minister Milciades Concepción says the goal of protecting 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030 is within reach if countries work collaboratively.

In Panama, we can describe first hand the concrete impact of a warming climate and rising sea levels. Escalating global temperatures are raising the risk of islands and our coast being lost to the sea. As temperatures and emissions have increased, so too have ocean acidification, saltwater intrusion, coastal erosion and sea levels, causing cascading consequences for Panama’s resource-rich marine coastlines.

For many years, climate change was seen as a theoretical, distant problem with vague consequences. Even as experts painted a doomsday picture of a future half a century away, societies failed to find the urgency and common will to respond, getting increasingly comfortable with inaction.

Sadly, climate change is theoretical no more: as sea levels continue to rise at approximately one-eighth of an inch per year, its impact is already becoming painfully clear in countries like ours, located at the centre of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. At the waist of the Americas.

Panama has designated five special marine-coastal resource management zones and more than 46 marine protected areas

As Panama’s environment minister, I can assure you that if we fail to act, the consequences will extend beyond environmental devastation and into the world economy.

The Panama Canal, a cornerstone for international trade at the crossroads of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, is now charging a freshwater fee so the price of its limited resources can be factored into global supply chains. For Panama, keeping this critical trade route intact is a must to avoid a more consequential impact on global supply chains.

We are uniquely positioned to lead the international community towards a better future. That involves taking serious steps to confront climate change and sea conservation both at home and with partners abroad.

The Panama Canal is an international crossroads for trade. (Credit: BlackMac/Shutterstock)

As a first step, Panama set aggressive new goals under a UN climate agreement in 2020, putting ocean conservation as a top priority of our environmental agenda. By establishing new targets across 29 sectors, Panama will strengthen its management of marine and coastal systems and restore key areas and biological corridors. We will use nature-based solutions to address these issues, and we will integrate blue carbon into Panama’s national inventory of greenhouse gases (GHG) by 2022.

Panama is also working with the UN to produce a National Action Plan on Marine Litter. The plan will contain measures to reduce marine pollution that threatens biodiversity and ecosystems on our coasts and in our seas. Panama is one of the first countries in Latin America to create such a plan, which is being developed in concert with more than 40 impacted groups.

Beyond these UN initiatives, Panama has designated five special marine-coastal resource management zones and more than 46 marine protected areas. Moreover, through its efforts to grant greater legal and environmental protections to sea grasses and coral reefs, Panama is increasing carbon sinks in its waters.

Through thoughtful, bold actions at national and international levels, we can confront this problem

While these goals and regulations protect Panama’s oceans, the Panama Canal, the country’s engine for economic growth and international trade, is building its sustainable future.

The canal is a vital component of international trade, enabling the passage of roughly $270bn worth of cargo per year between the Atlantic and Pacific in a fraction of the time it would otherwise take to circumvent the continent. By offering a shorter journey for ships, the Panama Canal reduced CO2 emissions by more than 13m tons in 2020 alone when compared with alternative routes. Through its Green Route Strategy, the waterway also provides incentives to customers for their environmental stewardship. To protect nearby wildlife, the Canal takes the initiative to ensure shippers do not overlap with migrating whales during their breeding season, tasking vessels to stay within designated areas and speed limits, further reducing GHG emissions.

As Panama mobilises to conserve regional marine ecosystems and fight climate change, we understand that the entire world needs to act together, and we are determined to marshal the international community towards these ends. To start, Panama will host the “Our Ocean” world conference in 2022, bringing together governments, industry, civil society and academia to discuss ocean protection measures and the responsible management of plastics.

We are also calling on nations to join us in the High Ambition Coalition (HAC) for Nature and People, which convenes governments, scientists and activists to jointly pursue ocean conservation. We have set the aggressive goal of protecting 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030 and believe this can be done if we work collaboratively. This would not only protect the ecosystems located in these oceans but also help mitigate the global impacts of the climate crisis.

Through thoughtful, bold actions at national and international levels, we can confront this problem. We urge all nations to band together to leave our children with healthy oceans and a livable planet.

This is our national goal as a country, historically driven by nature and we want the world to know it so we, together, can carry out sustainable actions.

Milciades Concepción is the minister of the environment for Panama.

Main picture credit: Luiz A Rocha/Shutterstock
blue carbon  biodiversity  Panama Canal  climate change  ocean conservation  ocean plastics  marine litter  high ambition coalitions 

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