Oceans: Minister of International Development Nikolai Astrup's keynote speech at the Eat Stockholm Food Forum 2018

Speech/statement | Date: 2018-06-11 |  Minister of International Development Nikolai Astrup's keynote speech at the Eat Stockholm Food Forum 2018

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Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

It is great to be here at Eat Forum for the first time. Eat brings people together - sharing ideas and providing solutions to some of the most pressing global issues of our time.

Nutrition is at the heart of so many of our global challenges. It is also at the heart of so many great opportunities.

I am here to talk about oceans.

Why am I at a food forum talking about oceans? Have I gone wrong? Should I have been at another conference?

I think I came to exactly the right place.

Let's start with some facts.

  • 8 million tons of plastic ends up in the oceans every year.
  • 236 000 tons of that is micro plastic – tiny, tiny pieces of broken-down plastic.
  • Tap water across the world is contaminated by microplastic.
  • By 2050, there may be more plastic in the oceans than fish.
  • Norwegian scientists that are mapping fish stocks of the coast of Africa and Asia, are now telling us that almost every second catch is not only fish, but plastic waste.
  • All this plastic is slowly contaminating wildlife - birds, seafood and marine ecosystems.
  • And that seafood ends up at our dinner table. Fish eat plastic. Then we do.

Add to this that illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing both threatens fish stocks and marine wildlife across the world, as well as causing countries to loose out on billions of dollars every year. The conclusion becomes clear:

The time to act is now.

On the one hand, we have to stop the world's marine ecosystems from being destroyed by marine litter and mismanagement.

On the other, it is essential that we increase ocean productivity.

If we manage to strike the right balance between production and protection, we can harvest huge resources from the sea.

And we will need to. By 2050 we may well be 10 billion people on this planet. Demand for food will increase. Agriculture - already under threat - will be even more ravaged by climate change.

We will need the oceans for food, medicine and decent jobs.

Our welfare, our health and our economies all depend on our ability to sustainably harvest from the oceans.

But we will never succeed if we continue to mismanage marine ecosystems and use the ocean as a dumpster.

So, what can we do?

Firstly, we need to create greater understanding and consensus around the importance of sustainable management of the oceans.

Clean seas are rich seas. Rich seas are sources of food, but also jobs and economic development.

On a recent trip to Ghana, I met a fisherman who told me that his catch is noticeably smaller today than a few years ago.

For him, this is not only an observation. Catching less fish is a direct threat to his livelihood and his ability to provide for himself and his family.

He is not alone. That is why we need to make the case that sensible and sustainable ocean management is hugely important for economic growth, jobs and development.

To make this case, Norways prime minister, Erna Solberg, has established a high-level panel on a building a sustainable ocean economy.

The panel will consist of heads of governments from 13 ocean countries across the globe, and will co-operate closely with experts, civil society and UN organisations to create a platform for action to unleash the potential in sustainable ocean management.

Hopefully the panel will do for the oceans what the new climate economy panel did for the climate:

Showcasing that there is profit in putting people and planet first.

The panel will deliver a comprehensive report in 2020, with the Our Oceans Conference in 2019 as an important milestone on the way. I hope the panel will be a strong force for good in delivering on Sustainable Development Goal number 14 - Life below water.

Secondly, we need to start acting on marine pollution and plastics today.

The UN Environment Assembly last year decided on a zero vision for marine pollution and microplastics. Now it is time to start delivering on that vision.

We know what the problem is.

It is estimated that 80-90 percent of the waste that ends up in the oceans comes from landbased sources.

The almost complete lack of effective waste management systems in many developing countries means that waste resources are quite literally wasted - and that onshore waste ends up as offshore debris.

When I went to Ghana, I said to my team that I would like to spend some time collecting plastic from a beach outside Accra.

The Embassy came back to me, and said: That can be arranged, but there is nowhere to dispose of the waste once it has been collected.

In the end, we found an NGO that could help us, but I think the story illustrates the problem we face.


We need local and national solutions, but we also need a global joint effort. Norway supports the development of a global structure where states commit to prevent litter and microplastics from entering the ocean.

In addition to the normative work, Norway also wants to contribute to making sure that we take action on the ground.

This year, the Government has set aside 280 million NOK (approx. 35 million USD) for a development programme to combat marine litter and microplastics.

As part of this, Norway has taken the initiative (and pledged USD 13 million) to a new, global multi-donor World Bank fund to combat marine litter and microplastics.

There are lots of promising projects in many countries related to the oceans, but we lack an effective and efficient financial structure to enable governments and the private sector to join forces.

That is why we have taken the initiative to establish the fund, and we hope like-minded ocean nations from across the world will join us.

The main focus of the fund will be waste management systems in developing countries, by provding financial incentives to make it attractive for countries and the private sector to invest in waste management based on the principles of a circular economy. We call it cash for trash. Giving trash a value, will help turn waste into a resource rather than a problem.

If we don't solve the waste management issue, we will clean our beaches for eternity, and our fish stocks and marine wildlife will be depleted at an even faster rate.

Thirdly, sustainable ocean management and cleaning up the oceans will require the ingenuity, innovation, technology and capital in the private sector.

Norway is therefore a partner in the UN Global Compact Action Platform on Sustainable Ocean Business that was launched in New York last week.

The aim is to mobilise the world's leading ocean- related companies to come up with concrete actions to ensure clean and sustainable seas - and turning global challenges into business opportunities.

Last week, I got to test an undersea drone that can make the ocean cleaning easier. As you can see, it was quite fun too! Innovations like this make me even more optimistic!

Dear friends,

Marine litter and microplastics trancends borders.

When a dead whale was found at Sotra in Norway, this was found in its stomach. Plastic bags from all over the world.

For Norway, this is a call to action. Norwegians have lived by the sea and off the sea for more than a thousand years. For us, the ocean is both a way of live and a way of making a living. But our position as a leading ocean nation is not only rooted in our history. It is also our future.

This places a heavy responsibility on our shoulders.

Today, more than two thirds of Norway's export revenues come from ocean based activities – fisheries, shipping and energy production. The use of the oceans is based on the sustainability principle.

We have learned that it is fully possible to combine the activities of different ocean-based industries and ensure a healthy marine environment as long as solid environmental standards are in place.

Responsible ocean management ensures sustainable harvesting and food production as well as employment, growth and welfare for generations to come.

It is only if we take good care of the oceans that we can hope to exploit their full potential. And it is only if we act now that we can prevent a slow-motion catastrophe.

The many new ocean-related initiatives show that the issue of the state of the oceans is moving higher up the international agenda. That is good news.

The oceans hold tremendous, untapped potential, as a source of food, medicines and energy.

Knowledge is the key to unlocking this potential.

And the only way to get the knowledge we need is through international cooperation and arenas like this. We must be gathered to find solutions together.

And this platform is unique in terms of solving the major challenges in the world.

In the last ten minutes, 150 tons of plastic has entered the oceans. Those who have been drinking coffee have probably also drunk micro-plastics.

The time to act is now. Mankind needs clean oceans.

Let's make it happen.