It is thanks to the oceans — which, decade after decade, absorb a quarter of CO2 pollution and more than 90% of excess heat — that the Earth’s surface has remained livable.

In exchange, our species dumped mountains of plastic into the sea and emptied it of its great fish. The coastline has been contaminated by chemicals and agricultural products, creating oxygen-deprived dead zones.

“At least a third of wild fish stocks are overfished and less than 10% of the ocean is protected,” Kathryn Mathews, scientific director of the American NGO Oceana, told AFP.

“Illegal fishing vessels wreak havoc with impunity, in coastal waters and on the high seas,” she said.

Worth almost $35 billion, the subsidies that encourage overfishing will certainly be harshly criticized in Lisbon, despite the first steps taken last week by the World Trade Organization towards a partial ban.

But, in the meantime, ocean acidification caused by CO2 and marine heat waves, which can last for several months, continue to kill the coral reefs on which a quarter of life at sea and 250 million people depend.

“We still have little idea of ​​the scale of the devastation wrought by climate change on the health of the oceans,” said Charlotte de Fontaubert, the World Bank’s leading blue economy expert.

– “It’s scary” –

Organized jointly by Portugal and Kenya, the UN conference on the oceans — first scheduled for April 2020 and then postponed due to Covid — will bring together for five days thousands of representatives from governments, businesses, scientific institutions and NGOs seeking solutions.

Although they don’t all advocate the same remedies, they largely agree on what’s at stake.

“If we don’t do the right thing, we risk ending up with a dead ocean,” Rashid Sumaila, a fisheries specialist and teacher at the University of British Columbia, told AFP.

“Imagine that… how scary is that!”, he confides.

With proposals ranging from recycling to a total ban on plastic bags, this type of pollution will also be on the agenda of the conference, with the aim of reversing current trends according to which the oceans will contain as much plastic as fish by 2050. .

From Asian factory ships prowling the high seas to artisanal fishing boats plying the coastlines of the tropics, the question of how to make fishing sustainable will also mark the debates in Lisbon.

New leitmotif, “blue food” is supposed to make the oceans a means of subsistence that is both sustainable and equitable.

“Wild fish from the sea can be a source of protein and micronutrients capable of providing a billion people with a healthy meal a day, forever,” said Kathryn Mathews of the NGO Oceana.

The flourishing aquaculture sector is causing concern because of the destruction of valuable mangrove forests or because of the excessive use of antibiotics.

– End of year summits –

The conference could make it possible to establish that the production of open sea fishing, which has been declining since the 1990s, is on the way to being overtaken by that of aquaculture, with some 100 million tonnes per year from each of the channels.

Many ministers and some heads of state, including French President Emmanuel Macron, will take part in the Lisbon meeting, but it is not intended to become a formal negotiation session.

Some participants will, however, take the opportunity to defend an ambitious policy for the oceans in view of the two crucial summits to be held at the end of the year: the UN climate conference COP27, which will take place in November in Egypt, then the very long-awaited United Nations conference on biodiversity COP15, which will finally be held in Canada and no longer in China.

A coalition of nearly a hundred countries is advocating a landmark measure to declare protected areas covering 30% of the planet’s oceans and land.

Because recent scientific studies draw up a clear conclusion: the oceans will continue to suffer unless greenhouse gas emissions do not decrease, and the fight against global warming is doomed to failure if the oceans lose their capacity to absorb CO2.