Protecting the oceans starts on land: objectives for the next decade

By Jean-Louis Chaussade, CEO of SUEZ

The alarm bells that started ringing a few years ago on the state of the oceans have now become a deafening clang, a positive development reflecting the need for immediate action: global warming, pollution and galloping urbanisation on coastlines are leading to an unprecedented deterioration in the quality of the oceans – the planet’s main water resource occupying over 70% of its surface.

The oceans, which are the world’s main climate regulator, finally became part of discussions at COP 21 in 2015 and were mentioned in the Paris Agreement. In June 2017 in New York, the UN international conference on the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14 led to many events and discussions around the world. Also for the first time, the World Water Forum held last March in Brasilia looked at the question of ocean protection.

By taking part in these discussions, the SUEZ Group is pursuing a strong commitment to reducing marine pollution, more than 80% of which is caused by human activities on land.


Plastic – the new challenge facing the oceans

The presence of plastic is particularly alarming – between 8 and 12 million tonnes are thought to be tipped into the oceans every year. Some 300 million tonnes of plastic are produced globally every year, of which barely 25% is recycled!

The most urgent issue is to treat pollution on land. Our responsibility is both collective and individual. We must seek to deploy all sorts of solutions: from educating the public on the need to sort waste, to implementing a circular economy. We must also seek to replace the linear approach to production by encouraging efforts to reduce and recycle waste, particularly plastic, through to eco-design.


Wastewater and stormwater: onland sources of ocean pollution

The quantity of nutrients in the oceans has tripled since the pre-industrial era, owing to an expanding global population, rising quantities of wastewater and the increased use of nitrogen fertilisers since the 1950s. Today, over 500 ocean zones are starved of oxygen.

The impact of climatic events, which are increasing in frequency and intensity, also highlight the need to channel and treat stormwater, wastewater and industrial effluents.

In its sustainable development roadmap, SUEZ has set out measurable commitments for SDG 14, in favour of life below water, but also for SDG 6, relating to clean water and sanitation for everybody. To meet this objective by 2030, we need to develop access to wastewater sanitation services for 2.32 billion people, or an average of 154 million people every year!


Acting together

Every year on 8 June, World Oceans Day highlights the initiatives of governments, municipalities, researchers, players in the public and private sectors, industries, NGOs and citizens. Over the past four years, SUEZ has been working with UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission to carry the message sent out by this international event dedicated to oceans. The Group’s global platform enables it to showcase the players involved in ocean protection, and their initiatives at all levels. We are seeing a growing number of citizen initiatives to collect waste from coastlines and watersheds. SUEZ is contributing through the initiative #suez4ocean. Since its launch in June 2017, more than 40 waste collection operations have been organised in 15 countries involving almost 1,500 ocean guardians. At their level, they have prevented 13 tonnes of waste from reaching the oceans.

The United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) will place the emphasis on the need to develop scientific knowledge of the oceans in order to implement practical solutions for their sustainable use. SUEZ is supporting UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, which has been asked by the UN to oversee preparations for this important step. This shared knowledge will provide new input for innovations and solutions, national policies and local initiatives, pedagogy and citizens awareness. To go faster, further, together.