Finding Solutions

The U.N. is calling on governments and big business to help protect the world’s oceans

Key Points
  • The "United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development" has been launched in 2021 to help expand scientific knowledge and address the issues impacting the ocean.
  • Peter Thomson, the U.N. secretary-general's special envoy for the ocean, told CNBC: "We've got 10 years where we're really mobilizing all around the world."
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Explaining the U.N. Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development

LONDON — Peter Thomson, the U.N. secretary-general's special envoy for the ocean, told CNBC that "there can be no healthy planet without a healthy ocean" as the organization launches a new 10-year project. 

Thomson said the "United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development" has been launched in 2021 to help expand scientific knowledge and address the issues impacting the ocean, which covers 70% of the planet's surface.

"We only know maybe 10% of the ocean in terms of its biome, in terms of its makeup, in terms of its sea floor, for example," he told CNBC's "Finding Solutions — Sustainability" on the sidelines of the Goals House January Dialogues event.

"We've got 10 years where we're really mobilizing all around the world, academic institutions and businesses and governments, all getting behind this ocean decade so that we will have the science that we need for the ocean we want by the time we get to 2030," he added.

Goals House is a collaboration between many of the world's most influential leaders and organizations, focusing on achieving the 17 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, as a roadmap for a reset following the Covid-19 crisis.

Business realizing responsibilities

Film writer and director Richard Curtis, another participant at the event, told CNBC that he felt "in the mind of the public there is a real need for big and dramatic change," and that business was also understanding its role in sustainability.

"I do feel that business is really realizing its central responsibility in changing the world and not just leaving it to, as it were, charity, philanthropy and governments. Business is going to be the biggest thing that delivers the biggest change," he said.

Curtis, who is also the co-founder of non-profit Project Everyone, also sensed a commitment and pressure from young people, including his own children, to make their own positive changes to how they travel, invest and spend their money, and which companies they choose to work for.

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He remains optimistic that "we can get a lot done" ahead of the 2030 U.N. goals deadline.

"Huge progress was made on the Millennium Development Goals between 2010-2015. So, I'm hoping that, as it were, that mechanism of them being present, being integrated, and then suddenly being a strong deadline, will be an inspiring one for companies, governments and individuals," he said.

Speaking at the same virtual event, Anne Finucane, vice chairman of Bank of America and chairman of the board at Bank of America Europe, also told CNBC that a focus on ESG — environmental, social and corporate governance — seems to have been "front and center during the pandemic" for many businesses.

Bank of America began its own commitments around climate change in 2007, with the aim of financing $20 billion of green activity over 10 years. Within three or four years it had already achieved that target. 

The bank also recently made a $300 billion commitment to the environment aligned with the targets of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

Finucane said President Joe Biden's decision to re-join the Paris Agreement, as well as appoint former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as special presidential envoy for climate and Gina McCarthy as White House national climate advisor, has also led to further movement on climate change and sustainability.

"These are forces of nature. They are already calling and expecting real activity," she said.

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'Huge opportunity'

Meanwhile, former F1 world champion and sustainability entrepreneur, Nico Rosberg, told CNBC at the event that he was also "putting a lot of hope in the Biden administration" to make the U.S. a leader in sustainability. 

An investor in smart mobility, he said the change of U.S. administration was a "huge opportunity and driving force" to further ramp up efforts for sustainability.  

Rosberg said sport also needs to come on board. He has recently founded a new racing team, Rosberg X Racing, to take part in Extreme E — a global off-road electric car racing series which aims to "minimize environmental impact, but maximize awareness, racing in places that have already been damaged or affected by climate change."

"I want to show how a sports team, and any sports team not just a racing team even a soccer team, can put this greater purpose at their core," he said.

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