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The Government of Liberia, The Embassy of Sweden in Monrovia and Conservation International jointly hosted the Blue Oceans Conference in Monrovia, Liberia from 18 to 21 March 2019, the first of its kind in West and Central Africa.
The conference was a strategic follow up to the inaugural United Nations Oceans Conference 2017 co-hosted in New York by the Fijian and Swedish Governments.
The conference in Liberia contributed to fulfil the Swedish commitments to support other countries to move towards the fulfilment of the global goal “SDG 14 - Life Below Water” under Agenda 2030. Needless to say, the conservation and sustainable use of oceans, seas, and marine resources are central parts of Sweden’s overall objectives to eradicate poverty, counter climate change and promote sustainable development.
“The conference design was sensitive to both issues of human rights and poverty alleviation and these were considered especially critical in the context of the development of the blue economy as not only being about development of industry but also about finding new alternative livelihoods for Liberia’s poorest,” says centre research liasion officer Andrew Merrie who was part of the team who designed and delivered the conference.
The conference brought together over 400 participants from 70 countries – and 5 continents. They included high-level government officials, senior Ministers, Heads of International Organizations, Foreign Governments Representatives, civil society, business and private sector, women and youth organizations, as well as community leaders.
Among the many high-ranking officials from Liberia were: Nathaniel Blama, Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency; James Kollie, Commissioner of the Liberia Maritime Authority; and Gesler Murray, Minister of Mines and Energy.
Swedish high-level representatives included Ingrid Wetterqvist, Ambassador at the Embassy of Sweden in Monrovia; Helen Ågren, Ambassador for the Global Oceans at the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs; and Linnéa Engström, vice-chair of the European Parliament's fisheries committee. Other notable international participants included Sebastian Troëng, Executive Vice President of Conservation International; Patrizia Ziveri, Scientific Director of the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona; and Jessica Donovan-Allen, Country Director of Conservation International's in Liberia.
“Sida congratulates the Liberian authorities on environment and maritime issues and the International NGO Conservation International for the initiative to co-host this important and timely conference together with the Embassy of Sweden in Monrovia,” stated Carin Jämtin, Director General of Sida (The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency) in a written opening address to the conference.
The Blue Oceans Conference focused on four key thematic areas – Climate Change, Marine Pollution, Sustainable Fishing, and Blue Economy. The resulting Call for Action was recently published and contains a number of key messages for Liberia as well as the West African sub-region. For example, these messages recognize the need to: promote capacity building; promote access to technologies and innovations; promote gender equality and foster the roles of youths in the blue economy. Other messages include endeavours to integrate national strategies with UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 2050 Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy (AIMS) as well as developing and mobilizing financing mechanisms from public and private sources.
Moreover, the participants made several voluntary commitments across major sectors to establish new partnerships – and build on existing ones through joint programs and support, technology development and innovation transfer, among numerous others.
The hope is that the Call for Action and the voluntary commitments can stimulate and expand collaboration and sustainable partnerships between governments and relevant stakeholders in the region. Liberia has unique challenges in terms of its marine environment but also several opportunities to begin to transform from a ‘flag of convenience’ state with Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing to an ocean steward that can take actions to address the myriad of challenges it faces and become a model for the wider region.
Nathaniel Blama, Director General of Liberia's Environmental Protection Agency, said that he was proud of what the conference accomplished and promised in his closing speech, among other things, to set up a secretariat to implement the Call for Action and its list of action proposals.
Conservation International, the Liberian event maker and Albaeco coordinated an extensive communications effort for reaching out in Sweden, Liberia, West Africa and towards an international audience. For example, a song with important messages for the general public was produced, together with an accompanying music video (see below).
The song was written and performed by Liberian Cypha d’ King along with Swedish soprano saxophonist Anders Paulsson, and four of Liberia's other leading hip hop artists. The Blue Ocean music video had more than 50,000 views on Facebook within the first week.
"I actually think this catchy song with important messages to the general public was one of the most important outcomes of the conference. So happy about this collaboration and the way music can help to raise awareness about the oceans,” says Fredrik Moberg from Albaeco and a communications advisor to the centre, who was one of the main moderators during the conference.
The coverage of the conference in Liberian media was substantial. A number of radio shows made long interviews with conference organizers, local and international policy makers, the musicians behind the music video and others, before and during the conference. This was accompanied by the publication of a range of news items in the Liberian Daily Observer, The New Dawn Liberia and other national and international newspapers.
In association to the conference, a beach clean-up and a career day were also organised. They both included large amounts of active participation by Liberia’s young people.
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