Our Oceans: A Top Global Security Policy Priority

Photo Credit: Georgetown University

By: John P. Woog, Reporter

On September 16, US Secretary of State John F. Kerry engaged in a midday conversation at Georgetown University with students from over 50 countries, declaring our oceans a top global security issue. Secretary Kerry described how climate change, pollution, food security, energy needs, refugee issues, and criminal activity including illegal fishing and trafficking, are all intricately linked to oceanic health and activity. Secretary Kerry challenged the international group of students to each take a risk, pick a project, and become an active steward in treating oceans as a matter of national and international security.

The conversation was part of the first Our Ocean, One Future Leadership Summit at Georgetown University, a parallel event to the third annual Our Ocean conference hosted by Secretary Kerry in Washington DC. The Summit was co-hosted by Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, the U.S. Department of State, and the Sustainable Oceans Alliance, and included international leaders in government, nongovernmental agencies, business, and science.

Following Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia’s introduction in Gaston Hall, and with Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service Dean Joel S. Hellman serving as moderator, Secretary Kerry outlined his personal passion, policy initiatives and accomplishments, and recommendations for protecting our oceans now and in the future. In addition to the students and Georgetown faculty present, Secretary Kerry acknowledged his co-speaker, actor and environmentalist Adrian Grenier, and paid tribute to honored guests in attendance including Ms. Ségolène Royal, French Minister of Environment, Energy and the Sea, who recently hosted the Paris Climate Conference and is currently the President of the COP 21.

Secretary Kerry recalled his early efforts with the first Earth Day program in the early 1970s, describing how the largely student-led initiative became a powerful force, helping drive the world’s view of oceanic health and sustainability. The twenty million Americans joining the Earth Day effort went on to lobby Congress, resulting in the creation of major environmental policies such as the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Asked by Dean Hellman to explain why our oceans should be considered a top foreign policy priority, Secretary Kerry responded that there is “a clear, inescapable connection between climate change and oceans; between criminal activity, human trafficking, narcotics trafficking, gun running, and other things, criminal enterprise, which carries into the oceans in terms of illegal, unregulated, unreported fishing, which is strip-mining the oceans and threatens to destroy an entire ecosystem” and that this “is absolutely a security issue for every country in the world.”

Secretary Kerry then addressed questions from several students in the audience, including a question from Georgetown SFS graduate student, Sarah Tralines, who asked Secretary Kerry: “As the Obama Administration comes to a close, what are your proudest accomplishments in respect to climate change and ocean conservation, and what’s the greatest challenge, you think, facing the next administration?”

Secretary Kerry spoke of the achievements of the recent Paris Conference in achieving global agreements to address climate change, the commitments of industries and nations toward protecting our oceans through programs such as the Our Ocean conference, and the establishment of marine protected areas, highlighting the two regions recently announced by President Obama off the coasts of Hawaii and New England.

He relayed that despite these accomplishments, many challenges remain, and he made a personal plea to the students to become engaged participants in national and foreign policy including promoting sustainable global environmental policies.

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