General Information

Press Briefing by Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:31 P.M. EDT

MS. SANDERS:  Good afternoon.  Nice crowd.  I know everybody is excited about Energy Week; we certainly are here at the White House.  And that’s why we’ve got Secretary of Energy Rick Perry here to talk to you about what the President and others in the administration are doing all this week to emphasize our commitment to American energy dominance, and he’ll take some of your questions after that.  And, of course, I will be happy to step back up after that and answer questions on other non-energy-related topics.  

SECRETARY PERRY:  We’ll be ecstatic — ecstatic.

MS. SANDERS:  And be nice to him — he’s from Texas.  Not quite Arkansas, but still a good neighbor. 

SECRETARY PERRY:  A good neighbor.

Sarah, thank you.  And my privilege to be here today to share with you a little bit of the observation that I have relative to Energy Week.  This week, the Trump administration will bring together state, tribal, business, labor — all together, one room — happily sitting down and discussing how we’re going to go forward, what the path forward is for U.S. energy dominance.   

And President Trump wants America to achieve energy dominance by utilizing our abundant resources for good, both here and abroad.  And an energy-dominant America means self-reliant, it means a secure nation, free from the geopolitical turmoil of other nations who seek to use energy as an economic weapon.  An energy-dominant America will export to markets around the world, increasing our global leadership and our influence.  

At DOE and across the administration, we’re ending the bureaucratic blockade that has hindered American energy creation.  The United States has been a net energy exporter — excuse me, a net energy importer since 1953, almost as long as I’ve been alive.  But thanks to innovation and technology advancements, we’re on the brink of changing this, and in very important elements of an American energy portfolio.  Ten years ago, people would never have guessed that by 2018 the United States is expected to be a net energy exporter of natural gas.  American companies can and already have exported U.S. LNG to our international trading partners in Europe and Asia.  Unleashing our full energy potential in this country will lead to robust job growth and expansion in every sector of our economy.

This week we will also reaffirm our commitment to clean energy.  That binary choice between pro-economy and pro-environment that has perpetuated — or, I should say, been perpetuated by the Obama administration has set up a false argument.  The fact is, we can do good for both — and we will.  There was one fact missing from the headlines about the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, and that is that the United States already leads the world in lowering emissions.  And we’ve done this through innovation and technology, not by signing agreements.  The Paris Agreement put the taxpayer on the hook for a costly deal.  There was a billion dollars already out the door.  Thankfully, this President has the good sense to step in before billions more had been committed.   

We’ve already seen the fruits of innovative, clean technology, like CCUS — carbon capture, utilization and sequestration.  The Petra Nova plant, just on the outskirts of Houston, Texas, uses a process to remove 90 percent of the carbon dioxide after coal is burned to generate energy in a clean way.  Then it uses that captured carbon for enhanced oil recovery.  

Instead of preaching about clean energy, this administration will act on it.  I believe no clean energy portfolio is truly complete without nuclear power, and so does the President.  If you want to see the environment and the climate that we live in affected in a positive way, you must include nuclear energy with zero emissions to your portfolio.  Do it safe, do it thoughtfully, do it economically.  Under the leadership of the United States, the world can benefit from that.

This administration believes that nuclear energy development can be a game-changer and an important player in the development of our clean-energy portfolio globally.  I believe we can achieve this by focusing on the development of technology, for instance, advanced nuclear reactors, small modular reactors. 

Under President Trump’s leadership, we will continue to advocate for a very broad, all-of-the-above energy portfolio to allow the United States to achieve energy independence, dramatically reducing our trade deficits, and create jobs beyond the 6.4 million Americans who are currently employed in that sector.

We look forward to hearing from Americans this week about how we can best move forward to reduce unnecessary government regulation and bureaucracy to promote jobs and economic growth in the energy sector.  For years, they have been overregulated by Washington politicians and bureaucrats who believed they knew best.  The lecturing is over with, and now it’s time that we listen. 

With that, I will attempt to answer your questions.

Q    On nuclear power, what specifically do you want to do to accelerate its development?  And as has been seen in Georgia, there are still problems.  The Obama administration greenlighted two plants; they’re bogged down primarily because a lot of Americans haven’t built a nuclear power plant in three decades.  There’s a technology gap there.  So how do you deal with that?  Number one.

And number two, if this administration does advance production of nuclear power, does it believe Yukka Mountain needs to be opened up, or that needs to be reconsidered as a repository for nuclear waste?

SECRETARY PERRY:  Well, it’s I think a very astute question you ask about the issue.  For 30 years, the supply chain basically was stagnant.  It was allowed to atrophy, if you will.

This administration truly believes in an all-of-the-above approach, allowing nuclear energy to come and play an important role in a very diverse portfolio.  So the idea that overregulating an industry — that is one of the challenges.  And it’s not just about the United States from the standpoint of our being able to have an energy source that is reliable, that is zero emission.  It’s about America maintaining — or regaining may be a better word — our leadership role in nuclear energy, because the Russians and the Chinese are very actively engaged across the board, globally, to go put their technology to gain and leverage their political place, if you will, using nuclear energy as one of the levers.

So this is a lot bigger issue than just allowing the United States a couple of plants in the southern part of the United States.  It’s a lot bigger than that.  It’s a lot bigger than just making sure that Westinghouse continues to be a stable American company.  This is a massively important issue for the security of America and the security for America’s allies.

So keeping that in place, I think it’s important for us to look at the options, clearly having a plan to keep America engaged in the development of nuclear energy.  One of the things we want to do at DOE is to make nuclear energy cool again, from the standpoint of — if you remember when we were kids — well, sorry, you’re nowhere near my age — but when I was younger in the ’60s and a lot of kids wanted to go into the nuclear energy field.  At my alma mater there were a lot of young boys and girls who wanted to be nuclear engineers.  

That’s not so much the case today because this industry has been strangled all too often by government regulations.  But we need as a county, I think, to again bring us to that place where the nuclear energy is a part of a portfolio and to be able to sell it in great truthfulness and honesty about what it can add to America both from an environmental standpoint and from a security standpoint. 

Q    What about Yucca Mountain?  What about Yucca Mountain?  

SECRETARY PERRY:  Well, you know, we’ve made no decisions at DOE, nor has this administration, from the standpoint of where we’re going to look.  Obviously, those are all options but there’s been no decision made about where it will be going.

Yes, sir. 

Q    Mr. Secretary, two questions for you.  You mentioned the Paris —

SECRETARY PERRY:  Why do you all get two questions?  

Q    We like to get in as much as we can.  

SECRETARY PERRY:  Kind of the game we play now?  (Laughter.) 

Q    He only gets two.  The rest of us get three.  (Laughter.) 

Q    You mentioned the Paris Agreement.  Do you believe, sir, that climate change is happening and that human activity has made it worse?

SECRETARY PERRY:  Here’s what I believe — and I’m pretty much on the record but I love getting the opportunity to talk about it again — is the climate is changing.  Man is having an impact on it.  I’ve said that time after time.  The idea that we can’t have an intellectual conversation about just what are the actual impacts.  I mean, as late as this last week, an undersecretary for the Obama administration, Steve Koonin — he believes that we need to have a sit-down and have a conversation.  That the data is not, from his perspective — and obviously he was a good enough scientist to be asked by the Obama administration to come in and be an undersecretary at the DOE — he doesn’t think that the science is settled.  So why not have a conversation about that?  

I mean, what is the other side?  The people who say the science is settled, it’s done — if you don’t believe that you’re a skeptic, a Luddite.  I don’t buy that.  I don’t think there is — I mean, this is America.  Have a conversation.  Let’s come out of the shadows of hiding behind your political statements and let’s talk about it.  What’s wrong with that?  And I’m full well — I can be convinced, but let’s talk about it. 

Yes, sir. 

Q    Hold on, just to finish your thought.  You said that you do believe that climate change is happening and you do believe that human activity is contributing to it.  So the discussion you’re asking for is just what to do about it?

SECRETARY PERRY:  Sure.  Is that okay?  I mean, don’t you think we ought to do that?

Q    It’s not up for me to say whether it’s okay —

SECRETARY PERRY:  But why?  I mean, you’re an American citizen.  You ought to have part in that.

Q    Secretary Perry, you have a lot of energy.  (Laughter.) 

SECRETARY PERRY:  I come from a place with a lot of energy.

Q    Yes, sir.  My one question is on U.S.-India energy relations, which Prime Minister Modi had a discussion here with President Trump.  Energy was the major discussion of issues and also, of course, pending civil nuclear energy between the U.S. and India.  So can you talk, sir — where do we stand as far as energy is concerned?  Because India is still waiting when the U.S. talks will move as far as nuclear and clean energy is concerned.

SECRETARY PERRY:  Well, let me address the global issue of the United States and India and the relationship between the Trump administration and the Modi administration.  And I happen to think — there was a picture yesterday that I happened to see that I thought was very reflective, and it was of these two individuals embracing each other.  And I think that was a clear message around the world that the United States and India are going to be substantially closer.  Energy is going to play a very, very important role in that.  

Last night at dinner, we talked about the three areas of which there will be great back-and-forth cooperation — deal-making, if you will.  One of those is in LNG.  The other side of that is in clean coal.  Thirdly is on the nuclear side.  So there is great opportunity for India and the United States to become even stronger allies, stronger partners — energy being the glue that will hold that partnership together for a long, long time.

Yes, sir.

Q    Mr. Perry, quick questions.  Well, two actually.  First of all, those who —

SECRETARY PERRY:  Our gentleman over here is the only one who that had an honest look on his face.  (Laughter.)   

Q    I have two for you, sir.  You had said that it’s not binary — the environment and energy coexisted.  But the real question is, as far as fracking and clean coal — opponents to that say that, in fact, that it isn’t environmentally safe and that fracking and coal are going to destroy the environment.  I’d like to get your comments on that before the second question.

SECRETARY PERRY:  Coming from a state that probably did as much hydraulic fracking as any other state in the nation — and interestingly, a number of things happened in Texas over the decade-plus that I was the governor.  One was, there were more jobs created in the state than any other.  There were 7 million people added to population roles while I was governor.  There arguably, economically, that the state led the country.   

There’s also a lesser-known story that you probably don’t know about but I’m going to share it with you, and that is that during that period of time you had this massive job growth, you had this population growth of 7 million — you know what 7 million people is?  That’s a lot of pickup trucks on highways.  That’s a lot of non-point source pollution, correct?  

Your conventional wisdom would tell you because of where you are geographically, the latitude, that you’re prone because of that big petrochemical manufacturing capacity along the Gulf Coast, to really drive up ozone levels.  There’s a lot of reasons that conventional wisdom would say you did a really fine job of creating wealth and jobs, but you played hell with the economy — or, excuse me, with the environment.  And the fact is we didn’t.  We drove down nitrogen oxide levels by over 60 percent, SO2 levels in the mid-50s, and carbon dioxide levels by almost 20 percent reduction.  Isn’t that our goal?

My point is, Texas, which is the 12th largest economy in the world, did exactly what I said.  You can have economic growth and you can have the environment affected in a positive way.  It can happen.

Q    Hold on, I had a second question.  I just want to follow up on Jeff when he was talking about climate change.  Just to be straight, you’re saying that —

SECRETARY PERRY:  Really be straight.

Q    As straight as possible.  Climate change is a fact but you want us to have a discussion about exactly what has to be done about the climate change?  It’s not up for discussion, that part of it?

SECRETARY PERRY:  I have no idea what you just asked.  (Laughter.) 

Q    I asked you to be as straight as possible.  Climate change affected by man —

SECRETARY PERRY:  One more time, you get one more chance.  (Laughter.) 

Q    All right.  I’m only speaking English.  I can try a different way.    

SECRETARY PERRY:  (Inaudible) about how you’re putting this out here. 

Q    I’m putting it out this way.  You are saying that climate change — man has affected climate change, and that the discussion is about what we do with it, not whether or not we’ve affected it.  So going forward, that’s resolved.

SECRETARY PERRY:  No, what I said was:  Climate is changing, always has.  Man at this particular point of time is having effect on it.  How much effect is what’s at debate here? And more importantly, what is the United States going to do to affect that?  Are we going to sign an agreement with somebody that really doesn’t call anybody to making any changes?  You look at that agreement and what China and what India are required to do and they’re nothing.  How many coal plants?

Q    300.

SECRETARY PERRY:  300-plus coal plants we built in India.  So why would we sign on to an agreement that is not holding other people to account and asking us to give $3 billion?  I mean, that’s the first ante.  And the Trump Administration said that’s nonsense.  I agree with them it’s nonsense.  

Now, can we agree we ought to have a conversation as a people?  Intellectually engaged, not screaming at each other, and not standing up in the middle of my speeches and saying you’re a climate denier, when the fact is, I just want to have a conversation about this.

Q    Isn’t that what the scientists have done?  

SECRETARY PERRY:  No, they haven’t.  Because when you have a scientist like Steve Koonin who stands up and says the science isn’t settled yet, I can say, okay, well let’s have a conversation and get these guys together.  In my Senate committee, I said let’s — Senate hearing — I said let’s have a conversation about the blue team and red team getting together and talking this out.  

Okay, you’re up.   

Q    Secretary Perry, thanks for being here.  I want to ask you about coal specifically.  The  EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, earlier this month said — and he was quoting — he appeared to be quoting the Department of Labor’s statistics.  He said, very simply, that the U.S. has added almost 50,000 jobs in the coal sector.  In fact, the coal portion — he was referring to since the fourth quarter — in fact, the coal portion itself has only grown 2,400 jobs, and in the last month it only great 400.  There are only a total of 51,000 coal jobs in this country right now.  So is it misleading Americans — is the administration misleading Americans about where the real job growth is right now in this industry?

SECRETARY PERRY:  I don’t think so.  And I was —

Q    Is coal a growth industry?

SECRETARY PERRY:  I was governor a long enough period of time that job numbers come and go.  They go up and down, back and forth.  What this administration wants to do is to send a message across the country and around the world that America is going to use all of its energy resources in a thoughtful, appropriate, and economically feasible way.

The coal industry is part of that.  When I had conversations with my counterparts in Rome at the G7, when I go to the clean coal ministerial in China, in Beijing earlier this month, we talked about coal.  And we talked about the opportunity of American coal to be sold globally.

So the idea that we’re going to be continuing to develop that fossil fuel, that’s a reality.  That’s real.  We’re going to use coal as a producer of energy for years to come.  I think the question for us is, are we able to do it in a way that is economically feasible, environmentally sensitive?  And I think the answer is yes.  Petra Nova in Houston, great example of that.  

So the point is, taking that snapshot and saying, okay, this is a static picture may be a little bit unfair.

Q    And then following up quickly, if I can, since you get behind the scenes in ways that we don’t.  During the campaign, you famously said of candidate Trump that his candidacy was a cancer on conservatism.

SECRETARY PERRY:  That has nothing to do with energy today.  (Laughter.)  

Q    But he’s been here for six months. 

Mr. Secretary, what do you make of it?  QYou get to see him in person.  What do you make of his conservatism?  It’s a simple question, I think.

SECRETARY PERRY:  How are you?  Good to see you.  You asked —

Q    Did you call on me?

SECRETARY PERRY:  Yes, sir.

Q    Okay, great.  I thought you were talking to Tom.

SECRETARY PERRY:  I was.  I was just saying hi to Tom.  He’s just a great American.  (Laughter.)   

Q    So maybe you help us resolve something.  Questions have been asked here a lot in this briefing room.  The President himself during the campaign called climate change a “hoax.”  Have you had that conversation with him?  Do you know if he shares your view that, in fact, the climate is changing and human activity at this point in time is contributing to that change?

SECRETARY PERRY:  I have not had that conversation with him.  

Q    Mr. Secretary, thank you for your time.  I want to ask you about your concerns about the electrical grid and what you all are doing to ensure not just its safety, but further growth and development.  And on gas prices, are you concerned about the direction they’re going?  Should American people expect gas prices to continue to fall?

SECRETARY PERRY:  So let’s get over on the grid.  Obviously, the Department of Energy has a both scientific, they have a historic reason to be involved with that.  One is that, at one of our national labs, we have a test grid of which we are able to go out — one of the reasons that the Department of Homeland Security and DOE is involved with grid security is that DOE operates a substantial grid — a test grid, if you will — where we can go out and actually break things.  We can infest it with different viruses and what have you to be able to analyze how we’re going to harden our grid so that Americans can know that our country is doing everything that it can to protect, defend this country against either cyberattacks that would affect our electrical security or otherwise.

So the ability for us to be able to continue to lead the world — I think we all know the challenges.  We saw the reports as late as today of what’s going on in Ukraine.  And so protecting this country, its grid against not just cyber, but also against physical attacks, against attacks that may come from Mother Nature, weather-related events — all of that is a very important part of what DOE, DHS is doing together.  

What was your second?

Q    Gas prices.  

SECRETARY PERRY:  You know, I’m not in the business of trying to tell people what’s going to happen on gas prices.  I mean, they may go up, they may go down, just like they’ve always done.  Our job is to make sure that America has a diverse energy portfolio so that we have as many options as we can have — whether it’s developing — we went and developed huge wind energy portfolio in Texas while I was the governor.  

One of the reasons we were driven that way was because gas prices went to $12, $13 an Mcl.  And we had way too much invested, if you will, in just one or two sources of energy and we thought it made sense to look at these renewables from the standpoint of having diversity in our grid.

So that’s our job, to try to have as diverse an energy portfolio as we can in this country.  The market will manage the cost of gasoline, and supply and demand will work.

Q    On that cyberattack you were taking about, can you give us an update?  Do you think that the U.S. energy grid is being targeted with this particular cyberattack?  And can you give us an update on U.S. utilities and —

SECRETARY PERRY:  Listen, I don’t have any reason to be different from you that think and know that there are cyber actors out there, cyber terrorists.  They may or may not work with nation states.  They may be lone-type rangers, attackers, if you will, that would try to get in to hold companies, countries hostage in some form or fashion.

So whether it’s a particular country, I don’t have any reason to point at one country and say this one is — we know that they’re involved in certain places in the world.  They’re out there.  Instead of worrying about who they are and what’s going on, and then here in a public setting, doing the work to make sure — as he asked — he made a point about having the best security that we can, have the best defenses that we can to be able to identify and to protect our grid.

Q    Mr. Secretary, thank you.  You’ve mentioned the Paris climate agreement a number of times.  President Trump said he wanted to get a better deal.  Has he or you or anyone in this administration begun that process?  And do you think it’s possible, given that a number of leaders have said it’s a deal that can’t be renegotiated?  

SECRETARY PERRY:  I’m pretty sure the President of the United States wakes up every day thinking about how to get a better deal in a host of different things.  Specifically to that, I never said, Mr. President, let’s talk about what the better deal is.

With that said, I don’t have a problem — whether it was renegotiating NAFTA, which some of you have been around here long enough to know that I was involved with the original NAFTA negotiations — and I think renegotiate the deal.  Get a better one.  That’s what President Trump does.  That’s his mindset.  And I think our allies and/or those that may not be our allies need to understand that that’s where we’re going to be coming from.

Q    On renewables, Mr. Secretary, you mentioned that you did this work in Texas.  What do you see as the role — you’ve mentioned at greater length, whether it’s fracking or clean coal, as you cited it, or nuclear — where do you see the role for renewables moving forward from this administration? 

SECRETARY PERRY:  I think that renewables are proving themselves to be a valuable part of a diverse portfolio.  So I full well expect solar and wind and maybe some forms of energy that we don’t even know yet that one of our extraordinary national labs is being looked at right now that may give us some potentials that we don’t even realize we have.

Yes, ma’am.  Right in the middle.

Q    And a follow-up on Peter’s questions about jobs, because that’s where a lot of the jobs are happening now.  We especially see in solar and wind.  So do you see this as a growth for the American job market?

SECRETARY PERRY:  Sure.

Q    Sir, I want to go back to a piece that really has not been talked about — the issue of coal.  There are some critics who are saying this administration wants to make coal great again.  Talk to me about — and us about your plans with coal.  It is basically being wanted by many countries around the world, and we still have yet to figure out a clean enough use for it as you’re dealing with climate change issues.

SECRETARY PERRY:  Well, I’m not sure if I agree with your observation that we haven’t figured out a clean use for coal yet from the standpoint — 

Q    Is it clean enough?  It’s a challenge — 

SECRETARY PERRY:  There’s some that you can’t make it clean enough, so — and I guess that’s who I’m referencing to.  But when you can take 90 percent and upwards of the CO2 out of the air when you’re burning coal, I don’t know how high you have to raise the bar to make some people happy.

With that said, let me share with you some of the things that we’re seeing in our national labs, for instance, being able to — coal is the root source of rare earth minerals.  And if we hadn’t done this work on clean coal technology, we would not have realized that there are ways that we can extract these rare earth minerals out of coal, coal ash.  

And so again, I ask people to be open-minded about innovation.  You all remember 15 years ago, and we were hearing this fella travel around the country giving a speech about peak oil.  We had found all the oil there was.  Sarah, your dad and I went to lots of Republican governors’ meetings, and one of them, this guy came and gave a speech and he said, we’ve found all the fossil fuels, all the oil and gas has been found, it’s a downward slope, that’s a fact.  Settled science may have been his word.  I don’t recall that, but he might have said that.  

That was the point, though, that all the oil and gas had been found.  Except George Mitchell didn’t read the — he didn’t read that, didn’t believe that.  Innovation, technology drives this country.  It always has.  And I think we ought to be a little skeptical when somebody says, this is the end of this, this is bad.  It’s okay to ask those questions.  

So my point is that with coal, there may be some uses of coal that we never even dreamed of before that can really make a big difference.  Because when you think about the rare earth minerals that are controlled by countries outside of the United States, and our being able to come up with the technology to retrieve those may be a real game changer.

So with that, I’m — 

Q    One last question, sir.  

SECRETARY PERRY:  Yes.

Q    You’re a former governor, and people are talking about states as it relates to repeal and replace of Obamacare.  If you had states’ rights — so thank you. 

SECRETARY PERRY:  By and large, I wasn’t going to talk about anything outside of energy, but you’ve touched on one of my favorite subjects.  (Laughter.)  

Q    Well, thank you. 

SECRETARY PERRY:  And that is federalism.  And I had — 

Q    Uh-oh.

SECRETARY PERRY:  Yes, here we go.  (Laughter.)  You asked.  I mean, thank you, ma’am.  Thank you, ma’am.

Q    I’m ready for it.  I’m ready for it.

SECRETARY PERRY:  So I happen to believe that the states are laboratories of innovation.  They’re innovators just like we have at our national labs.  Governors I think have within their states and their bright young people who work with them and the private sector, they will come up with ways to deliver healthcare that can put more people under coverage for less money and give options to their citizens.  

I know for a fact that Connecticut is not like Texas.  They’re just not.  And to say that Washington, D.C. can come up with a one-size-fits-all solution to healthcare that’s going to address all this and do it in an economically feasible, thoughtful way is just so much nonsense.  It’s just — you know that’s not true.  Let the states have this Medicaid opportunity, the ones that want it.  If somebody says, oh, I’d rather have Washington take care of me, then that’s okay, that’s their call.  But the states ought to be given the opportunity. 

And I will suggest to you it can save substantial amounts of money, come up with options for their citizens that are substantially better for the citizens of their state, and save this country mountains of money.  

Q    Mr. Secretary, going back to the threats against the power grid, what about the threats of an EMP attack?  What are the steps being taken to prevent against that, or to protect against that sort of attack?

SECRETARY PERRY:  I think our national labs are looking at all options, that being one of them.

Q    Mr. Secretary, one quick follow-up on your comments earlier about Westinghouse — an American company.  Obviously it’s been owned by Toshiba for more than a decade now, but Westinghouse is in the middle of these bankruptcy proceedings and several buyers are on the market.  You sit on (inaudible).  Are you saying that you would block efforts by any foreign company to purchase what remains of Westinghouse Electric?

SECRETARY PERRY:  I know the process, and that is a classified piece of information that I will not give here.

Q    If I can follow on cybersecurity.  Have you been given reports about a current cyber break-in at a number of U.S. nuclear plants?  It’s been confirmed by the grid monitor.  The investigation, I think, is codenamed Nuclear 17.  Do you have any information about that?

SECRETARY PERRY:  No, sir.

Q    Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  This morning, President Macron of France called President Trump and invited him to come to Bastille Day, July 14th.  Do you see this as a way that the French are taking up his suggestion for negotiating a new climate change agreement?  And would you urge him to make the trip?  

SECRETARY PERRY:  I would always look at an invitation to a party as a good thing.  (Laughter.)  

Q    Mr. Secretary, you’re very enthusiastic about nuclear power and the potential that it has.  A lot of people are still scared of nuclear power because of nuclear waste and nuclear plant safety.  And this has been happening since the ’60s, when one television documentarian said that really it hasn’t changed in terms of what we know to do with nuclear waste, which isn’t much.  Can you assure the American people that nuclear waste and nuclear plant safety are such that we should expand nuclear power in this country?

SECRETARY PERRY:  You know, I would reflect that — or deflect that, if he was here, to President Macron of France, who gets 70-plus percent of their power from nuclear energy.

Now, this is the country that wouldn’t buy Texas beef for some reason, yet 76 percent of their energy comes from nuclear power.  So the French, who I’ve always thought were a little bit different — (laughter) — and that’s in a good way.  You know, they recognized us as a state back in the 1830s, so we actually have a really close, personal relationship with the French.  We like them.  We had an embassy in Paris.  They had one in Austin; as a matter of fact it’s still there, called the French Legation.  Invite all of you to come and see it.

But the French are a little different when it comes to some things.  And one of those I would find it really interesting — our French friends are very comfortable getting 76 percent, thereabouts, of their energy from nuclear, and I can assure you they’re very fond of getting it at the rate they’re getting it.

Q    Can I ask a question about Yucca Mountain, please?  A Yucca Mountain question, please?  Right over here.

SECRETARY PERRY:  One last question.  I’ll just go back to this side.  You’re the last question.  Yes, sir.

Q    Thank you.  Mr. Secretary, thank you.  You mentioned federalism, the power of governors.  Recently, as you know, the Trump administration has scrapped the Clean Power Plan, which was hampering many states.  Now you’ve got governors, who you just said have a certain authority — you’ve got governors that are saying, we’re going to go ahead and institute the Clean Power Plan in our states anyway regardless of what the EPA says.  Doesn’t that put those states at a tremendous economic disadvantage?  And what would be your message, sir, to those governors?

SECRETARY PERRY:  I think governors and their citizens need to be given that right to make those decisions.  I said many times that I thought that Colorado was wrong in allowing for the use of marijuana, which they’ve decided to do.  But that’s their call.  I will defend that right robustly.  But that ought to be their call.  If they want to put — I mean, Jerry Brown, we were together at the — in China, at Beijing for the clean energy ministerial.  We saw each other, shook hands, walked — as we were going by.  Jerry has decided he wants his state to be involved with the Paris agreement, however that works, which is fine.  That’s his call.  Texas will still be there to take any businesses that would like to relocate.

And that’s the beauty of all of this:  Allow America to be competitive.  Allow Americans to pick and choose where they want to live, under what types of governments, and we’ll figure it out.  But this idea that we’re going to have one-size-fits-all out of Washington, D.C. — one of the reasons I came to serve with President Trump was because I knew he believed in that and he believes in competition.  And the future of America is brighter because we have a President who believes in American exceptionalism, American competition, and making America great again.

Thank you.

Q    Please come back.

Q    Come on back.

SECRETARY PERRY:  It was enjoyable. 

MS. SANDERS:  I don’t think anybody will question whether or not Secretary Perry is a high-energy guy, that’s for sure.  Great guy.  Wrong football team, but that’s probably for another day.  

On top of Energy Week and everything that Secretary Perry and other Cabinet members have on the agenda for that, we’ve got a full schedule of events and actions from the President’s Cabinet today, on everything from global human trafficking to assistance, funding for small communities. 

This morning, Ivanka Trump joined Secretary Tillerson at a State Department event releasing the 2017 Trafficking and Persons Report.  As Ivanka said this morning, human trafficking is a human rights issue that affects millions, and this report is an important tool for the administration to combat this tragic problem.  The full report is available on the State Department website.  I encourage you guys to take a look.

Also this morning, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Secretary Shulkin hosted a meeting of robotics experts for a robotics and healthcare roundtable.  The VA is embarking on the largest transformation and modernization effort in recent history, and part of that will be developing a robust robotics program within the Department.

Yesterday, the Interior Department announced a record $464.6 million allocation to help small communities, further demonstrating the Trump administration’s commitment to all Americans.  In states like Utah, which received nearly $40 million, and Nevada, which received $26.2 million, these investments are an important part of the federal government’s role as land manager and neighbor to local communities, including many of those that play a big role in feeding and powering our nation.

Many of these small communities in states like Nevada are also being hit particularly hard as healthcare insurance premiums rise and insurers flee their Obamacare exchanges.  It’s because of the people who will have no choice for themselves or their families that it’s so critical that the Senate votes to repeal and replace Obamacare.  Every day, a new announcement is made that puts health insurance out of reach for thousands of Americans, whether insurers are hiking up rates or leaving markets entirely.

Today, the Vice President is on the Hill to attend the Senate policy lunch and hold additional meetings.  And he’ll be hosting senators at dinner tonight in his residence.  Both the President and the Vice President are fully engaged with the Senate and are helping to create a consensus that will push this bill over the finish line.  

As Sean said yesterday, the President talked extensively with several Republican members over the weekend, including Senators Cruz, Paul, Capito, and Johnson.  He spoke to Senator McConnell this morning, and he’s invited all Republican senators to the White House later this afternoon to continue these discussions.  The President is optimistic that Republicans will live up to the promise that they’ve been making to the American people for seven years by repealing and replacing Obamacare. 

I know you guys are probably a little bit tired since we’ve been here a while, so you want to skip on the questions?  (Laughter.)  I figured it was worth a shot.  And with that, I’ll take your questions.

Charlie.

Q    Recently, Breitbart News challenged the accuracy of a CNN story, and afterwards it was retracted, deleted and the editors responsible were fired, as well as — the network apologized for the story.  The target of this — one of the targets of the story accepted the apology.  The President went on Twitter this morning and repeated that CNN was fake news.  Why isn’t their response good enough for the President?

MS. SANDERS:  I don’t know that it’s that the response isn’t good enough for the President.  I think it’s the constant barrage of fake news directed at this President probably that has garnered a lot of his frustration.  

You point to that report; there are multiple other instances where that outlet that you referenced has been repeatedly wrong and had to point that out or be corrected.  There’s a video circulating now, whether it’s accurate or not I don’t know, but I would encourage everybody in this room, and, frankly, everybody across the country to take a look at it.  I think if it is accurate, I think it’s a disgrace to all of media, to all of journalism.  

I think that we have gone to a place where if the media can’t be trusted to report the news, then that’s a dangerous place for America.  And I think if that is the place that certain outlets are going, particularly for the purpose of spiking ratings, and if that’s coming directly from the top, I think that’s even more scary and certainly more disgraceful.  And I hope that that’s not the direction we’re headed.  I hope that outlets that have continued to use either unnamed sources, sometimes stories with no sources at all — we’ve been going on this Russia-Trump hoax for the better part of a year now with no evidence of anything.

Things like the success at the VA barely get covered.  They may get covered for an hour at a time, but this story gets covered day in, day out.  And I think America is, frankly, looking for something better.  They’re looking for something more.  And I think they deserve something better from our news media.

Q    Does the President actually expect —

MS. SANDERS:  I’m sorry?

Q    Does the President actually expect us not to report on stories of a foreign country trying to influence the presidential election?

MS. SANDERS:  I don’t think it’s that it’s expected that you’re not to report on, again, actual news if there’s something there.  But again, I think that there are a lot of things happening in this world that, frankly, a lot of people would like to hear about — whether it’s job growth, whether it’s deregulation, whether it’s tax reform, healthcare.  I think a lot of those things deserve a lot more coverage than they get.

And all we’re saying is I think that we should take a really good look at what we are focused on, what we are covering and making sure that it’s actually accurate and it’s honest.  If we make the slightest mistake, the slightest word is off, it is just an absolutely tirade from a lot of people in this room.  But news outlets get to go on day after day and site unnamed sources, use stories without sources, have — you mentioned the Scaramucci story —

Q    But, Sarah they can —

MS. SANDERS:  — where they had to have reporters resign.

Q    Sarah, that’s — come on.  You’re inflaming everybody right here and right now with those words.  This administration has done that as well.  Why in the name of heavens — any one of us, right, are replaceable, and any one of us, if we don’t get it right, the audience has the opportunity to turn the channel or not read us.  You have been elected to serve for four years at least.  There’s no option other than that.  We’re here to ask you questions, you’re here to provide the answers, and what you just did is inflammatory to people all over the country who look at it and say, see, once again, the President is right and everybody else out here is fake media.  And everybody in this room is only trying to do their job.  

MS. SANDERS:  Well, I just — I disagree completely.  First of all, I think if anything has been inflamed it’s the dishonesty that often takes place by the news media.  And I think it is outrageous for you to accuse me of inflaming a story when I was simply trying to respond to his question.

Kevin.

Q    Thank you, Sarah.  I just — rapid fire because I don’t — we’ve had a bit of a long briefing here.  With the — let me ask it this way — how would you describe the President’s mood on healthcare?  Concerned, still encouraged?  And what did you make of the CBO score, if you’ve talked to him about that?  And then secondly, I want to ask you about the warning to Syria.  What’s the message that the administration wants to convey, not just to the world community but also to the American people who see headlines like that and they wonder are we hurtling headlong into a major situation in that part of the world.

MS. SANDERS:  I’ll start with healthcare first.  Obviously, we’re continuing to be optimistic.  The President is committed, he said, and all the members of the administration have said repeatedly, to repealing and replacing Obamacare, working with the Senate, working with the House, making sure we get the best bill.  For us it’s never been about the timeline but about getting the best piece of legislation that helps the most Americans.  And that’s what we’re continuing to do day in, day out.  That’s the reason the President has asked members of the Senate to come here today, so that they can talk through that, so that they can figure out the best way to move the ball forward.  That’s the goal of the meeting this afternoon, and that’s the goal of the administration.

In terms of the CBO score, as we said yesterday, the CBO is a budget office.  And while it does very well at times predicting things on budget — whether it’s revenue or spending — I don’t think it does a great job — and I think the administration has been clear and consistent that we don’t always agree that it does a great job predicting coverage.

I think we saw that, given their history — they projected that Obamacare, there would be 24 million people that were part of that; there were only 11 [million], and that number is dropping every day.  So I don’t have a lot of confidence in that number on that part, but I do think that some of the places where they do a good job again are on the budget and the revenue side.  And the CBO score that they pointed out was that it would cut deficits by $300 billion and cut taxes by $700 billion.

I think those are good things, and I think when they focus on the budget side, that’s probably a good thing.  And I think you had a second part, sorry.

Q    Syria, the warning to Syria.  What’s your message to the international community and also to the American people who may be concerned when they read a headline like that they’re thinking, well, we may be hurtling toward a situation that involves the U.S. in that part of the world?

MS. SANDERS:  I think that the message from the statement yesterday was extremely clear.  I don’t think it was a gray area; it was pretty black and white.

Major.

Q    Can you explain — because you went on the record this morning — what the process was that led to that statement last night?  Were members of the team at the State Department or the Defense Department taken aback by that statement, or were they fully involved?  Can you give us an idea of how the process internally worked to deliberate that statement and then create the statement for public release?

MS. SANDERS:  Right.  I can tell you that leadership from the State Department, DOD, DNI, the CIA, as well as members of the administration within this building were part of that process from the very beginning and fully aware.

Q    Can you give us a timeline from the very beginning?  Was that on yesterday or is it —

MS. SANDERS:  I’m not going to walk through the detailed process of a timeline on how that was released for intelligence purposes.

Q    And on healthcare, you just said you accept or find valid the CBO numbers on the budget side.  Is that true —  

MS. SANDERS:  I mean, there are budget —

Q    In its — assessment yesterday?

MS. SANDERS:  They’re a budget office.  And I think on the initial numbers that we saw, from that, — the cutting of the deficit, the cutting of taxes — I think that that’s where historically they’ve been more accurate as well.  It’s not just my — like I’ve decided that.  But historically, that’s where they’ve been —

Q    And for the purposes of the public looking at this, would this administration accept the budget and revenue numbers that were published yesterday as, generally speaking, valid and worth taking seriously?

MS. SANDERS:  I would think so.  For the most part, I think — in large — yes.

Jennifer.

Q    Two things, one on Google and one on the economic forecast.  So European officials have slapped Google with this $2.7 billion fine.  Is the White House cool with European regulators hitting a U.S. company with a fine when our own Federal Trade Commission hasn’t accused them of anti-competitive behavior?

MS. SANDERS:  At this point, I don’t have anything for us to weigh in on the regulations of a private company.  But if anything changes, I’ll let you know. 

Kristen.  Oh, sorry.

Q    Okay, and also on the International Monetary Fund.  So they lowered their forecast for U.S. economic growth down to 2.1 percent, which is lower than what the President has been — hope for.  Can you share some reaction on what you think about this new IMF forecast?

MS. SANDERS:  I haven’t had a chance to dig into that, but we’ll certainly circle back with you on it.

Jim Stinson.

Q    Sarah — you called on me, Sarah.

MS. SANDERS:  Oh, sorry.  Jim, let me take Kristen.  I did call on her.  I’ll come back to you.

Q    Thank you.  I appreciate it.  If Syria is poised to launch another chemical weapons attack, isn’t that an acknowledgement that the airstrikes in April didn’t work, Sarah?

MS. SANDERS:  Look, I think that our goal every day is to do what we can to protect life in all forms and to take steps to move the ball forward in defeating ISIS, defeating all efforts of terrorism, and I think the statement yesterday helped to do that.

Q    Why will a paper statement work, though, when airstrikes didn’t dissuade Bashar al-Assad?  

MS. SANDERS:  I don’t know that it didn’t based on what we know at this point.

Q    And just to follow up very quickly, was there a principals’ meeting, a deputies’ meeting before that statement was issued by Sean Spicer last night?

MS. SANDERS:  I know that there was a routine meeting that took place yesterday.  I don’t believe that there was anything beyond that yesterday.

Q    Sarah, two questions, just like NBC.  Given the news about CNN’s —

MS. SANDERS:  Be careful about letting NBC set your standard.  (Laughter.)  

Q    Given the news about CNN’s erroneous story about Anthony Scaramucci, does the White House believe there are other Russia-related stories from major outlets that have not been retracted and are just as false, including the February 14th story in The New York Times about collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, which James Comey called into question, which many believe the CNN story was based upon?

MS. SANDERS:  I would have to look back at that specific story.  There have been many by The New York Times that I would probably disagree quite a bit with.  I think you could take it pretty straightforward that this administration disagrees with all of the stories that claim that the President and his campaign colluded with Russia in any capacity.

So I think he’s been extremely clear that he believes that’s a hoax and certainly something that’s not true and didn’t take place.  And any story related to that you would I think find frustration from this team here.

Q    On the CNN retraction, does the White House now believe the news media have an obligation to review stories on the Russian-Trump issue and retract questionably sourced stories on the topic?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m sorry?  I’m not following the — 

Q    Do you believe that the media should go back and look at anonymously sourced stories on Russia and Trump and maybe start a review process and retract where necessary?

MS. SANDERS:  I think that would be a great idea.  I certainly don’t think that you would get arguments from us if there were retractions from outlets on fake stories.  But I also think that there’s a moment where we can all do better, and I certainly think that’s what we strive to do every day.  And hopefully that’s the goal — I know it is — of many, and hopefully it will continue to be of not just the news media but everybody involved in the process to continue to do better, to continue to strive for excellence, and to continue to deliver the best we can for the American people. 

Mara.

Q    Thank you, Sarah.  Two healthcare questions.  Okay, so you accept the budgetary calculations of the CBO, but not the projections on how many people would be insured.  What about their projections on what would happen to premiums and deductibles?  Is that something you accept or not accept?

MS. SANDERS:  I mean, I think they said yesterday that the premiums would go down roughly 30 percent by 2020.  That seems, based on what we’ve done internally, pretty consistent, so — 

Q    Well, they also said that for people of certain incomes they would go way up.  So you only accept them if they go down? 

MS. SANDERS:  No, but I think in general and largely they predicted that they’d go down 30 percent by 2020.

Q    Okay, and then another question.  The President promised that his healthcare plan would not have cuts to Medicaid.  Does he believe that a family of four making $60,000 makes too much money to qualify for Medicaid?  In other words, that that’s just too high an income to be getting Medicaid?

MS. SANDERS:  I don’t know about a specific — like a level breakdown.  And again, there’s a reason he’s bringing senators over here today to talk through — we know there’s going to be changes.  We know there’s going to be adjustments.  The thing that the President was committed to was making sure that anybody that currently receives Medicare — that’s not — Medicaid, sorry — Medicaid that’s not touched.  And that is consistent with what’s in the bill, and that will continue to be what he fights for.

Q    Does he believe — he said the House bill was too mean.  Does he believe that the Senate bill is less mean, as mean, more mean?  Like what does he think?

MS. SANDERS:  I honestly haven’t asked him whether or not he thinks the Senate bill — the mood of it yet but I’ll check on that, Mara, and get back to you.

Thanks, guys, so much.  Have a good day.

END 
3:29 P.M. EDT

General Information

Secretary-General Calls for Strategic Vision, New Model of Governance to Save World’s Seas, as United Nations Ocean Conference Opens

The inaugural United Nations Ocean Conference opened today with a call for urgent action to improve the health of the world’s seas, now in peril after decades of pollution, overfishing and the unattended effects of climate change that were decimating marine life, and in turn, livelihoods.

The Conference, which runs through 9 June, will explore how to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 14:  conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

Opening the event, Secretary-General António Guterres told world leaders that unless they could overcome the territorial and resource interests that had blocked progress, the state of the oceans would continue to deteriorate.  “We need a new strategic vision,” he said, a new model of ocean governance.  The first step was to end the artificial dichotomy between economic demands and the health of our seas.

Concrete steps were needed, he said, from expanding marine protected areas and managing fisheries, to reducing pollution and cleaning up plastic waste, the latter of which, if left unchecked, would outweigh fish in the sea by 2050.  The political will which had led to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda must now be translated into funding commitments.  Better data must be gathered and best practices shared.

“Improving the health of our oceans is a test for multilateralism,” he said. “We created these problems.  With decisive, coordinated global action, we can solve them.”

Peter Thomson (Fiji), President of the General Assembly, said the time had come to correct wrongful ways.  It was inexcusable that humanity tipped the equivalent of a garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute of every day.  Illegal fishing and harmful fisheries subsidies were driving fish stocks to collapse, he said, while greenhouse gases were causing sea levels to rise.

The task was to ensure that Goal 14 received the support necessary to meet its targets, he said.  “We are here on behalf of humanity to restore sustainability, balance and respect to our relationship with our primal mother, the source of life, the ocean.”

Co-President of the Conference Isabella Lövin, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for International Development Cooperation and Climate of Sweden, said the ocean was 30 per cent more acidic than in pre-industrial times.  Big predatory fish stocks had declined by 70 to 90 per cent, and in some areas, there were more microplastics than plankton.  Without a healthy planet, people would not prosper.  She called on Member States, business, civil society, academia and other stakeholders to start making a real difference.

Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji and Conference Co-President, said oceans were being treated as rubbish dumps.  The rich marine bounty that generations had relied on for sustenance was being destroyed.  He urged participants to act in concert to protect marine resources, stressing that no one country or Government could afford to ignore the magnitude of the threat.  Goal 14 must rocket to the top of the global agenda.

Stressing that oceans had a direct impact on poverty education, health, economic growth, food security and job creation, Frederick Musiiwa Makamure Shava (Zimbabwe), President of the Economic and Social Council, added that solutions must be put into place to ensure that oceans remained a source of life and human well-being for generations.

Wu Hongbo, Secretary-General of the Ocean Conference and Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said special attention should be paid to the means of implementation for Goal 14, including capacity-building and enhanced financing, which was critical for small island developing States, least developed countries and developing nations alike.

The afternoon featured a partnership dialogue on marine pollution, during which world leaders, along with senior officials from Government, the private sector, scientific community and civil society, explored challenges relating to particular pollutants, such as microplastics, and broader trends, such as the rapid growth of coastal cities, which would require more scientific research, knowledge sharing and governance arrangements.

The Conference — officially titled the United Nations Conference to Support the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development — opened with a traditional Fijian welcome ceremony, featuring three calls of a ceremonial conch shell, a Kava drinking ceremony and cultural dance.

In other business, delegates elected Mr. Bainimarama and Ms. Lövin as the Presidents of the Conference.

The Conference also adopted, without a vote, its rules of procedure (document A/CONF.230/2) and agenda (document A/CONF.230/1), as well as a Secretariat note on organizational and procedural matters (document A/CONF.230/3).  Twelve Vice-Presidents were elected by acclamation:  Algeria, Croatia, Estonia, Guatemala, Indonesia, Ireland, Kenya, Morocco, New Zealand, Poland, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela.  Arthur Amaya Andambi (Kenya) was elected Rapporteur-General.

The nine members of the General Assembly Credentials Committee — Cameroon, China, Malawi, Netherlands, Paraguay, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Saint Lucia and the United States — were meanwhile appointed members of the Conference Credentials Committee without a vote.

The Ocean Conference will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 6 June.

Opening Statements

ISABELLA LÖVIN, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for International Development Cooperation and Climate of Sweden, and Co-President of the Conference, described the global ocean conveyer belt as a sort of ocean bloodstream that connected everybody.  The ocean accounted for 97 per cent of the living biosphere, contained 1.3 billion cubic kilometres of water and provided 50 per cent of the planet’s oxygen.  Mankind always believed it was endless, infinite and impossible for humans to affect in any significant way, she said, but today it was 30 per cent more acidic than in pre-industrial times, big predatory fish stocks had declined by 70 to 90 per cent and surface waters were getting warmer.  In some areas, there were more microplastics than plankton.

She recalled an interview a few years ago with an Australian yachtsman who, while crossing the Pacific Ocean, saw rubbish floating everywhere, including toys, car tires and telegraph poles.  More recently, researchers on uninhabited Henderson Island, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site, found 38 million plastic items on its shore.  “By now we know one thing for certain — the ocean is not endless, not infinite,” she said.  “But it has no borders.  It knows nothing about nations.  It is just one united ecosystem and we are part of it.”

Environmental protection and economic development were inseparable, she said, adding that without a healthy planet, people would not prosper.  Sweden was committed to maintaining the political momentum created by the Paris Agreement on climate change and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and called on all Member States, business, civil society, academia and other stakeholders, to start working towards making a real difference.  “We know what needs to be done.  We know the ocean is broken.  We now need to sit together and make the long to-do list we all need to be ticking off together in order to fix it,” she said, adding that a better moment to do so would never come.

JOSAIA VOREQE BAINIMARAMA, Prime Minister of Fiji and Co-President of the Ocean Conference, said climate change and the state of the world’s oceans could not be separated.  Rising sea levels and ocean acidity had a direct impact on people’s lives and countries’ prosperity.  “We come from opposite sides of the Earth but we are united in our determination to meet the challenges head-on,” he said, appealing to young people in particular to become agents for change, whether by collecting bottles from a beach or banding together to clean up coastal areas.  “Our waterways are choking,” he said, and oceans were being treated as rubbish dumps.  Turtles, dolphins and sharks were being caught in nets, and whales had stomachs full of rubbish.  The rich marine bounty that generations had relied on for sustenance was being destroyed.

He said the degradation must stop, appealing to the world’s people to act in concert to protect marine resources.  “That effort starts now,” he said, pressing to participants to send a message that time was running out to save our seas and oceans.  No one country or Government could afford to ignore the magnitude of the threat.  As a Fijian, he had the Pacific Ocean “running through my blood,” and it said it pained him to see the deterioration of that precious resource.  Where there once had been an abundance of fish, boat hulls were now increasingly sparse or non-existent.  Greedy nations and commercial interests were robbing countries like Fiji of food and livelihoods through over-fishing.  Noting that small island developing States lacked the means to police their economic zones, he said Goal 14 must rocket to the top of the global agenda and he encouraged all participants to make the Ocean Conference a success.

ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said oceans and seas covered two thirds of the planet, providing food, energy, water, jobs and economic benefits to every country.  They were a crucial buffer against climate change and a massive resource for sustainable development.  Many nationalities, including his own, had a special relationship with the sea.  The truth was, the sea has a special relationship with all of us.  Yet pollution, over-fishing and the effects of climate change were severely damaging ocean health, he said, with one study finding that plastic in the seas could outweigh fish by 2050.

Indeed, oceans were becoming more acidic, he said, causing coral bleaching and reducing biodiversity, while fisheries in some places were collapsing.  Dead zones — underwater deserts where life could not survive due to a lack of oxygen — were growing rapidly.  Conflicting demands from industry, fishing, shipping, mining and tourism were stressing coastal systems.  While numerous reports, global commissions and scientific assessments had described the serious damage to the world’s most vital life support system, Governments were not making full use of the tools available, including the Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“We created these problems,” he said.  “With decisive, coordinated global action, we can solve them”.  The Sustainable Development Goals must be the road map.  The essential first step must be to end the artificial dichotomy between economic demands and ocean health.  Strong political leadership and new partnerships were needed, based on the existing legal framework, and he commended all who had signed the Call for Action, to be formally adopted this week.  From expanding marine protected areas and managing fisheries, to reducing pollution to cleaning up plastic waste, he called for a step change locally, nationally and globally.  The ongoing work to create a legal framework on conservation and the sustainable use of biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction was particularly important in that regard.

Further, the political will of the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda must be translated into funding commitments, he said, stressing that better data, information and analysis were also required, because “we can’t improve what we don’t measure”.  Finally, best practices and experiences must be shared.  For its part, the United Nations was committed to providing integrated, coordinated support for the implementation of all historic agreements of the past year.  He was personally determined to break down barriers to improve the Organization’s performance and accountability.

He said the United Nations was building partnerships with Governments, the private sector and civil society, as well as working with international financial institutions on innovative financing to release more funds.  It was harnessing big data to improve the basis for decision-making.  A new strategic vision was needed and he called on Member States to define a new model for ocean governance.  Unless the territorial and resource interests that had blocked progress for too long were overcome, the oceans would continue to deteriorate.  He urged participants to set aside short-term national gain to prevent long-term global catastrophe, stressing that “conserving our oceans and using them sustainably is preserving life itself.”

PETER THOMSON (Fiji), President of the General Assembly, stressed that the Conference offered the best opportunity to reverse the cycle of decline that human activity had brought upon the seas.  Sustainable Development Goal 14 — the ocean’s goal — was humanity’s only universally agreed measure to conserve and sustainably manage its resources.  The task ahead was to ensure that the Goal received the support necessary to meet its critical targets.  “To do that, we need to hear the truth about the state of the ocean,” he said. “We are here on behalf of humanity to restore sustainability, balance and respect to our relationship with our primal mother, the source of life, the ocean.”

Indeed, he said, the time had come to correct wrongful ways.  It was inexcusable that humanity tipped the equivalent of a garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute of every day.  “We have unleashed a plague of plastic upon the ocean,” he said, defiling nature in tragic ways.  Illegal and destructive fishing practices, along with harmful fisheries subsidies, were driving fish stocks to collapse, while greenhouse gasses were driving climate change and causing sea-level rise through ocean warming, threatening ocean life through acidification and deoxygenation.

The central conclusion was clear, he said:  To secure a future for our species, action must be taken now on the health of the ocean and on climate change.  With Goal 14 in place within the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement ratified, it was time to demonstrate fidelity to those two life-saving agreements.  Describing the mantra of the Ocean Conference as “human-induced problems have human-devised solutions”, he pledged that participants would work to advance Goal 14 targets of 2020, 2025 and 2030.  They would follow-up with diligence on commitments made, “all along holding ourselves responsible to bequeath a conserved and sustainably managed ocean to the stewards of the future”, he declared.

FREDERICK MUSIIWA MAKAMURE SHAVA (Zimbabwe), President of the Economic and Social Council, said the collective focus this week would be on scaling up efforts to halt ocean degradation and reverse a cycle of decline.  Urgent action needed to be taken.  Noting that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, among other agreements, had been in place for some time, he said what was now needed was implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

“The issue of conserving and sustainably using our oceans is very complex, as oceans have a direct impact on poverty eradication, health, sustained economic growth, food security and creation of sustainable livelihoods and decent work,” he said.  At the same time, biodiversity and the marine environment must be protected and the impact of climate change addressed.  Political guidance from the high-level political forum that would be held on 10-18 July under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council would be critical for promoting integrated consideration of the Sustainable Development Goals.

He described the Ocean Conference as a unique place to raise awareness and to underscore solutions that must be put into place to ensure that the world’s oceans and seas remained a source of life and human well-being for generations.  The Call to Action that would be adopted by the Conference must be a cooperative effort that ensured a pooling of financial and technical resources as well as technology sharing and capacity-building, he said.

WU HONGBO, Secretary-General of the Ocean Conference and Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said that without oceans and seas, there would be no life on the planet.  Yet, oceans faced a variety of threats, including climate change, marine pollution, extraction of marine resources, and erosion and destruction of marine and coastal habitats.  Member States had committed to conserve and sustainably use oceans, seas and marine resources through Sustainable Development Goal 14.  The message of the Call for Action was clear.  “The time to act is now,” he said, noting that its 22 specific actions promised to galvanize global commitments and partnerships.

He said the number of voluntary commitments was growing daily, and, importantly, covered all targets of Goal 14.  The coming days were a great opportunity to rally support at all levels, as the Conference was a platform for Governments, United Nations agencies, major groups and others to identify the ways and means to support implementation of Goal 14, by building on existing partnerships and stimulating new ones.  Special attention should focus on the means of implementation, such as capacity-building and enhanced financing, which was critical for small island developing States, least developed countries and developing nations alike.  With broad support from all stakeholders, the Conference would bring about solutions for saving the ocean and advancing implementation of Goal 14.

Partnership Dialogue

In the afternoon, the Ocean Conference held a partnership dialogue on the topic “Addressing marine pollution”.  Moderated by Elliott Harris, Head of the New York Office of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and co-chaired by Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs of Indonesia, and Vidar Helgesen, Minister of Climate and Environment of Norway, it featured a panel discussion by Nancy Wallace, Director, Marine Debris Program, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, United States Department of Commerce; Kosi Latu, Director-General, Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme; Peter Kershaw, Chair of the Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environment; and Sybil Seitzinger, Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, University of Victoria, Canada.

Mr. PANDJAITAN called plastic and microplastic debris a major threat to marine and coastal diversity.  Such debris resulted mostly from solid waste management.  Summarizing Indonesia’s recently launched ocean policy as well as research initiatives, he said the country had come up with a plan of action that incorporated, among other pillars, behavioural change and reducing waste leakage.  He emphasized that plastics manufacturers must be involved in fighting marine pollution.  “We can get rid of this problem because we care and we can,” he said, underscoring the need for action at the national, regional and global level.

Mr. HELGESEN said marine litter was possibly the fastest-growing environmental problem as well as a shared challenge.  Providing an example, he said 30 plastic bags and other pieces of plastic debris were found this past winter in the stomach of a beached whale in Norway.  It was both possible and necessary to act, he said, describing a programme in his country that included waste management as a key component in fighting marine litter.  He said his country was also considering extended producer responsibility, and emphasized the need for a higher level of political attention and united action.

Mr. HARRIS said it was a painful fact that oceans, seas, lakes and other waterways were being damaged — or slowly being strangled — by human activity.  Most ocean pollution originated on land, he said, adding that by some estimates there were more microplastics in the world’s oceans than stars in the galaxy.  Many countries were taking courageous action, he said, citing a Canadian ban on microplastics in personal care products, a French restriction on plastic cutlery and a prohibition on plastic bags in some African countries.  More, however, needed to be done.

Ms. WALLACE said the world’s oceans were overflowing with man-made items that did not belong there, including disposable plastic bags, cigarette butts, derelict fishing nets and abandoned vessels.  Lost and discarded items threated health, safety and wildlife.  Marine debris was a complex global problem that called for a wide array of solutions, she said, the ultimate solution being preventing such debris from getting into the oceans in the first place.  Waste management offered a myriad of solutions, but every country had unique challenges in that regard.  Programmes to increase the value of waste would encourage its collection, she said, underscoring the paramount importance of sharing information on challenges and solutions.

Mr. LATU said that countries in the Pacific region — an area that was 98 per cent water and 2 per cent land, with the world’s most important tuna fisheries — had adopted a Cleaner Pacific Strategy, which addressed all forms of waste, including marine plastics and oil leaking from World War II shipwrecks.  Poor waste disposal, mainly on land but also at sea, contributed to the problem.  Research on fishing vessels found that 37 per cent of the waste dumped overboard was comprised of plastics, he said, emphasizing the need to effectively implement relevant international conventions.  Other solutions would include awareness-raising, encouraging recycling and improved practices on vessels.

Mr. KERSHAW said marine litter was a global problem with regional differences.  Microplastics came in many forms, from those used in toothpaste and facial scrubs to plastic resin beads and the secondary fragments of larger plastic items.  A further challenge was that many durable plastics contained modifying chemicals with toxicological properties.  Some solutions were relatively easy, such as removing microplastics from personal products in which they were not needed, he said.  Others, such textile fibres and vehicle tire dust, were more problematic.  Once it was known how microplastics were leaking into the oceans, then solutions — including partnerships — could be sought.

Ms. SEITZINGER discussed the impact of excessive use of nutrients, including toxic algae blooms, hypoxic regions and coral reef degradation.  Fertilizer and manure were the leading source of inorganic nitrogen, but its impact varied between regions.  No single solution was possible because there were multiple sources related to food and energy production, she said, adding that sewage treatment facilities should be designed to capture nitrogen and phosphorous for reuse.  Noting that billions of dollars were spent on subsidies to encourage the use of fertilizers, particularly in China and India, she said that fewer subsidies could lead to reduced fertilizer use with little impact on grain production.  She went on to suggest that consideration be given to laboratory-grown meat, which would reduce land, water and fertilizer use and eliminate manure production.

In the ensuing interactive debate, ministers, other senior officials and representatives of Member States and international organizations discussed the effects of marine pollution in different parts of the world, as well as measures being taken to address the problem.

MARION HENRY, Secretary of Resource and Development for the Federated States of Micronesia, said that, on his walks along the beach in his country, he saw fewer almonds than he did in his childhood, but many plastics.  Perhaps the easiest solution to the problem would be to stop debris from entering the oceans in the first place.  Comparing ocean debris to dumping garbage over a fence onto a neighbour’s backyard, he said “the ocean is our backyard”, and requested that other States be good neighbours in that regard.

NICOS KOUYIALIS, Minister for Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment of Cyprus, said pollution problems were more profound in enclosed or semi-enclosed seas, such as the Mediterranean.  Another serious problem was eutrophication due to treated and untreated domestic sewage and other discharges from land-based sources, he said, noting that his country, in that regard, had since the early 1980s maintained a “no drop of water in the sea” sewage policy.

KAMINA JOHNSON SMITH, Minister for Foreign affairs and Foreign Trade of Jamaica, said marine pollution had severe consequences for her country.  Forging new partnerships and strengthening existing ones to protect and preserve the maritime space was a responsibility that Jamaica took seriously, she said, citing as an example its participation in the Global Ballast Water Management Project to address the transmission of potentially invasive species.

JOHN SILK, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Marshall Islands, said his country had recently banned the importation and use of single-use plastic bags, which had become more common than fish along its shores.  He added that the Pacific was also struggling with the legacy of events it did not cause, including naval shipwrecks, unexploded ordinance and radioactive contamination.

The representative of the Netherlands said his country’s positon was simple:  litter did not belong in the marine environment.  The Netherlands was committed to an integral approach that emphasized prevention, he said, noting that a ban on plastic bags at point of sale went into effect on 1 January 2016.

The representative of the Stiftelsen Stockholm International Water Institute emphasized the importance of engaging upstream sources of marine pollution.  Otherwise, she said, communities located well away from coastal areas might not feel motivated to take relevant action.

The representative of China said his country was taking a number of steps to address marine pollution, including improving urban sewage treatment systems and adhering to the principles of recycling.  At the international level, China advocated the sharing of successful experiences.  It was also striving to reduce fertilizer use while assessing what further measures would be required.

The representative of The Ocean Cleanup said his organization was developing advanced technology to collect existing marine debris through a system that involved natural ocean currents and a fleet of artificial coast lines.  Once deployed, it could clean up 50 per cent of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 5 years, he said, adding that it would be easy later on to develop spin-off systems that could intercept plastic debris before it could reach the ocean.

His counterpart from World Animal Protection said the issue of abandoned and lost fishing gear, also known as ghost fishing gear, must feature near the top of the agenda.  It represented 10 per cent of all marine debris, but it was the deadliest to marine life, and after overfishing it was most responsible for declining fish stocks, she said, inviting participants to support the Global Ghost Gear Initiative.

Responding to the discussion, Ms. SEITZINGER said an opportunity existed to address the problem of nutrient pollution.  She added that the benefits of working together should always be present in people’s minds.

Mr. KERSHAW said it was encouraging to hear so many positive initiatives, adding however that better partnerships with industry were needed to deal with solid waste before it come become microplastics.

Mr. LATU said that, in devising solutions, it was important to remember that pollution knew no boundaries.  He added that while some countries seemed to have strong waste management policies, others needed to do more work in that regard.

Ms. WALLACE said she had never seen so much commitment and passion on the marine pollution issue.  The next step would be to turn plans into action.

Mr. PANDJAITAN said that, without action, there would be more plastic in the sea than fish.  No single country could work alone, he said, emphasizing the need to strengthen regional and international measures, with the international community acting at the United Nations level to a clear timeline.

Mr. HELGESEN said he took away from today’s meeting a number of important steps, including stronger enforcements of existing measures, the need to develop new and stronger international commitments to combat marine litter, a process to further harmonize measures to monitor marine debris and forging partnership along the entire plastics value chain to promote a circular economy.  Quoting the “famous philosopher” Elvis Presley, he appealed for a little less conversation and a little more action.

Also participating in the discussion were ministers, other senior officials and representatives of Estonia, Italy, Panama, Netherlands, Peru, Turkey, Indonesia, Algeria, Israel and Honduras, as well as the European Union.

Also taking the floor were representatives of the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission, United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

General Information

Secretary-General Calls for Strategic Vision, New Model of Governance to Save World’s Seas, as United Nations Ocean Conference Opens

The inaugural United Nations Ocean Conference opened today with a call for urgent action to improve the health of the world’s seas, now in peril after decades of pollution, overfishing and the unattended effects of climate change that were decimating marine life, and in turn, livelihoods.

The Conference, which runs through 9 June, will explore how to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 14:  conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

Opening the event, Secretary-General António Guterres told world leaders that unless they could overcome the territorial and resource interests that had blocked progress, the state of the oceans would continue to deteriorate.  “We need a new strategic vision,” he said, a new model of ocean governance.  The first step was to end the artificial dichotomy between economic demands and the health of our seas.

Concrete steps were needed, he said, from expanding marine protected areas and managing fisheries, to reducing pollution and cleaning up plastic waste, the latter of which, if left unchecked, would outweigh fish in the sea by 2050.  The political will which had led to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda must now be translated into funding commitments.  Better data must be gathered and best practices shared.

“Improving the health of our oceans is a test for multilateralism,” he said. “We created these problems.  With decisive, coordinated global action, we can solve them.”

Peter Thomson (Fiji), President of the General Assembly, said the time had come to correct wrongful ways.  It was inexcusable that humanity tipped the equivalent of a garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute of every day.  Illegal fishing and harmful fisheries subsidies were driving fish stocks to collapse, he said, while greenhouse gases were causing sea levels to rise.

The task was to ensure that Goal 14 received the support necessary to meet its targets, he said.  “We are here on behalf of humanity to restore sustainability, balance and respect to our relationship with our primal mother, the source of life, the ocean.”

Co-President of the Conference Isabella Lövin, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for International Development Cooperation and Climate of Sweden, said the ocean was 30 per cent more acidic than in pre-industrial times.  Big predatory fish stocks had declined by 70 to 90 per cent, and in some areas, there were more microplastics than plankton.  Without a healthy planet, people would not prosper.  She called on Member States, business, civil society, academia and other stakeholders to start making a real difference.

Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji and Conference Co-President, said oceans were being treated as rubbish dumps.  The rich marine bounty that generations had relied on for sustenance was being destroyed.  He urged participants to act in concert to protect marine resources, stressing that no one country or Government could afford to ignore the magnitude of the threat.  Goal 14 must rocket to the top of the global agenda.

Stressing that oceans had a direct impact on poverty education, health, economic growth, food security and job creation, Frederick Musiiwa Makamure Shava (Zimbabwe), President of the Economic and Social Council, added that solutions must be put into place to ensure that oceans remained a source of life and human well-being for generations.

Wu Hongbo, Secretary-General of the Ocean Conference and Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said special attention should be paid to the means of implementation for Goal 14, including capacity-building and enhanced financing, which was critical for small island developing States, least developed countries and developing nations alike.

The afternoon featured a partnership dialogue on marine pollution, during which world leaders, along with senior officials from Government, the private sector, scientific community and civil society, explored challenges relating to particular pollutants, such as microplastics, and broader trends, such as the rapid growth of coastal cities, which would require more scientific research, knowledge sharing and governance arrangements.

The Conference — officially titled the United Nations Conference to Support the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development — opened with a traditional Fijian welcome ceremony, featuring three calls of a ceremonial conch shell, a Kava drinking ceremony and cultural dance.

In other business, delegates elected Mr. Bainimarama and Ms. Lövin as the Presidents of the Conference.

The Conference also adopted, without a vote, its rules of procedure (document A/CONF.230/2) and agenda (document A/CONF.230/1), as well as a Secretariat note on organizational and procedural matters (document A/CONF.230/3).  Twelve Vice-Presidents were elected by acclamation:  Algeria, Croatia, Estonia, Guatemala, Indonesia, Ireland, Kenya, Morocco, New Zealand, Poland, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela.  Arthur Amaya Andambi (Kenya) was elected Rapporteur-General.

The nine members of the General Assembly Credentials Committee — Cameroon, China, Malawi, Netherlands, Paraguay, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Saint Lucia and the United States — were meanwhile appointed members of the Conference Credentials Committee without a vote.

The Ocean Conference will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 6 June.

Opening Statements

ISABELLA LÖVIN, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for International Development Cooperation and Climate of Sweden, and Co-President of the Conference, described the global ocean conveyer belt as a sort of ocean bloodstream that connected everybody.  The ocean accounted for 97 per cent of the living biosphere, contained 1.3 billion cubic kilometres of water and provided 50 per cent of the planet’s oxygen.  Mankind always believed it was endless, infinite and impossible for humans to affect in any significant way, she said, but today it was 30 per cent more acidic than in pre-industrial times, big predatory fish stocks had declined by 70 to 90 per cent and surface waters were getting warmer.  In some areas, there were more microplastics than plankton.

She recalled an interview a few years ago with an Australian yachtsman who, while crossing the Pacific Ocean, saw rubbish floating everywhere, including toys, car tires and telegraph poles.  More recently, researchers on uninhabited Henderson Island, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site, found 38 million plastic items on its shore.  “By now we know one thing for certain — the ocean is not endless, not infinite,” she said.  “But it has no borders.  It knows nothing about nations.  It is just one united ecosystem and we are part of it.”

Environmental protection and economic development were inseparable, she said, adding that without a healthy planet, people would not prosper.  Sweden was committed to maintaining the political momentum created by the Paris Agreement on climate change and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and called on all Member States, business, civil society, academia and other stakeholders, to start working towards making a real difference.  “We know what needs to be done.  We know the ocean is broken.  We now need to sit together and make the long to-do list we all need to be ticking off together in order to fix it,” she said, adding that a better moment to do so would never come.

JOSAIA VOREQE BAINIMARAMA, Prime Minister of Fiji and Co-President of the Ocean Conference, said climate change and the state of the world’s oceans could not be separated.  Rising sea levels and ocean acidity had a direct impact on people’s lives and countries’ prosperity.  “We come from opposite sides of the Earth but we are united in our determination to meet the challenges head-on,” he said, appealing to young people in particular to become agents for change, whether by collecting bottles from a beach or banding together to clean up coastal areas.  “Our waterways are choking,” he said, and oceans were being treated as rubbish dumps.  Turtles, dolphins and sharks were being caught in nets, and whales had stomachs full of rubbish.  The rich marine bounty that generations had relied on for sustenance was being destroyed.

He said the degradation must stop, appealing to the world’s people to act in concert to protect marine resources.  “That effort starts now,” he said, pressing to participants to send a message that time was running out to save our seas and oceans.  No one country or Government could afford to ignore the magnitude of the threat.  As a Fijian, he had the Pacific Ocean “running through my blood,” and it said it pained him to see the deterioration of that precious resource.  Where there once had been an abundance of fish, boat hulls were now increasingly sparse or non-existent.  Greedy nations and commercial interests were robbing countries like Fiji of food and livelihoods through over-fishing.  Noting that small island developing States lacked the means to police their economic zones, he said Goal 14 must rocket to the top of the global agenda and he encouraged all participants to make the Ocean Conference a success.

ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said oceans and seas covered two thirds of the planet, providing food, energy, water, jobs and economic benefits to every country.  They were a crucial buffer against climate change and a massive resource for sustainable development.  Many nationalities, including his own, had a special relationship with the sea.  The truth was, the sea has a special relationship with all of us.  Yet pollution, over-fishing and the effects of climate change were severely damaging ocean health, he said, with one study finding that plastic in the seas could outweigh fish by 2050.

Indeed, oceans were becoming more acidic, he said, causing coral bleaching and reducing biodiversity, while fisheries in some places were collapsing.  Dead zones — underwater deserts where life could not survive due to a lack of oxygen — were growing rapidly.  Conflicting demands from industry, fishing, shipping, mining and tourism were stressing coastal systems.  While numerous reports, global commissions and scientific assessments had described the serious damage to the world’s most vital life support system, Governments were not making full use of the tools available, including the Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“We created these problems,” he said.  “With decisive, coordinated global action, we can solve them”.  The Sustainable Development Goals must be the road map.  The essential first step must be to end the artificial dichotomy between economic demands and ocean health.  Strong political leadership and new partnerships were needed, based on the existing legal framework, and he commended all who had signed the Call for Action, to be formally adopted this week.  From expanding marine protected areas and managing fisheries, to reducing pollution to cleaning up plastic waste, he called for a step change locally, nationally and globally.  The ongoing work to create a legal framework on conservation and the sustainable use of biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction was particularly important in that regard.

Further, the political will of the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda must be translated into funding commitments, he said, stressing that better data, information and analysis were also required, because “we can’t improve what we don’t measure”.  Finally, best practices and experiences must be shared.  For its part, the United Nations was committed to providing integrated, coordinated support for the implementation of all historic agreements of the past year.  He was personally determined to break down barriers to improve the Organization’s performance and accountability.

He said the United Nations was building partnerships with Governments, the private sector and civil society, as well as working with international financial institutions on innovative financing to release more funds.  It was harnessing big data to improve the basis for decision-making.  A new strategic vision was needed and he called on Member States to define a new model for ocean governance.  Unless the territorial and resource interests that had blocked progress for too long were overcome, the oceans would continue to deteriorate.  He urged participants to set aside short-term national gain to prevent long-term global catastrophe, stressing that “conserving our oceans and using them sustainably is preserving life itself.”

PETER THOMSON (Fiji), President of the General Assembly, stressed that the Conference offered the best opportunity to reverse the cycle of decline that human activity had brought upon the seas.  Sustainable Development Goal 14 — the ocean’s goal — was humanity’s only universally agreed measure to conserve and sustainably manage its resources.  The task ahead was to ensure that the Goal received the support necessary to meet its critical targets.  “To do that, we need to hear the truth about the state of the ocean,” he said. “We are here on behalf of humanity to restore sustainability, balance and respect to our relationship with our primal mother, the source of life, the ocean.”

Indeed, he said, the time had come to correct wrongful ways.  It was inexcusable that humanity tipped the equivalent of a garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute of every day.  “We have unleashed a plague of plastic upon the ocean,” he said, defiling nature in tragic ways.  Illegal and destructive fishing practices, along with harmful fisheries subsidies, were driving fish stocks to collapse, while greenhouse gasses were driving climate change and causing sea-level rise through ocean warming, threatening ocean life through acidification and deoxygenation.

The central conclusion was clear, he said:  To secure a future for our species, action must be taken now on the health of the ocean and on climate change.  With Goal 14 in place within the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement ratified, it was time to demonstrate fidelity to those two life-saving agreements.  Describing the mantra of the Ocean Conference as “human-induced problems have human-devised solutions”, he pledged that participants would work to advance Goal 14 targets of 2020, 2025 and 2030.  They would follow-up with diligence on commitments made, “all along holding ourselves responsible to bequeath a conserved and sustainably managed ocean to the stewards of the future”, he declared.

FREDERICK MUSIIWA MAKAMURE SHAVA (Zimbabwe), President of the Economic and Social Council, said the collective focus this week would be on scaling up efforts to halt ocean degradation and reverse a cycle of decline.  Urgent action needed to be taken.  Noting that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, among other agreements, had been in place for some time, he said what was now needed was implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

“The issue of conserving and sustainably using our oceans is very complex, as oceans have a direct impact on poverty eradication, health, sustained economic growth, food security and creation of sustainable livelihoods and decent work,” he said.  At the same time, biodiversity and the marine environment must be protected and the impact of climate change addressed.  Political guidance from the high-level political forum that would be held on 10-18 July under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council would be critical for promoting integrated consideration of the Sustainable Development Goals.

He described the Ocean Conference as a unique place to raise awareness and to underscore solutions that must be put into place to ensure that the world’s oceans and seas remained a source of life and human well-being for generations.  The Call to Action that would be adopted by the Conference must be a cooperative effort that ensured a pooling of financial and technical resources as well as technology sharing and capacity-building, he said.

WU HONGBO, Secretary-General of the Ocean Conference and Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said that without oceans and seas, there would be no life on the planet.  Yet, oceans faced a variety of threats, including climate change, marine pollution, extraction of marine resources, and erosion and destruction of marine and coastal habitats.  Member States had committed to conserve and sustainably use oceans, seas and marine resources through Sustainable Development Goal 14.  The message of the Call for Action was clear.  “The time to act is now,” he said, noting that its 22 specific actions promised to galvanize global commitments and partnerships.

He said the number of voluntary commitments was growing daily, and, importantly, covered all targets of Goal 14.  The coming days were a great opportunity to rally support at all levels, as the Conference was a platform for Governments, United Nations agencies, major groups and others to identify the ways and means to support implementation of Goal 14, by building on existing partnerships and stimulating new ones.  Special attention should focus on the means of implementation, such as capacity-building and enhanced financing, which was critical for small island developing States, least developed countries and developing nations alike.  With broad support from all stakeholders, the Conference would bring about solutions for saving the ocean and advancing implementation of Goal 14.

Partnership Dialogue

In the afternoon, the Ocean Conference held a partnership dialogue on the topic “Addressing marine pollution”.  Moderated by Elliott Harris, Head of the New York Office of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and co-chaired by Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs of Indonesia, and Vidar Helgesen, Minister of Climate and Environment of Norway, it featured a panel discussion by Nancy Wallace, Director, Marine Debris Program, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, United States Department of Commerce; Kosi Latu, Director-General, Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme; Peter Kershaw, Chair of the Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environment; and Sybil Seitzinger, Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, University of Victoria, Canada.

Mr. PANDJAITAN called plastic and microplastic debris a major threat to marine and coastal diversity.  Such debris resulted mostly from solid waste management.  Summarizing Indonesia’s recently launched ocean policy as well as research initiatives, he said the country had come up with a plan of action that incorporated, among other pillars, behavioural change and reducing waste leakage.  He emphasized that plastics manufacturers must be involved in fighting marine pollution.  “We can get rid of this problem because we care and we can,” he said, underscoring the need for action at the national, regional and global level.

Mr. HELGESEN said marine litter was possibly the fastest-growing environmental problem as well as a shared challenge.  Providing an example, he said 30 plastic bags and other pieces of plastic debris were found this past winter in the stomach of a beached whale in Norway.  It was both possible and necessary to act, he said, describing a programme in his country that included waste management as a key component in fighting marine litter.  He said his country was also considering extended producer responsibility, and emphasized the need for a higher level of political attention and united action.

Mr. HARRIS said it was a painful fact that oceans, seas, lakes and other waterways were being damaged — or slowly being strangled — by human activity.  Most ocean pollution originated on land, he said, adding that by some estimates there were more microplastics in the world’s oceans than stars in the galaxy.  Many countries were taking courageous action, he said, citing a Canadian ban on microplastics in personal care products, a French restriction on plastic cutlery and a prohibition on plastic bags in some African countries.  More, however, needed to be done.

Ms. WALLACE said the world’s oceans were overflowing with man-made items that did not belong there, including disposable plastic bags, cigarette butts, derelict fishing nets and abandoned vessels.  Lost and discarded items threated health, safety and wildlife.  Marine debris was a complex global problem that called for a wide array of solutions, she said, the ultimate solution being preventing such debris from getting into the oceans in the first place.  Waste management offered a myriad of solutions, but every country had unique challenges in that regard.  Programmes to increase the value of waste would encourage its collection, she said, underscoring the paramount importance of sharing information on challenges and solutions.

Mr. LATU said that countries in the Pacific region — an area that was 98 per cent water and 2 per cent land, with the world’s most important tuna fisheries — had adopted a Cleaner Pacific Strategy, which addressed all forms of waste, including marine plastics and oil leaking from World War II shipwrecks.  Poor waste disposal, mainly on land but also at sea, contributed to the problem.  Research on fishing vessels found that 37 per cent of the waste dumped overboard was comprised of plastics, he said, emphasizing the need to effectively implement relevant international conventions.  Other solutions would include awareness-raising, encouraging recycling and improved practices on vessels.

Mr. KERSHAW said marine litter was a global problem with regional differences.  Microplastics came in many forms, from those used in toothpaste and facial scrubs to plastic resin beads and the secondary fragments of larger plastic items.  A further challenge was that many durable plastics contained modifying chemicals with toxicological properties.  Some solutions were relatively easy, such as removing microplastics from personal products in which they were not needed, he said.  Others, such textile fibres and vehicle tire dust, were more problematic.  Once it was known how microplastics were leaking into the oceans, then solutions — including partnerships — could be sought.

Ms. SEITZINGER discussed the impact of excessive use of nutrients, including toxic algae blooms, hypoxic regions and coral reef degradation.  Fertilizer and manure were the leading source of inorganic nitrogen, but its impact varied between regions.  No single solution was possible because there were multiple sources related to food and energy production, she said, adding that sewage treatment facilities should be designed to capture nitrogen and phosphorous for reuse.  Noting that billions of dollars were spent on subsidies to encourage the use of fertilizers, particularly in China and India, she said that fewer subsidies could lead to reduced fertilizer use with little impact on grain production.  She went on to suggest that consideration be given to laboratory-grown meat, which would reduce land, water and fertilizer use and eliminate manure production.

In the ensuing interactive debate, ministers, other senior officials and representatives of Member States and international organizations discussed the effects of marine pollution in different parts of the world, as well as measures being taken to address the problem.

MARION HENRY, Secretary of Resource and Development for the Federated States of Micronesia, said that, on his walks along the beach in his country, he saw fewer almonds than he did in his childhood, but many plastics.  Perhaps the easiest solution to the problem would be to stop debris from entering the oceans in the first place.  Comparing ocean debris to dumping garbage over a fence onto a neighbour’s backyard, he said “the ocean is our backyard”, and requested that other States be good neighbours in that regard.

NICOS KOUYIALIS, Minister for Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment of Cyprus, said pollution problems were more profound in enclosed or semi-enclosed seas, such as the Mediterranean.  Another serious problem was eutrophication due to treated and untreated domestic sewage and other discharges from land-based sources, he said, noting that his country, in that regard, had since the early 1980s maintained a “no drop of water in the sea” sewage policy.

KAMINA JOHNSON SMITH, Minister for Foreign affairs and Foreign Trade of Jamaica, said marine pollution had severe consequences for her country.  Forging new partnerships and strengthening existing ones to protect and preserve the maritime space was a responsibility that Jamaica took seriously, she said, citing as an example its participation in the Global Ballast Water Management Project to address the transmission of potentially invasive species.

JOHN SILK, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Marshall Islands, said his country had recently banned the importation and use of single-use plastic bags, which had become more common than fish along its shores.  He added that the Pacific was also struggling with the legacy of events it did not cause, including naval shipwrecks, unexploded ordinance and radioactive contamination.

The representative of the Netherlands said his country’s positon was simple:  litter did not belong in the marine environment.  The Netherlands was committed to an integral approach that emphasized prevention, he said, noting that a ban on plastic bags at point of sale went into effect on 1 January 2016.

The representative of the Stiftelsen Stockholm International Water Institute emphasized the importance of engaging upstream sources of marine pollution.  Otherwise, she said, communities located well away from coastal areas might not feel motivated to take relevant action.

The representative of China said his country was taking a number of steps to address marine pollution, including improving urban sewage treatment systems and adhering to the principles of recycling.  At the international level, China advocated the sharing of successful experiences.  It was also striving to reduce fertilizer use while assessing what further measures would be required.

The representative of The Ocean Cleanup said his organization was developing advanced technology to collect existing marine debris through a system that involved natural ocean currents and a fleet of artificial coast lines.  Once deployed, it could clean up 50 per cent of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 5 years, he said, adding that it would be easy later on to develop spin-off systems that could intercept plastic debris before it could reach the ocean.

His counterpart from World Animal Protection said the issue of abandoned and lost fishing gear, also known as ghost fishing gear, must feature near the top of the agenda.  It represented 10 per cent of all marine debris, but it was the deadliest to marine life, and after overfishing it was most responsible for declining fish stocks, she said, inviting participants to support the Global Ghost Gear Initiative.

Responding to the discussion, Ms. SEITZINGER said an opportunity existed to address the problem of nutrient pollution.  She added that the benefits of working together should always be present in people’s minds.

Mr. KERSHAW said it was encouraging to hear so many positive initiatives, adding however that better partnerships with industry were needed to deal with solid waste before it come become microplastics.

Mr. LATU said that, in devising solutions, it was important to remember that pollution knew no boundaries.  He added that while some countries seemed to have strong waste management policies, others needed to do more work in that regard.

Ms. WALLACE said she had never seen so much commitment and passion on the marine pollution issue.  The next step would be to turn plans into action.

Mr. PANDJAITAN said that, without action, there would be more plastic in the sea than fish.  No single country could work alone, he said, emphasizing the need to strengthen regional and international measures, with the international community acting at the United Nations level to a clear timeline.

Mr. HELGESEN said he took away from today’s meeting a number of important steps, including stronger enforcements of existing measures, the need to develop new and stronger international commitments to combat marine litter, a process to further harmonize measures to monitor marine debris and forging partnership along the entire plastics value chain to promote a circular economy.  Quoting the “famous philosopher” Elvis Presley, he appealed for a little less conversation and a little more action.

Also participating in the discussion were ministers, other senior officials and representatives of Estonia, Italy, Panama, Netherlands, Peru, Turkey, Indonesia, Algeria, Israel and Honduras, as well as the European Union.

Also taking the floor were representatives of the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission, United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

General Government

Lebanese media: Hezbollah given “game-changing” Iranian arms, has tunnels on Israeli border

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HezbollahLebanese media: Hezbollah given “game-changing” Iranian arms, has tunnels on Israeli border

Published 21 February 2017

Iran has sent “game-changing” weapons to its proxy group Hezbollah, which has been actively building tunnels and fortifications along Lebanon’s border with Israel, a knowledgeable observer said. “Israel reads the map and realizes that Hizbullah’s weapons arsenal has steadily grown, and is now several times larger than it was in 2006, and that the kind of weapons that the enemy tried and is still trying to prevent the resistance from acquiring – namely, what Israel calls ‘game-changing’ weapons – is available to it in great amounts,” he added.

Iran has sent “game-changing” weapons to its proxy group Hezbollah, which has been actively building tunnels and fortifications along Lebanon’s border with Israel, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reported Wednesday, citing Lebanese media.

Ibrahim al-Amin, chairman of the pro-Hezbollah newspaper Al-Akhbar, wrote in an editorial on January 24 that “a vast supply of advanced, state-of-the art weapons of various kinds, including weapons provided by Iran” have flown into Hezbollah’s depots since the beginning of the Syrian civil war. He also asserted that while Israel targeted convoys transporting sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah, “dozens if not hundreds of convoys managed to [get through and] bring the necessary [weapons] to the resistance bases in Lebanon.”

“Israel reads the map and realizes that Hizbullah’s weapons arsenal has steadily grown, and is now several times larger than it was in 2006, and that the kind of weapons that the enemy tried and is still trying to prevent the resistance from acquiring – namely, what Israel calls ‘game-changing’ weapons – is available to it in great amounts,” al-Amin claimed.

Al-Amin observed that Hezbollah fired 4,300 rockets into Israel during the 2006 war between the two. Now, Israel estimates that Hezbollah would be able to fire 1,500 rockets at it each day, but “these are the enemy’s estimates, and they are surely wrong,” he wrote.

A separate report on Hezbollah’s preparations for another confrontation with Israel appeared several days earlier in Al-Mustaqbal, which is owned by Lebanese Prime Minister Sa’d Al-Hariri, aa rival of Hezbollah. The paper confirmed that Hezbollah was operating in southern Lebanon, in violation United Nations Security Council resolution 1701. “Hizbullah has concealed forward positions on the international border [between Lebanon and Israel], including tunnels it dug over 10 years ago, especially in the Al-Labouna area, south of Al-Naqoura. [This area] overlooks the Palestinian coast and the [Israeli] towns of Shlomi and Nahariya,” Al-Mustaqbal noted. This seemed to corroborate earlier reports by the pro-Hezbollah Al-Safir newspaper, which claimed in May that members of Hezbollah are “conducting observations, preparing, and digging tunnels that cause the settlers and enemy soldiers to lose sleep.” The report also claimed that Hezbollah has shared its tunnel digging expertise with Hamas.

Earlier this week, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned that the terrorist group could use its advanced rocket arsenal to attack Israel’s nuclear reactor in Dimona.

Hezbollah’s growing military capabilities, especially due to increased Iranian support, have been an Israeli concern for years. Nasrallah admitted last June that “Hezbollah’s budget, its income, its expenses, everything it eats and drinks, its weapons and rockets, are from the Islamic Republic of Iran,” and insisted that his group “will not be affected” by new American sanctions. “As long as Iran has money, we have money… Just as we receive the rockets that we use to threaten Israel, we are receiving our money. No law will prevent us from receiving it,” he added.

Nasrallah’s acknowledgement of Iranian aid seems to confirm a public assurance given to him in August 2015 by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that the nuclear deal Iran reached with global powers presented “a historic opportunity” to confront Israel. Iran announced in June that its defense spending would increase by 90 percent in the following year.

According to a July 2016 report published by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Israeli officials believe that any future war with Hezbollah has the potential to cause “thousands of civilian deaths” in Israel. Hezbollah has, among other things, threatened to attack ammonium tanks in Haifa, which could kill tens of thousands of people.

The think tank’s vice president for research, Jonathan Schanzer, explained that Hezbollah’s widely-reported tactic of hiding military assets in civilian areas would also lead to mass casualties. Reports emerged two years ago that Hezbollah was offering reduced-price housing to Shiite families who allowed the terrorist group to store rocket launchers in their homes. An Israeli defense official toldThe New York Times in May 2015 that the buildup of Hezbollah’s terror infrastructure in southern Lebanese villages meant that “civilians are living in a military compound” and that their lives were at risk. A few days later, a newspaper linked to Hezbollah bolstered the Israeli assessment.

This article is published courtesy of The Tower

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