Relay4Nature calls on leaders to take urgent action to protect nature

On the first day of COP26, "Nature’s Baton", the symbol of Relay4Nature, will be passed from Peter Thomson, UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the Ocean, to Lord Zac Goldsmith, UK Minister for Pacific and the Environment. By Richard Brisius, Race Chairman of The Ocean Race | October 29, 2021

“We cannot have a healthy planet without a healthy ocean.” Ahead of COP26, the words of Peter Thomson, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, should act as a crucial reminder that our marine world needs to have a seat at the negotiation table.

It was this — giving the ocean a voice on the world stage — that inspired us to create Relay4Nature, our initiative with Ambassador Thomson that champions our life-giving seas and calls on leaders to take urgent action to protect nature.

At The Ocean Race we’ve witnessed first-hand the declining state of the marine environment. The sailors in our round-the-world race cross thousands of miles of ocean, navigating sprawling islands of plastic, spotting growing numbers of industrial fishing vessels, observing the destruction of coastal habitats and experiencing extreme weather events, ever more frequently.

It’s clear the ocean is at breaking point. But if what we’ve encountered isn’t reason enough for us to protect and restore it, the knowledge that it is one of the planet’s most significant carbon sinks and the source of half of the world’s oxygen should be front of mind for decision-makers.

Ensuring that the link is made between the ocean and climate is one of the aims of Relay4Nature, in fact, connectivity is at the heart of the initiative.  There needs to be a joined up approach to tackling climate change and the other significant issue of global biodiversity loss. The two cannot be fought separately, and the ocean needs to be part of the thinking.

Along with linking these issues, Relay4Nature connects the landmark events where decisions are made about the environment. On Sunday, the first day of COP26, Nature’s Baton, the symbol of Relay4Nature, will be passed from Ambassador Thomson to Lord Zac Goldsmith, UK Minister for Pacific and the Environment. The moment will take place on the iconic Tall Ship Glenlee in the heart of Glasgow, Scotland, to welcome the Relay to the landmark event.

“Nature’s baton”

Nature’s Baton has travelled to other key conferences, including IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille, France, which took place in September. At the events, and as it journeys between them, passionate ocean advocates take the baton and share their personal messages for governments and business leaders.

So far we’ve collected messages from a diverse mix of ministers, royals, business leaders, sailors and ocean lovers. Each were asked to share their greatest concern related to the future of the planet and the responses provide vital insight into where things could fall down, particularly if the world doesn’t unite.

When he took the baton Nigel Topping, UN High Level Climate Action Champion, COP26, said: “My greatest fear when it comes to climate change is that the world doesn’t come together in an act of solidarity but fragments and everyone tries to look after themselves.”

For Director General of WWF, Marco Lambertini, the fear is that “despite the recognition that seems to be quite widespread today we’re not quite committed enough to change the systems that need to be changed to stabilize climate change.”

As well as expressing their concerns, the baton-holders were asked what they want to say to world leaders and how these decision-makers can radically increase their ambitions to protect and restore the planet.

Minister of Climate Change for Pakistan, Malik Amin Aslam, said: “Start acting right now. This race for nature has to be won otherwise there’s no survival for humanity.”

Isabella Lövin, Co-Chair of Friends of Ocean Action and former Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden was equally clear that the time for talking is over:  “We need to go from words to action. Ocean needs to be included at COP26 in the climate negotiations, in a tangible and really visible manner.”

Ignace Beguin Bilecocq, Ocean Lead for UN High Level Climate Champions said: “Look at the ocean, it is full of solutions if you want to reach a net zero world.”

The response to Relay4Nature has shown an overwhelming desire for people to come together to give the ocean a greater voice, both in highlighting its plight and how its restoration is key to our future.

This summer, Nature’s Baton had a key role in the inaugural edition of The Ocean Race Europe. Starting its journey in Klaipeda, Lithuania, where it featured in the country’s major sustainability event — Green Course Conference — the baton was taken by boat to the start of The Ocean Race Europe.

During the Prologue and the Race itself, the baton was passed between the competing teams and collected messages from sailors, local dignitaries and ocean advocates from across Europe. It also helped to shine a light on some of the local innovations to help safeguard the ocean, such as a project led by fishermen in Spain to clean the seas of plastic.

Using the platform provided by our sport and the support of Ambassador Thomson, who is also Co-Chair of Friends of Ocean Action, and partners, such as 11th Hour Racing, Founding Partner of the Race Sustainability Programme and Premier Partner of The Ocean Race, we will continue to champion the ocean and take our messages to the major environmental conferences across the world. There are more critical moments taking place next year,  including UNEA 5.2 (United Nations Environment Assembly) in Nairobi in March 2022 and United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon in June 2022 where we need to see a commitment to bolder and faster action. The race for the ocean is a race we must win.

For more details and to see some of the messages we’ve collected see and The Ocean Race’s Racing with Purpose YouTube channel.