100 young ocean leaders from 48 countries were invited to the event, after an application process. This year the theme of the YLS was “Co-creating the Sustainable Blue Economy”.
I was fortunate to be one of the invitees and got to participate in this event. The goal of the YLS is to connect young people who work for a sustainable future and cleaner oceans, and to “collaboratively develop solutions to critical ocean problems”.
The program included a design thinking bootcamp as well as several presentations from politicians, researchers and ocean entrepreneurs.
SOA had done a great job at inviting prestigious speakers to the summit, such as the former secretary of state and the founder of the Our Ocean conference, John Kerry, the prime minister of Norway, Erna Solberg, His Royal Highness Haakon, Crown Prince of Norway, E.U. commissioner Karmenu Vella, Afroz Shah, Champion of the Earth at UNEP and First Lady Debbie Remengesau of the Republic of Palau. The speakers emphasized the importance of positive action, such as developing sustainable initiatives, voting in democratic elections and challenging our politicians to “do better”, as John Kerry put it.
It was also interesting and inspiring to hear about the different projects that the YLS attendees are working on, from renewable energy start-ups to marine litter clean up campaigns. The world’s oceans are under a lot of pressure at the moment, due to issues such as plastic littering and acidification. Therefore, it was great to see that several issues also mean several solutions – solutions that these young people are working on within their communities on a daily basis.
In addition to presenting our existing projects, we were challenged to come up with an innovative solution through a design thinking process. The 100 attendees were divided into 20 groups, according to theme. Our team focused on “stopping marine plastic litter at source”, and the solution we came up with was an online platform that ranks companies using plastic packaging according to their plastic-reducing efforts.
In the end of the two-day summit, all teams pitched their solutions to a panel of judges, including Vincent Pieribone, vice chairman of OceanX, Tom Grasso, Oceans initiative lead and senior program officer at the Walton Family Foundation, Elizabeth Kim, Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs at the U.S. Department of State and Gry Ulverud, COO at REV Ocean. The winning solution was a mobile application that “will put consumers in competition with their peers to lower their energy consumption while allowing governments to evaluate emission reductions”. The solution was presented by the four team members on the main stage at the conclusion of the Our Ocean Conference.
The YLS is a great platform for young professionals and students from around the world to connect and share ideas. I learned a lot about topics I have not focused on myself, such as seabed mining and sustainable shipping. In addition, I got to discuss marine pollution and circular plastic economy with others who work on these topics, which was very beneficial for the development of my thesis further.
At the moment I am officially on maternity leave, so I won’t be working on my PhD until winter/spring 2020. However, thanks to the YLS, I have now gotten a little update on what’s happening in the world of ocean conservation and look forward to continuing my studies next year.