Nations' 'egoism' delaying treaty to protect oceans - U.N. chief

LISBON, June 27 (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said on Monday the "egoism" of some nations was hampering efforts to seal a long-awaited treaty to protect the world's oceans.

U.N. member states failed in March to agree on a blueprint for shielding the open seas against exploitation beyond national jurisdictions.

Asked by reporters at the U.N. Ocean Conference in Lisbon what the obstacles to reaching an agreement were, Guterres replied: "Egoism".

"...Some people still think they are powerful enough to think international waters should be theirs," he added.

Peter Thomson, the U.N. Special Envoy of the Ocean, earlier told Reuters he was confident a consensus on a treaty would be reached this year. read more

Guterres also appealed to governments and companies to commit more funds to help create a sustainable economic model for managing the marine environment.

"Sadly, we have taken the ocean for granted, and today we face what I would call an 'ocean emergency'," he said. "We must turn the tide."

Guterres said there was a need for symbiotic business models that could help the ocean produce more food and generate more renewable energy.

"That entails new levels of long-term funding," he said.

About 7,000 people are expected to attend the conference, including heads of state, scientists and NGOs, to assess progress in implementing a directive to protect marine life.

Greenpeace said the treaty was key to protecting 30% of world's oceans by 2030, the minimum scientists agree is needed to allow the oceans to recover.

"Leaders in Lisbon will congratulate each other for how well they're doing on marine protection, while the ocean crisis deepens," said Greenpeace's Laura Meller. "We don't need another talking shop, with vague statements and voluntary commitments."

Oceans covers about 70% of the planet's surface, generating 50% of the oxygen and absorbing 25% of all carbon dioxide emissions.

But climate change is pushing sea temperatures to record levels and making it more acidic, Guterres said, while some eight million tonnes of plastic waste pollute the oceans each year.

Outside the conference, Ocean Rebellion activists donned fish heads while holding dead fish and urged those inside the venue to stop talking and take action.

"The seas are dying and we need an appropriate urgency that we are not seeing from our leaders," said campaigner Rob Higgs.

Reporting by Catarina Demony and Sergio Goncalves; editing by John Stonestreet

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Thomson Reuters

Portugal-based multimedia correspondent reporting on politics, economics, the environment and daily news. Previous experience in local journalism in the UK., co-founded a project telling the stories of Portuguese-speakers living in London, and edited a youth-led news site.