Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service Hosts U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for Summit on Ocean Sustainability

September 23, 2016
by Margaux Fontaine and Catherine Pilishvili


Georgetown’s Walsh School of Foreign Service (SFS), together with the U.S. Department of State and the Sustainable Oceans Alliance, hosted “Our Ocean, One Future: Leadership Summit” September 15-16 at Georgetown University. Additional support for the summit was provided by the Global Futures Initiative and the Science, Technology and International Affairs (STIA) Program. The two-day summit featured a variety of speakers, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, environmental leaders and activists, and Georgetown faculty members, alumni and students.

Georgetown Summit Is First Youth Oceans Summit

The Summit was held as a parallel event to the 2016 Our Ocean Conference in Washington, D.C., hosted by Secretary Kerry, which brought together policy leaders and environmental activists from across the globe to address issues of ocean conservation. This was the third annual Our Ocean Conference, but the first time a youth-oriented program was held concurrently. The goal of the Georgetown Summit was to empower the next generation of leaders and activists to take action towards a healthier and more sustainable ocean in the future.

The Summit was comprised of 15 panels dealing with a variety of issues pertaining to the health of the oceans. A group of 150 students, including 39 Georgetown students, were competitively selected to attend these panels.

Rosa Cuppari (SFS’17) described her experience as one of those students in attendance.

“Most of my knowledge about sustainability had focused on other, atmospheric or terrestrial, aspects of sustainability like global warming and its ties to deforestation or air pollution,” Cuppari said. “This conference really hammered home the point that with oceans composing about 75% of the earth’s surface, they do and will continue to play an enormous role in creating a sustainable future.”

The Summit opened with remarks from SFS Dean Joel Hellman. Speakers included environmental activists, leaders, and alumni seeking to engage participants and highlight the sustainability crisis facing future generations.

Judith G. Garber (SFS’83), Acting Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, followed Dean Hellman’s opening remarks with her own on the significance of the Our Ocean Conference. Garber received her Bachelor of Science in the School of Foreign Service, in International Economics.

“The fact that this first-time youth ocean leadership summit is taking place at my alma mater is just icing on the cake,” Gaber said. “I’m so thrilled; it’s wonderful to be back on campus.”

Philippe Cousteau, Co-Founder and President of EarthEcho International, and journalist and filmmaker Ashlan Cousteau also addressed participants on September 15.

“There’s no question that our oceans are facing incredible problems these days,” Ashlan Cousteau said. “And us up here – everyone that’s been presenting to you – we need to listen to you, because you’re the ones that are going to figure out how to solve these problems.”

 Panels Address Policy and Leadership, Activism, Organization and Climate Change

Panels were moderated by several leaders and sustainability activists. Dr. John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, spoke on “Meeting Ocean Challenges Through Effective Policy and Leadership”.

“These particular challenges – around the oceans, climate, energy – are interconnected, they’re interdisciplinary, they’re international, and they’re intergenerational, and the solutions have to reflect those realities,” Holdren said. “The specific purpose of this Summit is your role: the role of future leadership in managing those challenges.”

Dr. Sylvia Earle, National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence

Dr. Sylvia Earle, National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence, discussed “Igniting Public Support for Ocean Conservation”, and Dr. Jonathan Pershing, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change moderated a panel on “Climate Impact on the Ocean”. Each of these panels were followed by question and answer opportunities for students.

“We can see that the decisions made now will affect whatever happens not just in the near future, but over the next 10,000 years and beyond,” Earle said. “Armed with knowledge, we can make choices about where we go from this point onward.”

“One of the biggest things that we’ve decided to do as a global community is to seek to have collective action,” Pershing said, discussing the importance of international climate agreements.

Faculty speakers at the Summit included Joanna Lewis, associate professor of Science, Technology, and International Affairs (STIA), Sonal Shah, professor of practice and executive director of Georgetown’s Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation, and Monica Medina, deputy director of the Environment Program at the Walton Family Foundation.

The Summit focused on four key components of ocean sustainability: climate, sustainable fisheries, marine pollution, and marine protected areas. A common theme reflected throughout the Summit was the impact of human activity, such as marine pollution and illegal fishing, and the need to protect the ocean and its finite resources.

SFS graduate student Andrew Ireland (MSFS’18) participated in the summit and left it feeling more informed about potential solutions.

“The biggest takeaway for me was how new technologies are being used to enhance our understanding of the changes the oceans are undergoing,” Ireland said. “I learned about a variety of innovative solutions, from the Global Fishing Watch network to the SMAP satellite, that will allow the global community to take better informed and more impactful actions to maintain the long-term stability of marine ecosystems.”

International Environmental Policy Leaders Close Summit

The conference closed with an event open to the entire Georgetown community. Secretary Kerry joined actor and environmentalist Adrian Grenier for a discussion on ocean sustainability, moderated by Dean Hellman. This followed a panel of international policy leaders, including Segolene Royal, President of the COP 21 and Minister for Environment, Energy and Marine Affairs of France; Susana Malcorra, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Worship of Argentina; Isabella Lövin, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for International Development Cooperation and Climate of Sweden; and Isabel Saint Malo, the Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Panama.


Kerry stressed the gravity of the effects of climate change on our oceans.

“The problem is that we’re in a race against time,” Kerry said. “That’s what science tells us – not politics, not hyperbole, not surmise – but facts. And you all remember the old saying; everybody is entitled to their own opinion, but they’re not entitled to their own facts.”

Grenier expanded on this issue, even drawing from his past experience with the HBO series “Entourage.”

“I spent eight years on a show that promoted conspicuous consumption and immediate gratification without any long-term consequences,” Grenier said. “Of course, in the reality of television, there are no consequences; but in the real world, there are. So I think we need to start thinking long-term, not in quarters and years, but recognize how our behavior will affect our children in the future.”

Over the course of two days, the Our Ocean Summit inspired attendees with renewed confidence in their own ability to make an impact, and greater hope in the potential for positive change.

“I left the summit feeling more optimistic about the ocean’s prospects going forward,” MSFS student Ireland said. “The ocean is so huge, and the drivers of its decline so ubiquitous, that it’s easy to think that there is no way to prevent and reverse that decline. But through hearing from the different speakers at the summit about the financial commitments many countries are making to address these problems, I have more hope that sufficient action is being taken to keep the oceans healthy and maintain the myriad benefits it provides to humanity.”

To read more about the Oceans Summit, explore the links below.

Secretary Kerry Explores Ocean Protection at Georgetown Conference

MSFS Student Andrew Ireland Reflects On Our Oceans Summit

Georgetown Community Responds to Secretary Kerry’s Remarks

Our Ocean, One Future Leadership Summit at Georgetown University