By Dr. Magdalena A K Muir, Advisory Board Member, Climate and Global Change.
The Preparatory Meeting for the Ocean Conference: Our Oceans, Our Future: Partnering for the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG14) (Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development) convened at UN Headquarters in New York, from February 15 – 16, 2017.
Dr. Muir, on behalf of EUCC was registered to attend the Preparatory Meeting. Dr Muir will participate in subsequent consultations in March 2017, and will attend the Ocean Conference which will take place in New York in June 2017. EUCC was very involved in the development of the the Oceans Goal, and will continued to be involved in its implementation, particularly for Europe and adjacent coastal and marine regions.
In this Preparatory Meeting, longstanding interests of EUCC were considered such as oceans governance, marine conservation and sustainable development . New and newer issues of concern to EUCC such as climate, ocean acidification, the blue economy and marine renewable energy, sustainable coastal and marine tourism, and the impacts of plastics on oceans were also considered
Introduction to the Preparatory Meeting
The Preparatory Meeting considered the themes for seven partnership dialogues that will convene during the Ocean Conference, based on proposals contained in a background note prepared by the UN Secretary-General. At the end of the meeting, the co-facilitators indicated their intention to convey to UN General Assembly President Peter Thomson that participants had expressed broad support for most of the themes, but suggested changing the theme that refers to international law to more closely reflect Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 14.c.
The meeting also included a lengthy exchange of views on elements for the “Call for Action” that will result from the June Conference. Before closing the meeting, the co-facilitators highlighted the importance of listening to each other at this early stage, and noted commonality among the highlighted elements, including the importance of a concise, action-oriented declaration that is easy to understand by the public and captures a common vision for action on SDG 14. The co-facilitators plan to produce a zero draft of the “Call for Action” by early March, and to convene consultations beginning on March 7, 2017.
The UN Secretary-General prepared a background note ahead of the preparatory meeting, including a proposal of themes for the
partnership dialogues. The note proposes seven themes for partnership dialogues for the conference, as follows:
Theme 1: Addressing marine pollution. This theme would address target 14.1.
Theme 2: Managing, protecting, conserving and restoring marine and coastal ecosystems. This theme would address targets 14.2 and 14.5.
Theme 3: Minimizing and addressing ocean acidification. This theme would address target 14.3.
Theme 4: Making fisheries sustainable. This theme would address targets 14.4 and 14.6.
Theme 5: Increasing economic benefits to SIDS and LDCs and providing access for small-scale artisanal fishers to marine resources and markets. This theme would address targets 14.7 and 14.b.
Theme 6: Increasing scientific knowledge, and developing research capacity and transfer of marine technology. This theme would address target 14.a.
Theme 7: Implementing international law, as reflected in UNCLOS. This theme would address target 14.c.
On February 15, 2017, the Preparatory Meeting for the Ocean Conference: Our Oceans, Our Future: Partnering for the Implementation of SDG 14 was opened by Co-Facilitator Àlvaro Mendonça e Moura, Permanent Representative of Portugal. Co-Facilitator Burhan Gafoor, Permanent Representative of Singapore, highlighted the process’s strong foundation within the 2030 Agenda, stating a plan for successful implementation of SDG 14 should be concrete, action-oriented and could be built upon the Paris Agreement on climate
change. President of the UN General Assembly Peter Thomson noting the many registered observers and side events taking place during the meeting, and that countries, agencies and organizations everywhere were discussing the aims of SDG 14. Reporting that we dump one “garbage truck’s worth” of plastic into the ocean every minute, Mr Thomson highlighted the compilation of voluntary commitments that will result from the conference, which he said will represent humanity’s best efforts to implement SDG 14.
European Union and national contributions to the Preparatory Meeting for the themes and proposed action plan are highlighted below, with more complete notes provided below under Further Information. Following that there is a discussion of the outcome of the preparatory meeting, next steps, and subsequent oceans events in March and June 2017.
Discussion of Conference Themes
Supporting the proposed themes, the European Union (EU) said cross-cutting themes need to be considered, including regional dimensions of implementing SDG 14, linkages with other SDG targets, UNCLOS, the role of oceans within climate change, and issues of governance and effectiveness. He suggested conducting a gap assessment in the lead-up to the dialogues, on the effectiveness of existing partnerships.
Supporting the proposed themes, Monaco noted that Theme 3 (“Minimizing and addressing ocean acidification. This theme would address target14.3.”) addresses ocean acidification, which she said is a result of climate change, and noted that neither SDG 14 nor the dialogue themes directly reference climate change.
The Netherlands stressed the need for the dialogues to address sustainable tourism and community outreach, particularly with coastal
communities. He said aquaculture should be included in either Theme 4 (“Making fisheries sustainable. This theme would address targets 14.4 and 14.6.”) or Theme 5 (SIDS, LDCs, small-scale artisanal fishers).
France stated that the thematic dialogues do not exhaust certain cross-cutting elements, including climate change and blue economy
activities, particularly aquaculture and sustainable tourism.
Noting that UNCLOS is the bedrock for implementing SDG 14, Morocco noted that a domestic law passed in June 2016 prohibits the
manufacturing of plastics, citing it as an example of implementing SDG 14.
Germany called for discussion on a number of cross-cutting issues, including: governance structures; the follow-up and review of
commitments; capacity building and financing. He asked whether these issues will be addressed by each of the dialogues, or if a dedicated dialogue is needed on cross-cutting issues.
Norway called for addressing cross-cutting issues such as capacity building and technology transfer, and noted that UNCLOS provides the legal framework for all ocean-related activities, including IUU fishing.
Italy said ocean-related problems are never only local or single-sector. He called for using the agreed language in the 2030 Agenda in the conference process, in support of those states that have already engaged in SDG 14 implementation activities.
Discussion of Call for Action
Noting that ocean problems are interrelated and must be considered as whole, the EU said the Call for Action should: be short, concise, with concrete actions; relate to SDG 14 and other relevant targets, while recognizing the integrity and indivisibility of the 2030 Agenda; and make use of integrative management and decision-making tools. He stressed that the declaration should urge Member States to honor commitments under the 2030 Agenda to swiftly conclude a WTO agreement on the prohibition of harmful fisheries subsidies and recognize the importance of a “well-managed” blue economy. He further supported the development of a new instrument under UNCLOS for sustainable use of the high seas outside national jurisdiction.
France said the Call for Action should mark the transition to a blue economy, which should be a maritime economy that takes into
consideration sustainable development, and address marine debris and plastic waste, among other issues.
Germany stressed the need to focus on strategic and procedural structures to address the who and how, rather than the what of
effective implementation. He said the Call for Action should address the governance of SDG 14, and proposed: establishing new partnerships for regional ocean governance; preparing a streamlined global assessment (thematic review) on oceans; and developing a systematic approach to follow up on commitments.
The Netherlands said all actions in the Call for Action should fall within UNCLOS, and reiterated the Convention’s universal character,
describing it as the strategic basis for all cooperation in the marine sector, highlighteding: initiatives to address land-based sources of
marine pollution, especially plastics; reducing emissions from shipping; the value of regional cooperation among SIDS; and the role of regional efforts to manage marine and coastal ecosystems, such as the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR). He also: supported the call to account for gender; expressed support for actions that involve local coastal communities; called for building on existing partnerships, scaling up what is working, and boosting innovative ways to secure financing.
Norway said the Call for Action should reiterate the equal importance of all 17 SDGs, while noting the life-or-death stakes of ocean health. Plastics and micro-plastics will be a priority for Norway at the conference, he said. He added that the declaration must reflect that the multi-stakeholder approach is the conference’s real added value; and called for a focus on implementing existing legal frameworks, especially UNCLOS, and cautioned against re-litigating issues from other fora.
Iceland said the Call for Action should not renegotiate prior UN agreements or resolutions, as well as of the UN’s oceans-related departments, agencies and processes. He stressed the importance of capacity building, which includes the effective implementation of UNCLOS, and for which partnerships are needed.
Morocco supported UNCLOS as the universal legal framework, noted the indivisibility of all SDGs, and emphasized the need for scientific research, technology transfer, and capacity building in developing countries. He highlighted combating pollution as a priority.
The Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission said the Baltic Sea Action Plan is aimed at achieving SDG 14, and contracting parties will meet in a High-Level Session on 28 February 2017 to discuss regional activities to implement the SDGs. Noting the importance of regional cooperation, OSPAR said the “Call for Action” should address joint activities.
The World Wildlife Fund, also for Conservation International, the Waitt Foundation, The Nature Conservancy and the Wildlife Conservation Society, said the Call for Action must include a timeline for implementing SDG 14 by 2030 and reporting on commitments and partnerships to ensure accountability. She called for incentivizing the private sector to engage in delivery of
SDG 14. She said the Call for Action should be based on focal areas, including: build more resilient oceans to support human health and wellbeing, including through achieving Aichi Target 11; build a climate-resilient, carbon neutral economy; adopt a sustainable,
inclusive blue economy approach; implement integrated ocean planning and management; and secure additional financing.
Greece said the Call for Action should specifically reference climate change. He highlighted that, for some countries, the quality of the
marine environment is directly linked to economies and livelihoods.
Italy said MPAs are essential to achieving both the SDG 14 and Aichi Targets. On climate, he called for creating partnerships with research centers and linkages with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Belgium stressed the need to address land-based sources of marine pollution.
Iceland said the added value of the conference will be to bring together relevant stakeholders and foster partnerships that address ocean
challenges. He called for using scarce resources to invest in action, not special follow-up conferences, instead encouraging the use of
existing processes to follow up on commitments. He also called to: focus on implementing the Paris Agreement to combat ocean warming and acidification; avoid renegotiating the goals, targets or indicators of the SDGs; base the process on the modalities resolution, and avoid engaging in complex, delicate legal issues discussed elsewhere.
Monaco said Mars and the moon are better mapped than the oceans, and stressed the need for improved scientific research to combat climate change and ocean acidification, share marine research and data, and improve hydrology and marine mapping. She strongly supported the UNESCO-IOC initiative to create a decade of oceanography for sustainable development.
Germany described the conference as a “kick-off” to the implementation process, and said a clear follow-up and review process is required. He noted the crucial role of marine regions in the implementation process.
Outcome of Preparatory Meeting and Next Steps
At the end of the Preparatory Meeting, the facilitiators highlighted that the 2030 Agenda is seen as the overarching framework for the process, and the purpose of the conference being to support implementation of SDG 14. Almost everyone had supported a Call for Action that is concise and action-oriented, as well as easy to understand by the public. Among other common elements cited were: balance between the three dimensions of sustainable development, the indivisible nature of the 17 SDGs; urgency due to the state of the oceans, as well as the shorter deadlines for some SDG 14 targets; the fundamental character of UNCLOS; and the need
to take account of countries in special situations. Meeting participants had offered very concrete ideas on challenges and
opportunities in the areas of marine pollution, ocean acidification, sustainable fisheries, MPAs, and blue economy. Monitoring, follow up and review were mentioned repeatedly, along with capacity building, marine technology transfer and finance, including through innovative financing mechanisms, as well as scientific knowledge, data collection, and data sharing.
The facilitators will prepare a zero draft of the Call for Action, using the preparatory meeting’s discussions as their base material. Consultations on the zero draft have been scheduled for 7, 9, 20 and 21 March 2017, and that the text should be circulated before the first consultation. Appreciating the determination and resolve to make the Ocean Conference a success anchored on action, voluntary commitments and partnerships, Ocean Conference Secretary-General Wu said the meeting had offered a timely platform to receive the views and perspectives of all stakeholders, and that the conference will be a game changer in reversing the decline of the health of oceans and seas, and in advancing the implementation of SDG 14.
This Preparatory Meeting for the UN Ocean Conference was a stocktaking meeting, allowing interested parties to exchange their views and listen to each other. In this way, the discussion alerted participants to each other’s positions, and set out some of the key points of divergence that will have to be worked out when consultations begin on the zero draft of the political declaration in early March 2017.
Based on the discussions heard in the two-day gathering, such points of divergence could include: whether to raise ambition or avoid renegotiating the targets of SDG 14; whether to hold recurring conferences on SDG 14 implementation, or rely on existing mechanisms for governance of ocean issues and the follow-up and review of commitments; how to characterize UNCLOS in relation to the implementation of SDG 14; and approaches to the means of implementation.
The issue to be resolved in the preparatory process going forward will be if the UN system’s various bodies that currently address ocean issues will move toward a more unified and harmonized system of global governance and whether this will include plans for a subsequent Ocean Conference to advance implementation of SDG 14. A majority of participants strongly supported UNCLOS as “the
legal framework upon which SDG 14 implementation is based, explaining that it provides the structure to address all ocean-related activities dealing with marine protection and conservation as defined in the SDG 14 targets. Morocco called UNCLOS the bedrock for implementing SDG 14,A general consensus had emerged on introducing changes to Theme 7, to more closely reflect what was agreed
in SDG target 14.c: enhance the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources by implementing international law as
reflected in UNCLOS.
INFORMAL CONSULTATIONS IN PREPARATION FOR THE OCEAN CONFERENCE: The co-facilitators of the preparatory process for the Ocean Conference will hold informal consultations on the zero draft of the “Call for Action.”, Dates: 7, 9, 20 and 21 March 2017 at UN Headquarters, New York.
HIGH-LEVEL UN CONFERENCE TO SUPPORT THE IMPLEMENTATION OF SDG 14: This high-level UN Conference, co-hosted by the Governments of Fiji and Sweden, will coincide with the World Oceans Day, and seeks to support
the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14 (Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development). Dates: 5-9 June 2017 at UN Headquarters, New York.
UN Oceans Conference website
List of approved non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, academic institutions, the scientific community, the private sector and philanthropic organizations, including EUCC, at webpage http://www.un.org/pga/71/wp-content/uploads/sites/40/2015/08/8-Feb-approved-stakeholders-for-the-ocean-conference.pdf
UN Oceans Conference Documentation found at https://oceanconference.un.org/documents, with two documents highlighted below:
- Background note of the Secretary-General for the preparatory process of 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 (Advanced unedited version) https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/12444SG_background_note.pdf
- DESA – Chapter 3. The Oceans, Seas, Marine Resources and Human Well-being Nexus
IISD Reporting on the Preparatory Meeting for the Oceans Conference at this weblink: http://www.iisd.ca/oceans/sdg14conference/prep/