Historic UN Conference vows to restore ocean health
The Ocean Conference, where some 6,000 people participated, recognized that the ocean is a common heritage of humankind and its well-being is critical to the survival of all humanity.
Our ocean is critical to our shared future and common humanity in all its diversity. Our ocean covers three quarters of our planet, connects our populations and markets, and forms an important part of our natural and cultural heritage.
It supplies nearly half the oxygen we breathe, absorbs over a quarter of the carbon dioxide we produce, plays a vital role in the water cycle and the climate system, and is an important source of our planet's biodiversity and of ecosystem services. It contributes to sustainable development and sustainable ocean-based economies, as well as to poverty eradication, food security and nutrition, maritime trade and transportation, decent work and livelihoods.
One would think, these excerpts from a 14-point Call for Action emerging as consensus from the week-long United Nations Ocean Conference are common knowledge, taken into account by generations through history.
But the fact is that these are far from being common knowledge. In fact the gathering that wrapped up on June 9 at the United Nations headquarters in New York was the first summit on oceans. But it concluded with a global agreement to reverse the decline of the ocean's health, and more that 1,300 pledged actions for protecting the blue.
The Call for Action was adopted by consensus by the participating Heads of State and Government and senior representatives who “affirm our strong commitment to conserve and sustainably use our oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.”
“The bar has been raised on global consciousness and awareness of the problem in the oceans,” the President of the UN General Assembly, Peter Thomson, told journalists in New York.
Thomson, whose native Fiji co-sponsored the event along with Sweden, said the organizers got what they wanted from the conference: “I'm 100 per cent satisfied with the results of this conference. Our aim was high. Our aim was to start the reversal of the cycle.”
Speaking alongside Thomson, the Secretary-General of The Ocean Conference, Wu Hongbo, said the negotiated document lists specific measures “to galvanize global commitment and partnerships” for the oceans.
The main points from the political document and the discussions (from June 5-9) will be part of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), the UN's central body for follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in September 2015. The HLPF is scheduled to meet next month in New York.
In addition to the political Call for Action, participants – who also included thousands of civil society representatives, academics, artists, financial institutions and other practitioners and activists – pledged actions to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources. This is the goal of SDG14. By the afternoon of June 9, more than 1,300 voluntary commitments had already been registered.
Calling the figure “truly impressive,” Wu, who is also UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, underscored that the commitments now comprise “an ocean solution registry.”
In 'Our Ocean, Our Future: Call for Action', participants underline the integrated and indivisible character of all SDGs, as well as the inter-linkages and synergies between them, and reiterate the critical importance of being guided in their work by the 2030 Agenda, including the principles reaffirmed therein.
They acknowledge that each country faces specific challenges in its pursuit of sustainable development, in particular least developed countries (LDCs), landlocked developing countries, small island developing States (SIDS), and African States, including coastal ones, as do others recognised in the 2030 Agenda. There are also serious challenges within many middle income countries.
In the Call for Action, they "reiterate their commitment to achieve the targets of Goal 14 within the timelines, and the need to sustain action over the long term, taking into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development and respecting national policies and priorities." They recognise, in particular, the special importance of certain targets in Goal 14 for SIDS and LDCs.
The Conference, where some 6,000 people participated, also recognized that 'it's all of us or nothing'. “When it comes to the ocean, it's the common heritage of humankind. There's no North-South, East-West when it comes to the ocean,” Thomson said. “If the ocean is dying, it's dying on all of us.”
He underscored that by “getting the wheels turning” on SDG 14, the conference helped push forward action on all 17 SDGs, finance ocean science, but much more is required to fill the capacity gaps,” he explained.
Topics that were discussed ranged from plastic pollution in the oceans and seas to ocean acidification and illegal fishing – which tie in with topics of alleviating poverty, ending hunger, promoting health, ensuring access to water and sanitation, and so on.
Thomson attributed the success of the conference to the “wonderful way” in which all the different participants came together to discuss and work together.
He lauded the “openness to civil society, to the science sector, to private society” in breaking down the typical divisions between governments and other sectors. “There's no them and us. It's all of us or nothing.”
In addition to eight plenary meetings and seven partnership dialogues, The Ocean Conference included 150 side events, 41 exhibitions and interviews at the SDG Media Zone.
These included events with new Oceans Advocate and globally-acclaimed Australian singer-songwriter Cody Simpson, as well as Marine biologist Douglas McCauley, Aboriginal artist Sid Bruce Short Joe and Spanish philanthropist Álvaro de Marichalar.
The mix of personalities and strong support for action brought “creativity and a sense of unity” to the action for oceans, said conference co-chairwoman, Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden Isabelle Lovin.
On the World Oceans Day on June 8, UN Secretary-General António Guterres drew attention to the fact that the future of the planet’s oceans is burdened by threats such as climate change, pollution and destructive fishing practices – and the lack of capacities to address these threats.
"Caring for, and using, our oceans in sustainable ways is critical to achieve ecological and economic goals for communities everywhere,” said Guterres in a message on the World Oceans Day.
“Looking forward, the conservation and sustainable use of oceans can be achieved only if we manage to address effectively the threats that oceans face,” the Secretary-General said, stressing that “our future will thus be determined by our collective resolve to share information and find solutions to common problems.”
A healthy ocean requires robust global knowledge of ocean science, the Director-General Irina Bokova of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said in her message commemorating the Day with a strong call to mobilize and harness the best scientific knowledge to protect our planet’s vital oceans.
“We cannot manage what we cannot measure, and no single country is able to measure the myriad changes taking place in the ocean. From Fiji to Sweden, from Namibia to the Arctic, all Governments and partners must share knowledge to craft common science-based policies,” Bokova added.
- Article published in IDN-InDepthNews – 12 June 2017.
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