IAAP UN Team Report: On the Road to Achieving Sustainable Development Goal 14 on Oceans, Seas and Marine Resources Edit

Climate change. What does that mean to the world in the context of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) from the years 2015-2030? At the United Nations, the discussion about climate change is pivotal in advancing the movement for environmental conservation and sustainability. It is also a high priority for the UN Secretary-General ahead of the major meetings set to take place at COP21 in Paris this December, where it is hoped the member state governments will reach a consensus on urgent action targeting the impacts of climate change.      

Issues concerning the oceans, seas and marine resources, which relate to climate change, have been highlighted by the stand-alone SDG 14, as part of the new document to guide the global agenda from 2015 to 2030. The goal sets out to "conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development." The inclusion of this goal within Agenda 2030 is considered transformational, and also represents a significant milestone, given the hard work it took to get it into the final draft. This success is largely due to the concerted efforts of H.E. Dr. Caleb Otto, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Palau to the UN, who has worked tirelessly in partnership with the Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS) over several years at the UN, advocating alongside other member states and entities for recognition of the importance of ocean conservation and sustainability on a global and long-term scale, for the future of both our planet and people.        

The issue about the oceans, which relates to climate change, has been highlighted by becoming a stand-alone goal (Goal 14) of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the new document to guide the global agenda for 2015-2030. The goal states: "Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development." It is considered transformational in its nature, and its inclusion in the SDGs is even more of a milestone, given the hard work it took to get this goal into the final draft. H.E. Mr. Stuart Beck, Ambassador for Oceans and Seas from the Permanent Mission of Palau to the UN, and others worked tirelessly to emphasize ocean conservation and sustainability on a global and long-term scale. The meeting was attended by Dr. Judy Kuriansky, UN NGO Representative for IAAP and Chair of the Psychology Coalition of NGOs accredited at the UN, and her team of four assistants, Joel Zinsou, Paul Harrington, Monica Kim, and Mariama Jalloh, given several factors: (1) Dr. Judy had led members of this team in collaboration with Ambassador Otto of Palau - who is very active on issues about the oceans - in a successful campaign that resulted in mental health and well-being gaining inclusion in the SDGs. The well-being of the environment, and particularly that of the ocean, is crucial for the optimum well-being of people; (2) the PCUN advocacy involves resilience from climate change and disasters and such events affect the regions surrounded by oceans; thus the goals are in sync.

The context of this event is the depletion of the earth’s resources, and the rapid deterioration of biodiversity and quality of life that threatens the well-being of people as well as the environment.         

This situation has led to a growing awareness within the UN system of the importance of conserving the environment in general, and the oceans in particular. A number of events on these topics have been held.

A conference addressing this issue, entitled 'One Ocean - regenerating fish stocks: Achieving Sustainable Development Goal 14 (Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources)', took place at the UN on 1 July 2015 from 15:00 to 18:00 in Conference Room 3, as shown in Figure 1. The forum - co-organized by the Permanent Missions to the United Nations of the Bahamas, Palau, and Poland, together with the Ocean Sanctuary Alliance, the Global Partnerships Forum, and the Institute for Conservation Service - featured various government officials and private sector representatives and experts shedding light on the current dire state of the environment.

Regarding the challenges and opportunities that will arise in relation to SDG 14, as well as the process of identifying solutions and strategies and encouraging global action and cooperation to move towards the targets in that goal, the panel raised concern about ocean responsibility. Since currently 99% of the ocean is open to fishing while only just over 2% of the ocean's surface is protected by a total of 11,000 ocean sanctuaries, representatives are determined to raise that percentage to at least 10% within the next 5 years. 

 Figure 1: Delegates and representatives gather in Conference Room 3 at The United Nations, 1 July 2015

Chairman and founder of the Global Partnerships Forum and co-founder of the Ocean Sanctuary Alliance, Amir Dossal, opened the panel, introducing SDG 14 by stating: "Our aim is not to have a repeat of the problem...It would be very good if we could focus on the solutions, and not simply say 'We need to do more', but 'Here's what we're doing.’” Mr. Dossal later added that "SDG 14 transcends all of the 17 SDGs in one way or another.”

Working alongside governments and private sector leaders to address issues related to marine sanctuaries, the Ocean Sanctuary Alliance (OSA) has held four high-level symposia at The UN that led to the drafting of a stand-alone ocean goal, which "called for the establishment of marine sanctuaries and the resources to make them successful" and pushed for the formation of SDG 14. Noted scientists joined the effort to prove that "sanctuaries can indeed be regenerative and reverse the decline in fish stocks".

Permanent Representative of Poland to the United Nations, H.E. Mr. Bogusław Winid, commented on the crucial role that UN programmes, bodies, organizations, and funds play in “achieving and fulfilling the goals and the tasks which we are discussing here in this body”. Ambassador Winid followed up by stating the following: “We can all agree that healthy, productive, resilient oceans contribute to poverty eradication, sustainable economic growth, food security and decent work for millions of people. So the fundamental question here is not how to develop some new ideas, but how to preserve and develop what we have, and what can we do better? How can we stop the degradation of the environment…how can we stop the process at the beginning, and then reverse it for future generations?”

Executive Director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science, Ellen Pikitch, emphasized that "in order to build an effective marine-protected area, in order to zone the ocean areas, we're going to need to take the science and bring that together with the stakeholders and form partnerships, and have a consultative process in order to come up with a system that will actually work, in all of the many respects that they need to work”. In promoting the benefits of ocean sanctuaries, she stated that they "have been shown to provide for areas that are more adaptable and more resilient to environmental changes, such as ocean acidification and increasing sea surface temperature”, ultimately calling them "a win-win-win solution that can really help to heal the ocean”. She strongly emphasized the need to incorporate science into the legislative process of establishing marine-protected areas.

Figure 2: Mr. Eric Carey, Executive Director, The Bahamas National Trust; Dr. Iwona Paliczka vel Pawlik from the Institute of Oceanography, University of Gdansk, Poland; Dr. Ellen Pikitch, Professor and Executive Director, Institute for Ocean Conservation Science, and Board Member, Ocean Sanctuary Alliance; and Dr. Yimnang Golbuu, CEO, Palau International Coral Reef Center, at the 'One Ocean' symposium as part of the science panel

Panelists highlighted the importance of protecting the oceans and seas for the sake of protecting both the economy and humankind.

Representing the Walton Family Foundation (WFF), Mr. Peter Bryant, Senior Program Officer for the foundation's Environment Focus Area, spoke about a need for "strategy refresh" in order to continue long-term marine conservation of coastal waters, and enlightened the audience on WFF's work, which spans marine-protected areas, fisheries, and the seafood marketplace. The WFF's work covers Costa Rica, Indonesia, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, the United States, and Mexico. Bryant revealed the WFF's plan to invest USD$200 million in marine conservation of coastal territories over the course of 5 years "in partnership with the UN, the business sector, local NGOs, local communities, and the scientific sector”, all the while maintaining WFF's mission to "improve lives" of people living along those areas.

Andrew Hudson, head of the Water and Ocean Programme at the United Nations Development Programme's Global Environmental Facility (UNDP-GEF), presented a cost-benefit analysis of protecting designated marine areas. Benefits include: coastal protection, cultural value, continuity of jobs (employment), livelihoods, and commerce. In comparison, the cost is roughly USD$28 billion to establish marine-protected areas (MPA), and only USD$21 billion to maintain them annually. Mr. Hudson therefore concluded that "marine-protected environments are a smart investment". He then presented a biodiversity portfolio showcasing the UNDP-GEF's efforts to conserve biodiversity globally, in places such as Croatia, the Maldives, Jordan, Belize, and Seychelles. In Seychelles in particular, tourism accounts for 66% of the market economy, and a high 22% of the overall GDP. Mr. Hudson noted that 88% of Seychelles was dependent on healthy marine ecosystems, which shows the importance of working to drive revenues into sustainability in fisheries.

Another panel member, co-founder of the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute, Mr. Carl Linaburg, highlighted three countries as target investors in the rally towards improving the state of the environment: Sweden, with strong environmental inclinations; Norway, with a net market of USD$900 billion; and China, with USD$1.8 trillion. Commenting on behalf of the private sector, Mr. Olkeriil Kazuo, sales and marketing manager at Oceania Television Network, a 24-hour broadcasting system committed to celebrating the culture and people of the Pacific Islands, emphasized the alarming rate at which coral reefs and fish are disappearing from the sea - particularly along the Pacific coast, on which a majority of people from Palau depend for food.

Mr. Kazuo pointed towards the detrimental effects that Vietnam's fishing boats have had on Palau's sea cucumber and small fish population. He made specific reference to a shocking 25 tonnes of fish – food for the people of Palau – that has gone missing from the island nation's stock of ocean species due to this discreet form of wanton fishing. These poacher fishing boats, he explained, go predominantly undetected by satellites because they are under 90 tonnes in weight, meaning there is no Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) required – a crucial element in the Palau government being able to detect their presence via satellite. Additionally, he explained, poacher boats claim to be 'in transit' along the southern coast of the island, while in reality they are fishing right off the coast. To prevent this poaching, Mr. Kazuo noted the need is urgent for "improved air, radar, and sonar partnerships and technology in order to protect Palau”. Mr. Kazuo reported that Palau has been going up against Vietnam's poacher boats and sending a powerful message back to their ports to keep out of Palau's territory and stop stealing from the people of Palau. Upon being discovered, 7 of 9 poacher boats were set on, while the remaining two were cast to return to their homeland with prisoners and the boats' captains. This response is meant to show how the people of Palau, as in similar regions, will not tolerate such behavior, and how they are fighting to keep the ocean and their culture alive.

Elsewhere during the conference, Mr. Craig Powell, Third Secretary at the Permanent Mission of The Bahamas to The UN, presented concerns regarding the loss of biodiversity in the oceans, a lack of portable water, and a country-wide littering issue.

Ms. Mariyam Midhfa Naeem, meanwhile, speaking on behalf of Ambassador Ahmed Sareer of the Maldives, underscored the importance of Goal 14, emphasizing that "any adverse impact.....damages our livelihoods" and that "healthy, resilient oceans and seas are necessary" for healthy, productive, and resilient ecosystems and fish stocks. Needs were identified to: (1) recognize the benefits of preserving marine resources, tackling overfishing, and implementing technology for adequate and reliable monitoring thereof; (2) implement a code of conduct for responsible fisheries, as well as adequate delivery of objectives for "robust follow-up and review process"; and (3) mobilize international political will, which is necessary for the world to progress towards improving the state of the environment, and specifically the well-being of the oceans and seas.

In the event, the benefits of sanctuaries were supported by countries including Italy, Monaco, The Bahamas, Fiji, Australia, Poland, and Palau, alongside multiple private stakeholders and partners. All representatives voiced their agreement with the statement, made by the chairman of the Ocean Sanctuary Alliance, Mr. Mark Newhouse, that "SDG 14 is more than just words”.

This conference was one of many held about the oceans and Sustainable Development Goal 14. Throughout the process of finalizing the SDGs, climate change has had a strong presence in the forefront of the minds of many member states. The 'One Ocean' meeting exemplified the concern driving many constituents, both inside and outside The UN, to take action for the betterment of the environment.

Panel members' contact information:

Christine Santora
Ocean Sanctuary Alliance, Deputy Executive Director, Special Assistant to H.E. Mr. Stuart Beck, Ambassador for Oceans and Seas, Palau

Dara Avenius
FASCINATE Media, Founder/Publicist

Eric Carey
Bahamas National Trust, Executive Director

Carl Linaburg
Sovereign Wealth Funds Institute (SWFI), Chairman, Founding Member

Ellen K. Pikitch
Institute for Ocean Conservation Science, Executive Director

Peter Bryant
Walton Family Foundation, Senior Program Officer, Environment Focus Area

Submitted by Monica Kim, IAAP UN intern