One Ocean Conference

On the Road to Achieving Sustainable Development Goal 14 on Oceans, Seas and Marine Resources

Climate change. What does that mean to the world in the coming years of the new Sustainable Development Goals 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, in preparation for the major meeting about climate change (COP21) to take place in Paris this December, where it is hoped the member state governments will reach a consensus about urgent action about the impact of climate change. 

Issues about the oceans, seas and marine resources, which relate to climate change, have been highlighted by the stand-alone goal (Goal 14) in 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." Inclusion of this goal in the SDGs is considered transformational, and a significant milestone, given the hard work it took to get this goal into the final draft. The success is due to the concerted efforts of H.E. Dr. Caleb Otto, Permanent Representative from the Palau Mission to the UN, working tirelessly with the Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS) over several years at the UN, advocating with other member states and entities to emphasize the importance of ocean conservation and sustainability on a global and long-term scale for the future of our planet and people.

In an interview, Ambassador Otto recounted the numerous meetings held to raise awareness about the importance of the oceans, as well as current and future plans. Reflecting on the accomplishment of including oceans in the Post-2015 agenda, he said, “It is absolutely huge… because for the people of the Pacific, that’s their life, their culture… everything revolves around the ocean. And now, with climate change, it is becoming even more important because of acidification, the rising sea level, increased storms, and biodiversity propension.”

The next big step is identifying the means of implementation (MoIs) for Goal 14.

“We’re fighting to monitor the implementation of Goal 14,” said Ambassador Otto, “because many of the other goals and targets have homes, meaning government departments specifically for that purpose. Energy has an agency that deals with it. Villages and habitats have a home, and an agency that deals with it. Oceans – nothing. That’s why we don’t know at this moment how Goal 14 is going to be monitored for implementation...We’re advocating for a tri-annual world conference that will meet every third year as a specific forum about the ocean…, Maybe the first theme will be about fish stocks. The second tri-annual conference will be about all the pollutions, plastic, and trash, and the third one will possibly be about mining of the deep sea level. Another one can be whether biodiversity is coming back, because of what we’re doing. It’s important for us to see how the goal can be implemented, and these can guide the implementation.”

Ambassador Otto continues to advocate for the safety of the ocean for the sake of peoples’ health and longevity, on a long-term trajectory. He has catalyzed a movement within the United Nations, committed to taking care of the ocean, and ultimately to taking care of the environmental well-being of the planet. He continues to raise awareness through meetings about the oceans. One of these, 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 1 (shown in Figure 1). The forum – co-organized by the Permanent Missions to the United Nations of the Bahamas, Palau, and Poland, as well as 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.

The meeting was attended by Dr. Judy Kuriansky, UN NGO Representative for the International Association of Applied Psychology and Chair of the Psychology Coalition of NGOs accredited at the UN (PCUN), and her team of IAAP UN interns, Joel Zinsou, Paul Harrington, Monica Kim, and Mariama Jalloh. IAAP is committed to supporting the issues of this goal, given the synchronicity of objectives: (1) Dr. Judy partnered with Ambassador Otto in a successful campaign that resulted in “promote mental health and well-being” being included in the SDGs, and the well-being of the environment, particularly the oceans and waters, is crucial for optimum well-being of people; and (2) the advocacy of IAAP and PCUN involves resilience from climate change and natural disasters and such events greatly affect regions surrounded by oceans.

The context of this meeting was the depletion of the earth’s resources, and the rapid deterioration of biodiversity and quality of life that threaten the well-being of people as well as the environment. This situation has led to the awareness in the UN system of the importance to conserve the environment in general, and the oceans in specific. A number of events on these topics have been held.

The panel discussed the challenges and opportunities that will arise with SDG 14, identifying solutions and strategies, and encouraging global action and cooperation to move towards the targets in that goal. Panelists raised concern about ocean responsibility, since currently 99% of the ocean is open to fishing while only 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 Global Partnerships Forum and co-founder of the Ocean Sanctuary Alliance, Amir Dossal, moderated the panel, noting the importance of the goal, that "SDG 14 transcends all of the 17 SDGs one way or another.” He added, "Our aim is not to have a repeat of the problem [that is, the current climate change crisis across the globe] ...It would be very good if we could focus on the solutions, not simply to say 'we need to do more', but 'here's what we're doing.’”

The Ocean Sanctuary Alliance (OSA) is a coalition of countries and global leaders which addresses issues related to marine sanctuaries, works with several governments and private sector leaders, and has held four high-level symposia at the UN, that led to drafting the stand-alone ocean goal. Among the ten targets under Goal 14 in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is the following: “By 2020, conserve at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, consistent with national and international law and based on the best available scientific information.”

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 discussed here in this body.” He added, “We can all agree that healthy, productive, resilient oceans contribute to poverty eradication, sustainable economy 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 how to 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 the 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 such sanctuaries "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.

(from left): Members of the science panel, Executive Director of The Bahamas National Trust Mr. Eric Carey; scientist at the Institute of Oceanography in Poland Dr. Iwona Paliczka vel Pawlik; Professor and Executive Director at Institute for Ocean Conservation Science and Board Member of Ocean Sanctuary Alliance Dr. Ellen Pikitch; and CEO of Palau International Coral Reef Center Dr. Yimnang Golbuu, at the One Ocean Symposium

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 Environment Focus Area of the Walton Family Foundation, spoke about a need for a "strategy refresh" in order to continue long-term marine conservation of coastal waters and described WFF's work, spanning marine protected areas, fisheries, and the seafood marketplace. The WFF currently works in Costa Rica, Indonesia, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, the United States, and Mexico. The foundation plans 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, while maintaining WFF's mission to "improve lives" of people living along those areas.

Andrew Hudson, head of the Water and Ocean Programme at United Nations Developpement Programme-Global Environmental Facility (UNDP-GEF), presented a Cost-Benefit Analysis of protecting designated marine areas. Benefits include: coastal protection, cultural value, and 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. Therefore, he concluded that "marine-protected environments are a smart investment."

A Biodiversity Portfolio presented by Hudson showcased the UNDP-GEF's efforts to conserve biodiversity globally, in locations including Croatia, the Maldives, Jordan, Belize, and Seychelles. For example, in Seychelles, tourism accounts for 66% of the market economy, and 22% of the overall GDP. Hudson stated that 88% of Seychelles’ tourist economy is dependent on healthy marine ecosystems, revealing the importance of working to drive revenues into sustainability in fisheries.

Co-founder of Sovereign Wealth Funds Institute, Carl Linaburg, emphasized 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.

Another representative 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 on the Pacific coast, on which a majority of people from Palau depend for food. Kazuo talked about the detrimental effects that Vietnam's fishing boats have caused Palau's sea cucumber and small fish population, i.e., that a shocking 25 tonnes of fish – food for the people of Palau – are missing from Palau's stock of ocean species due to a discreet form of wanton fishing. These poacher fishing boats, he explained, go predominantly undetected by satellites because if a boat’s total weight is under 90 tonnes (which the poacher boats predominantly are), 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 of the coast. To prevent this poaching, he noted the urgent need 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 Vietnamese ports. Upon being discovered, 7 of 9 poacher boats were set on fire, while the remaining two boats were cast to return to their homeland with prisoners and the boats' captains. Kazou explained that this action 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.

Ambassador Craig Powell, Third Secretary at the Permanent Mission of the Bahamas to the United Nations, presented concerns regarding the loss of biodiversity in the oceans, a lack of portable water, and a country-wide littering issue.

Speaking on behalf of Ambassador Ahmed Sareer of the Maldives, Ms. Mariyam Midhfa Naeem 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 implementations; (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 are necessary for the world to progress towards improving the state of the environment, specifically the well-being of the oceans and seas.

At the conference, the benefits of sanctuaries were supported by country representatives who spoke, including from Italy, Monaco, the Bahamas, Fiji, Australia, Poland, and Palau, as well as several private stakeholders and partners. All representatives voiced agreement about the comment made by the chairman of the Ocean Sanctuary Alliance, Mark Newhouse, about the meeting: "SDG14 is more than just words.”

This conference was one of many about the oceans and Sustainable Development Goal 14, with emphasis on its interlinkage with climate change. Throughout the process of finalizing the SDGs, climate change has taken a strong presence in the forefront of the agenda of many member states. This "One Ocean" meeting exemplifies the concern driving many constituents inside and outside the United Nations 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

Published 25 July, 2015