The first-ever United Nations Oceans Conference was held earlier this year in June, attracting more than 6,000 government officials, institutions, and civil society organizations to discuss the challenges facing the world’s oceans. Coinciding with United Nations Oceans Day, the five-day conference concluded with a global Call for Action to reverse the decline of the ocean’s health, and more than 1,300 pledged actions for protecting the global resource.
The first United Nations forum of its kind on the issue, the Ocean Conference assembled to discuss and promote the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14—to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources—generating new dialogues and partnerships aimed at implementing solutions.
“The decline of the health of the world’s ocean has not [been at the] forefront of discussions, largely because the deterioration of the marine environment was taking place out of sight and underwater. The Ocean Conference worked to raise awareness about the decline of marine habitats and biodiversity due to pollution, particularly from plastics, the impacts of overfishing, and the impacts of climate change on the ocean in terms of sea level rise, ocean warming, and ocean acidification. Along with raising the issues, the Conference raised possible solutions…the Ocean Conference was a start, the real work still lies ahead of us,” says Dan Shepard, U.N. Department of Public Information, Sustainable Development Section.
Healthy oceans, coasts, and freshwater ecosystems are crucial for sustaining livelihoods and food production in coastal countries and communities, especially small island developing states where the connection to the oceans and food security is deeply intertwined. The United Nations estimates that marine fisheries directly or indirectly employ more than 200 million people globally, and that more than 3 billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their nutritional needs. In many of the world’s poorest communities, fish are a central source of protein, micronutrients, and omega-3 fatty acids. The conference provided the first platform for countries and engaged actors to chart the future for both sustainable marine development and the lives of citizens that benefit from the goods and services provided by the ocean.
The Call for Action, signed by 193 United Nations member states, consists of a range of long-term and robust strategies to protect coastal ecosystems, from enhancing sustainable fisheries management to reducing the use of plastics and microplastics. Countries also agreed to develop and implement effective adaptation and mitigation measures that address the impacts of climate change on the ocean, such as sea-level rise and increase in ocean temperatures.
Recognizing that regenerating the world’s oceans will require action on all levels, the Ocean Conference created a register of voluntary commitments for non-governmental organizations, academic and research institutions, the scientific community, and the private sector, among others. Commitments include various local, regional, national, and global projects geared at driving implementation of SDG 14, ranging from awareness campaigns on marine mammals to empowering young conservation leaders. With a growing list of more than 1,300 voluntary commitments, the online register remains open to catalyze additional action and for sharing best practices and experiences amongst groups.
“Strong action to follow-up on the Conference is needed. Countries still need to agree on measures at the World Trade Organization to limit fishing subsidies that contribute to overfishing, and countries are still working on a new treaty to protect biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdictions. But there is still so much that has to be done right away, from curbing plastics from being dumped in the ocean, to protecting more marine areas, to taking action on climate change and implementing the Paris Agreement. We can still make a difference, if action is taken now,” says Shepard.