Briefing on the 2020 United Nations Ocean Conference

Distinguished Delegates,Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be here today as part of the annual Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC in Madrid.

In 2019 we had a number of important events:
  • the SDG Summit,
  • the conclusion of the first cycle of the High-Level Political Forum to review the Sustainable Development Goals,
  • the mid-term review of the SAMOA Pathway, as well as
  • the high-level dialogue on financing for development.
The UN Secretary-General also convened the Climate Action Summit, which called on all leaders to enhance their nationally determined contributions by 2020.This is in line with reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent over the next decade, and to net zero emissions by 2050.

We all understand that the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change are deeply linked. And, if implemented in a coherent manner, they can ensure human prosperity and planetary health. Looking ahead to 2020, the United Nations will be hosting other important high-level events. In particular, the 2020 UN Conference to support the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14. Co-hosted by the Governments of Portugal and Kenya, the Ocean Conference will be held in Lisbon, Portugal from 2 to 6 June.

Distinguished Delegates,

The ocean covers over 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, and provides about 97 percent of the planet’s water. It is an important source of food and energy that we use to sustain our societies.

Beyond such human needs, the ocean plays a major but undervalued role, in regulating the climate, supplying oxygen, and recycling key nutrients that support life above and below water. Home to many life forms – most of which we have not yet discovered – the ocean is a crucial repository for biological diversity.

Despite the known values of marine and coastal ecosystems, human activity continues to threaten the ocean – through pollution, overfishing and habitat destruction.Indeed, as human activity continues to release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the chemical and biological makeup of the ocean is changing.

This is driving ocean acidification and widespread biodiversity loss.

To halt and repair the negative impacts of human activity on the ocean, action must occur at all levels.

For this reason, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 73/292 – on the “2020 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”.

Recognizing that science and innovation are key to implementation of SDG14, Member States decided on the overarching theme of the Conference: “Scaling up ocean action based on science and innovation for the implementation of Goal 14: stocktaking, partnerships and solutions”.


As the Secretary-General of the Conference, I am working together with Mr. Miguel de Serpa Soares, the Special Advisor to the Co-Presidents of the Conference on oceans and legal matters – as well as colleagues from relevant parts of the United Nations secretariat and the United Nations system.

The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, Ambassador Peter Thomson, is continuing to lead the United Nations advocacy and public outreach efforts related to the Conference. An informal Advisory Committee to the Co-Presidents of the Conference has been established to advise the co-hosts (Kenya and Portugal) in substantive preparations.

The General Assembly, through its resolution 73/292, encourages participation in the Conference at the highest possible level. I therefore urge Member States to take part in the Conference and its preparatory process. With your full commitment, we will have the political momentum necessary for achieving SDG 14.

Resolution 73/292 also recognizes the importance of other stakeholders, including civil society organizations and the private sector. Indeed, stakeholder contributions are critical to developing solutions to achieve SDG 14 based on science and innovation. Detailed information pertaining to the participation process for such stakeholders is available on the official website of the Conference.

Distinguished Delegates,

The President of the General Assembly has appointed the Permanent Representatives of Denmark and Palau as co-facilitators to oversee the preparatory process for the Conference, and conclude the intergovernmental consultations on a brief, concise, action-oriented and intergovernmentally agreed declaration.The declaration will focus on, and highlight, the science-based and innovative areas of action to support the implementation of Goal 14.

As a first step, a Preparatory Meeting will be held from 4 to 5 February 2020, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The Meeting will consider the themes for the eight interactive dialogues to be held at the Conference and elements for the declaration.

Currently, the Secretariat is preparing the Secretary-General’s background note, which will inform discussions at the Preparatory Meeting. The note will include proposals for the themes of the eight interactive dialogues. Topics to be addressed in the background note include:
  • identifying the status and trends in, as well as challenges and opportunities for the implementation of SDG 14,
  • using science and innovation to scale up ocean action, and
  • develop partnerships across sectors.
The Conference is expected to catalyze the registration of a new round of voluntary commitments. The Conference is also expected to adopt, by consensus, an intergovernmental declaration – negotiations for which are envisioned to be concluded by May 2020, and organizational aspects of the Conference a month earlier (in April). The co-hosts, the co-facilitators and the substantive secretariat will regularly update Member States and other stakeholders on the preparations for the Conference, through briefings and webinars, as we move towards June 2020.

Dear friends,

The health of the ocean is in decline. Urgent and ambitious action on the global scale is imperative.

I therefore hope to see you all in full force in Lisbon.

Thank you.
File date: 
Saturday, December 7, 2019
Mr. Liu