– As delivered –

Statement by H.E. Tijjani Muhammad Bande, President of the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly

4 February 2020



Distinguished Delegates,

I welcome you to today’s preparatory meeting ahead of the 2nd UN Ocean Conference. Over the next two days, we will prepare for a critical moment for the health of both life under water and life on land.

I thank the Permanent Representatives of Palau and Denmark for their overview of what we hope to achieve over the next two days.


Let us not forget that life under water is essential to life on land. The ocean produces half of the oxygen we breathe and provides food for hundreds of millions of people around the world.

Furthermore, the ocean plays a fundamental role in mitigating climate change as a major heat and carbon sink. 

The worldwide ocean economy is valued at 1.5 trillion US dollars annually. Indeed, aquaculture is the fastest growing food sector, and 350 million jobs world-wide are linked to fisheries.

A healthy marine environment holds untold potential for achieving the entirety of the Sustainable Development Agenda. Yet the unsustainable use – and misuse – of ocean resources, climate change, and pollution all threaten the ability of our ocean to provide for us all.


In this first year of the Decade of Action and Delivery, we must accelerate action on the SDG targets which mature this year, two thirds of which relate to the health of our environment.        

2020 is the year which we must reach several targets related to SDG 14: Life Under Water. As such the Ocean Conference presents us an opportunity to demonstrate progress and also to accelerate necessary actions.

This year is a moment to reframe our understanding of nature as an accelerator for implementing the 2030 Agenda.

2020 presents clear opportunities for the mainstreaming of these previously siloed issues. A healthy planet, and a healthy ocean, unlock massive potential for the implementation of the rest of the SDGs.


Life under water and life on land have a symbiotic relationship. Pollution hampers the ocean’s ability to provide for people. For example, eight million tons of plastic waste enter the oceans each year. The effect on the food chain and global ecosystems cannot be underestimated.

It is critical that we build upon the discussions of last year’s UN Environment Assembly to tackle land-based pollution, and transition towards a circular economy.

The ministerial declaration calling for a reduction of single-use plastic products by 2030 demonstrates the multilateral commitment to forging a better world. We must emulate this leadership at the Ocean Conference to ensure that the declaration has a transformative impact on life under water.

In terms of biodiversity, coral reefs are home to a quarter of all marine life. Sadly half of all living coral has been lost. This has an an adverse impact on global food security. Moreover, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing further burden ecosystems.


Climate action improves the health of our oceans. Sea level rise induced by climate-change poses an existential threat to us all. Small Island Developing States are tackling this crisis on the frontline. We must stand with them in solidarity and support. This is for us all.

Ensuring that our actions and policies are cognisant of the climate – oceans relationship is key to safeguarding our future.

Last month I participated in the 10th Assembly of the International Renewable Energy Agency, whose work is anchored in ocean-based renewable energy.

Moreover, the International Maritime Organisation has introduced new fuel standards which will significantly reduce the amount of sulphur dioxide emitted from the global shipping industry.

The UN system itself is working to reduce its carbon footprint via the 2030 ‘Greening the Blue’ Strategy for Sustainability Management in the United Nations System. I trust that Member States will support this initiative.

Working towards a just transition to the new green economy is essential to protect our oceans and our world.

Next year marks the beginning of the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, it is a call for intersectoral and interdisciplinary ocean data that is accessible and widely shared.

We have the tools to avoid further destruction and safeguard our oceans for future generations.

We must hasten the implementation of our 2017 Ocean Conference voluntary commitments, and give priority to oceans throughout our work.

Tijjani Muhammad Bande

President of the UN General Assembly


We have the tools to avoid further destruction and safeguard our oceans for future generations.

We must hasten the implementation of our 2017 Ocean Conference voluntary commitments, and give priority to oceans throughout our work.

Furthermore, I call on Member States to present new and more ambitious commitments during the upcoming 2020 UN Ocean Conference. We must partner with all stakeholders to create networks to implement existing and upcoming voluntary commitments effectively, and to monitor implementation efforts thereafter.

This includes supporting states’ capacities to effectively enforce international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.


Youth have been vocal advocates for urgent climate action and ocean protection. We need to channel their energy towards implementing transformative actions on SDG 14. This includes by raising public awareness and youth-led implementation efforts in the run up to the Conference.

The 2nd UN Ocean Conference gives us a platform to reflect upon progress made and create pathways forward. This preparatory meeting will determine the themes of the eight interactive dialogues of the Conference; and will catalyse discussions on the substance of the political declaration.

I trust that you will conduct negotiations in a constructive manner aimed towards a concise, action-orientated intergovernmental declaration. My team and I stand ready to support you throughout this process.

I am confident that we will strive together to deliver on SDG 14.

I thank you.