UN Headquarters Meeting to Consider Areas for Possible Progress at Rio+20 on Oceans; Overfishing, Marine Pollution, and Ocean Acidification among Key Concerns

20 June 2011

UN Headquarters Meeting to Consider Areas for Possible Progress at Rio+20 on Oceans; Overfishing, Marine Pollution, and Ocean Acidification among Key Concerns

20 June 2011
Press Release
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

UN Headquarters Meeting to Consider Areas for Possible Progress at Rio+20 on Oceans;

Overfishing, Marine Pollution, and Ocean Acidification among Key Concerns


The twelfth United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea will meet at United Nations Headquarters in New York from 20 to 24 June.  This meeting will serve to provide an important input to the discussions leading up to Rio+20, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development that will be held in Rio de Janeiro next 4-6 June 2012.  The meeting, among others, also provides an opportunity for States, non-governmental organizations and intergovernmental organizations to review how well the efforts to implement key international agreements on oceans have fared — and whether additional measures are required.

One of the key aims of Rio+20 is to accelerate implementation of sustainable development through the development of green economies that are capable of fostering economic growth and poverty alleviation while promoting social development and ensuring environmental protection.  Efforts to protect the oceans and their resources for future generations are an integral part of the sustainable development agenda since Agenda 21, the blueprint for sustainable development was adopted in 1992.

United Nations Secretary-General, in his report on oceans and the law of the sea, noted that, despite the development of a legal framework for all activities in the oceans with near-universal participation, “the negative impacts of human activities on the oceans and seas are increasingly visible.  Marine pollution and unsustainable resource exploitation practices continue to endanger marine ecosystems, thereby putting at risk the potential benefits for future generations.”

The Secretary-General’s report also found that climate change has significantly impacted the world’s oceans by contributing to such phenomena as ocean acidification, sea level rise and coral bleaching.

Countries have set goals and targets for the sustainable development of the oceans and their resources in Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation that have helped guide initiatives in the field of oceans and the law of the sea over the past 19 years.  Considerable progress has been achieved, particularly in the development of legal and policy frameworks, institutions and cooperation mechanisms.  However, as the Secretary-General’s report states, “the full implementation of many of those goals and targets will require further efforts by States, intergovernmental organizations and other relevant actors.”

Among the key concerns facing the oceans is overfishing — the proportion of marine fish stocks estimated to be underexploited or moderately exploited declined from 40 per cent in the mid-1970s to 15 per cent in 2008, and the proportion of overexploited, depleted or recovering stocks increased from 10 per cent in 1974 to 32 per cent in 2008.

Fisheries, which provide employment to about 45 million people and exports amounting to $102 billion in 2008, are threatened by excessive illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, overfishing, overcapacity, and inadequate flag State control.  Other factors include excessive by-catch and discards, inadequate or insufficient data collection and reporting, ineffective monitoring, control and surveillance, and the degradation of vulnerable marine ecosystems.

About 75 per cent of the world’s coral reefs are rated as threatened from either local threats or the effects of climate change.  And marine pollution, particularly from land-based sources, continues to pose dangers for the marine environment which 90 per cent of the world’s fisheries depend on.  It is estimated that up to 80 per cent of marine pollution comes from land-based sources, such as industry, agriculture, urban development, mining, military activities, tourism and construction work.

One worrying impact of land-based source of coastal pollution comes from nitrogen produced by human activities, mostly farming.  Such nitrogen pollution can contribute to the formation of ocean “dead zones”.  About two thirds of the 120 million tons of nitrogen makes its way into the air, inland waterways and the coastal zone.  Some 20 million tons of phosphorous are mined every year and nearly half enters the world’s oceans — eight times the natural rate of input.  In developing countries, an estimated 90 per cent of wastewater, a major source of excess nutrients, harmful to health and ecosystems, is discharged as untreated into waterways and coastal areas.

For more information, see http://www.un.org/Depts/los/consultative_process/ consultative_process.htm.  The Secretary-General’s report “Oceans and the law of the sea can be found at http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol =A/66/70/Add.1

For further information, please contact Dan Shepard, United Nations Department of Public Information, tel.:  1 212 963 9495, e-mail: shepard@un.org.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.