The preparation meeting for the 2020 United Nations Conference to Support the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14 concluded today, with delegates outlining their views on the potential content of the political declaration amid calls that it reflect the historical urgency to improve the state of the world’s waterways.
Under the theme “Scaling Up Ocean Action Based on Science and Innovation for the Implementation of Goal 14: Stocktaking, Partnerships and Solutions”, the 2020 Conference will take place in Lisbon from 2 to 6 June with the goal of launching a “new chapter” of global ocean action.
“Science cannot be ignored”, said Alexander Trepelkov, Division for Sustainable Development Goals, delivering a statement on behalf of Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and Secretary-General of the Conference. Covering more than 70 per cent of the Earth’s surface, oceans are vital to development, supporting livelihoods and providing food. But, the pressures they face — from habitat destruction to pollution — are not being matched by efforts to reverse current trends. There must be a higher sense of urgency. The 2020 Conference is a crucial opportunity to get back on track. “Let us fulfil the promise to protect the oceans from further abuse and recognize their role” in protecting people and the planet, he declared.
In continued discussion on its outcome, delegates agreed that it must broadly capture the worrying health of the oceans and include elements that raise the level of ambition to restore it. Many stressed that it must dovetail with outcomes from other processes and not open the door to renegotiating past commitments — particularly those made at the inaugural Ocean Conference in 2017.
Along these lines, China’s delegate said the declaration should not involve sensitive political or legal issues, nor be legally binding. Rather, it should reflect a common understanding and call for establishing a concept of the maritime community. Likewise, it should strengthen maritime research, promote pragmatic cooperation and emphasize the principles of Goal 14 — including State ownership and independence — so that countries will implement it voluntarily in light of their own considerations.
The United Kingdom’s delegate recommended that the declaration reflect the dire findings of two pivotal reports: The May 2019 report of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, and the Special Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the Ocean and Cryosphere. He also recommended a global commitment to increase the ocean area of marine protected areas by 30 per cent by 2030.
Cuba’s representative underlined the benefits of multidisciplinary studies on climate change. As the declaration will promote science and innovation, he recommended a database of scientific findings for developing countries, which would place them on level footing to realize Goal 14.
Focusing on action, the representative of the United Arab Emirates emphasized that the declaration should identify and champion a limited number of solutions, with priority areas addressing marine plastics, coral restoration and the evaluation of ecosystem services. Agreeing, an observer from the Global Ghost Gear Initiative said discarded, lost or abandoned fishing gear is a potent threat to marine life and significant source of marine plastics. Citing projects and partnerships to manage fishing gear with countries, including Canada, she said such actions should be reflected in the declaration.
The representative of Maldives similarly highlighted the urgency of supporting science-based action on pollution, with a provision to provide capacity-building to States in need. More broadly, the declaration should emphasize cooperation, rather than renegotiate elements that have already been agreed upon.
Papua New Guinea’s delegate meanwhile pointed out that some of the targets under Goal 14 have not yet been met and he called for achieving them. Highlighting that the knowledge and practices of indigenous communities have only recently been recognized, he said partnerships with all stakeholders will be essential.
On that point, the Russian Federation’s delegate said the declaration should focus on how to use science for the benefit of all and involve all actors — notably the private sector. Negotiations should avoid interference with ocean‑related processes that have their own methods.
Decisions made today will have an impact for years to come, said Tonga’s delegate. The declaration must recognize the role that science and technology plays in decisions on food security and environmental protection, he said, noting that Tonga designated 30 per cent of its economic zone as protected territory.
Others said the declaration should encourage a coherent approach to ocean governance, with the representative of Barbados highlighting the importance of local communities in that context, and relatedly, partnerships that promote scalable projects and involve multiple stakeholders.
Emphasizing the importance of political will, the representative from the Food and Agriculture Organization said local community involvement in ecosystem management can help rebuild depleted fish stocks and restore degraded habitats. As seafood production from aquaculture will play an increasing role in the livelihoods of coastal communities, technology advances, along with appropriate regulatory frameworks, should ensure the adoption of best farming practices, he said, calling investment in coastal communities crucial.
Picking up that thread, Fiji’s representative said the declaration is about people and communities “nothing more, nothing less”. He asked how it could be that a young woman in his country — which is surrounded by water — is more likely to eat canned rather than fresh fish. He called for data‑sharing, as “we don’t wish to become spectators in the growing field of ocean analytics”.
In related business, Facilitator Martin Bille Hermann (Denmark) proposed amending the title of one of the interactive dialogues, and following no comments from Member States, decided to include the change in the report to the President of the General Assembly. Under Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, Miguel de Serpa Soares, delivered closing remarks, echoing the call for voluntary partnerships to support Goal 14.
Also participating in today’s discussion were representatives of Nepal, Honduras, Philippines, Chile, Israel, Spain, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Mexico, Federated States of Micronesia, Monaco, Mauritius, Italy, Costa Rica, Sweden, Peru, France and Paraguay.
Representatives of the United Nations Environment Programme, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization also spoke, as did observers from several civil society organizations, and a representative from the British Virgin Islands.