Isabel Sarenmalm, a member of the Swedish delegation to the UN Ocean Conference, here shares in a personal capacity her impressions of last week’s historic gathering.
It is Friday afternoon in the delegates’ lounge at United Nations Headquarters in New York, overlooking the East River, at the end of an inspiring week filled with a common understanding: that everyone is and will be severely affected by the critical state of our oceans.
Climate change, illegal and unregulated fishing, plastic pollution, sea level rise, ocean acidification and collapsing ecosystems goes hand-in-hand with economic decline, food scarcity and an increasing number of climate refugees.
My experience of the UN Ocean Conference can be summed up in three words and phrases: cooperation, scientific-based approach and voluntary commitments.
Firstly, no matter who I’ve spoken with or listened to at the conference, the word “cooperation” is always there: cooperation between countries, in coalitions of governments, between governments and the scientific community, business community and academia.
As a clear example of this, Canadian Minister of Fisheries Dominic LeBlanc, in “Partnership Dialogue 4: Making Fisheries Sustainable,” ended the dialogue by stretching out his hand to anyone interested in any type of cooperation after the conference with the Canadian government. LeBlanc said that “nothing is more important” if we want to reach the goals set under SDG14, and that such partnerships are needed with all provincial and territorial governments, indigenous peoples, environmental organizations, and industries.
Secondly, and maybe partly as a response to the United States indicating that it intends to leave the Paris Agreement on climate change, the phrase “scientific-based approach” is heard everywhere. As a Swedish colleague who has been working with ocean- and climate-related issues for the last 15 years reflected, “Five years ago, businesses frowned when the scientific community or environmental organizations mentioned the need for a scientific-based approach. Today, businesses and governments use the term continuously in all their communication.”
Thirdly, commitment. As of the final day of the conference, over 1300 voluntary commitments have been registered to the UN by different stakeholders: 603 by governments, 108 by United Nations entities, 58 by intergovernmental organizations, 262 by NGOs, 79 by civil society organizations, 44 by academic institutions, 21 by the scientific community, 73 by the private sector, 18 by philanthropic organizations and 16 by other relevant actors.
The number of registered commitments, which describe how each party can and will contribute to solving ocean problems, as well as the diversity of those making them , indicates the urgency felt across all sectors and stakeholders to reach the goals of SDG14.