On Friday, the first-ever United Nations Ocean Conference came to an end. Five jam-packed days with more than 150 events seems to fly by, but the conference exceeded the expectations of observers and participants:

  • Over 6000 people took part, around 1000 more than anticipated
  • Governments, organizations, businesses, and others made 1300 voluntary commitments to end illegal and unregulated fishing, clean up ocean pollution, protect and sustain fisheries and the people who depend upon them for food and livelihoods, and more. This was beyond the expected benchmark of a thousand or so commitments by the end of the event.

Swedish conference delegate Isabel Sarenmalm summarised her personal impressions of Ocean Conference for SDG14.net in three fitting terms: cooperation, scientific-based approach, and voluntary commitments. Here are just a few highlights of how those concepts were realized during the week:

Call for Action
Before the conference started, it was clear that the final outcome would be a call for action on ocean problems. So, what did this somewhat ambiguous goal deliver in the end?

Since this is a United Nations process, of course it resulted in a document, the conference’s official “Call for Action”: 14 points affirmed by all parties to the conference (governmental, civil society and other stakeholders) that include:

  • Special recognition of the adverse effects of climate change on the oceans, including loss of polar sea ice, rising water temperatures, ocean acidification, loss of oxygen, coastal erosion, increasingly frequent severe storms, and rising sea levels
  • Affirmation that changing behaviours is essential to reverse ocean decline
  • A call for global collaboration among all sectors and stakeholders in scientific research, reducing marine pollution, ending destructive fishing practices, reconsidering certain fishing subsidies, engaging in partnership dialogues, and additional objectives regarding oceans and sustainability

With this call for action, the nations of the world have taken a clear, although not legally binding, stand against further marine deterioration, creating a baseline for defining, organizing, and doing the work. future efforts.

Partnership Dialogues

On Friday morning, Australia and Kenya chaired the seventh and final official negotiation of the Ocean Conference, on “enhancing the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources by implementing international law as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

This dialogue revolved around the creation of international policies that focus on responsible use of ocean resources, with an equal distribution among nations.
Even though this last dialogue focused on just a fragment of SDG14, the topic by itself summarises Isabel’s three keywords:

  • Cooperation is found in the call for international laws, which need to be negotiated and agreed upon by multiple countries.
  • Enhancing conservation and sustainable use of oceans implies that we should invest in scientific research, which helps us improve our understanding of the life below water.
  • Finally, commitment is necessary to show willingness of cooperation and emphasises the fact that we’re all in this together. The ocean connects us.

Summaries of each partnership dialogue will be included in the final report of the Ocean Conference. That will provide both participants and observers with concrete information on what delegates discussed and agreed to as key outcomes during these multi-stakeholder negotiations.

Voluntary Commitments

For all the inspiring events that took place during the Ocean Conference, the staggering number of voluntary commitments was arguably the biggest reason to come away feeling optimistic about the future. The 1300 commitments are not legally binding, but that number—nearly a third higher than the conference organizers set forward as a goal ahead of time—speaks to the growing global awareness and resolve on ocean issues.
Some of the commitments may, in fact, become binding later this year, at the at a UN conference in Buenos Aires in December.

Nations voluntarily committed to protecting, by 2020, at least 10 percent of the world’s marine and coastal areas, achieving the goal set in SDG target 14.5 and more than doubling the area of existing marine protected zones. Among these commitments:

  • Jamaica promised to enlarge its marine protected areas by two percent, from 15.1 to 17 percent, by 2019
  • Tonga committed to putting 30 percent of its waters into protection by 2020
  • Tuvalu set a target of 10 percent of its islands designated for conservation by 2020
  • France committed to enlarging its marine protected areas, currently at 22 percent of waters under the nation’s jurisdiction, to 32 percent by 2022
  • Denmark affirmed that it will establish six protected areas in Kattegat, 30,000-square-kilometre (12,000-square-mile) of marine waters sitting between Denmark’s western coast and the eastern Swedish coastline

Many countries vowed to take action against marine pollution, either in the form of (single-use) plastics or land-based activities. Some examples:

  • Antigua and Barbuda pledged to ban out single-use plastic bags
  • The Indian government vowed to reduce all types of plastic pollution
  • Italy committed to installing a battery backup at Dominica’s DOWASCO Sewer Treatment Plant, which at times of energy outages discharges sewage into the Roseau River, which flows to the Caribbean Sea
  • Almost every national government that attended the conference has delivered similar commitments.

Many of the commitments emphasise the need for scientific research in cooperative settings:

  • Curacao has pledged to take a leading role in the development of scientific research in the Caribbean
  • The United Arab Emirates have vowed to build a large marine research centre containing 14 specialised laboratories by the end of 2018, and aims to bring together regional and international partners from private and public sector.

Last, but definitely not least, many commitments revolved around conserving global fisheries, which are diminishing due to overfishing and marine degradation:

  • Kiribati has declared all its waters as a shark sanctuary, to protect sharks and conserve biodiversity in the ecosystem
  • Fiji has also committed to the conservation of sharks
  • Fiji will actively monitor biodiversity in its waters and implement management services at coastal fisheries.
  • Norway will create an international network that revolves around sustainable food from the ocean. This network ties together with SDG 2 and 12 for, respectively, zero hunger and responsible consumption and production

Keep reading SDG14.net to learn more about what’s coming out of the UN Ocean Conference and efforts worldwide to restore and protect healthy oceans.