June 13, 2017

UN Ocean Conference Concludes with Call For Action and 1,300 Commitments

News Source: SDG Knowledge Hub

Author(s): Catherine Benson Wahlén

The UN Ocean Conference concluded with a 14-point ‘Call for Action’ to conserve and sustainably use oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. Focused on efforts to achieve targets under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 14 on life below water, it garnered 1,328 voluntary commitments towards ocean conservation and raised awareness at the highest political level about the importance of the ocean to human survival. The main points from the Call for Action and Conference discussions will be shared at the UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) in July 2017.

The Conference was largely considered a success in building momentum for the implementation of SDG 14 as a central, rather than isolated, component of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It produced three outcomes: an intergovernmentally agreed Call for Action; a registry of voluntary commitments; and key messages from its partnership dialogues. The Call for Action reconfirms the commitment of UN Member States to the implementation of SDG 14 within the context of the 2030 Agenda as well as to mobilize resources in line with the Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development. In addition, the registration of 1328 voluntary commitments by governments and other stakeholders was celebrated as a major achievement. The voluntary commitments cover a wide range of topics, from the creation of marine protected areas (MPAs) and action on plastic and other marine debris to funding for scientific research and capacity-building activities. Finally, the partnership dialogues facilitated knowledge and experience sharing between participants and clarified interlinkages between SDG 14 and the other goals.

On the final day of the UN Ocean Conference, UN Member States continued with the general debate, held a final partnership dialogue and heard reports on the other partnership dialogues, and adopted the conference report and the Call for Action as agreed during the intergovernmental consultations.

Partnership Dialogue 7 focused on ‘Enhancing the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Oceans and their Resources by Implementing International Law as Reflected in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).’ UN Legal Counsel Miguel de Serpa Soares emphasized the role of full and effective implementation of UNCLOS for all SDG 14 targets and other SDGs and awareness raising about UNCLOS at the local level. Global Ocean Forum President, Biliana Cicin-Sain, called for further refinement of SDG indicators, global guidance and funding for regional bodies to contribute to SDG 14 implementation, and enhanced coordination among sectoral ocean regimes and the Rio Conventions, among other items. Timor-Leste emphasized that UNCLOS implementation is a matter of political will, not capacity. Participants also highlighted, inter alia: the fragmented nature of UNCLOS implementation and challenges regarding universal participation and uneven and ineffective implementation and enforcement; the need for more efforts to share knowledge and benefits from deep-seabed marine scientific research with developing countries; and linkages among the law of the sea, sustainable development and marine scientific research.

On an international legally binding instrument (ILBI) on marine biodiversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction (BBNJ), Iceland emphasized the regional fisheries management approach and the role of an ILBI on BBNJ to make the international legal framework more comprehensive. The EU called for an ILBI on BBNJ, an international agreement on illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the Arctic and more cooperation between regional fisheries management organizations and regional seas conventions. Honduras and Mexico expressed hope that the fourth meeting of the BBNJ Preparatory Committee will make progress in establishing an intergovernmental conference (IGC).

The closing plenary adopted the 14-point Call for Action as agreed during intergovernmental consultations. The Conference’s Call for Action provides examples of strategies that can advance implementation toward individual targets. It was not expected to make any new commitments, but to inspire action under existing frameworks. Commenting on the Call for Action, the US noted it did not support reference to technology transfer, reaffirming that strong protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPR) provides the incentives needed to foster innovation. The US also disassociated itself from the call to accelerate work to complete World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations on fisheries subsidies with special and differential treatment for developing countries and least developed countries (LDCs), explaining that WTO independence must be respected; and reiterated the recent announcement of his country’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change.

France welcomed the support for the Paris Agreement, indicated by its ratification by a majority of the world. The Russian Federation distanced itself from language on WTO negotiations on fisheries subsidies, highlighting the complexity and sensitive nature of the topic and the need to address it under the WTO. Egypt registered its reservation on language implying that invasive alien species (IAS) are due solely to human activities, noting it is factually incorrect as there are other causes, including climate change. The EU emphasized the universal and unified character of UNCLOS as the legal framework for all ocean-related activities, noting that quoting SDG 14.c language stating UNCLOS provides such legal framework “as recalled in paragraph 158 of ‘The Future We Want’” was accepted as a compromise, but “will not be accepted in future negotiations.”

"UN General Assembly (UNGA) President Peter Thomson affirmed that the conference generated broad momentum for implementing all the SDGs and showed that ocean and climate health are “two sides of the same coin.”

During closing statements, UN General Assembly (UNGA) President Peter Thomson affirmed that the conference generated broad momentum for implementing all the SDGs and showed that ocean and climate health are “two sides of the same coin.” He further observed that the conference spurred WTO negotiators to address harmful subsidies and emphasized the role of small-scale fisheries in sustainable blue economy, concluding he was “confident the transformation of our world for the better is now well and truly under way.” Co-President Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, Fiji, noted that voluntary commitments doubled during the week and highlighted commitments from governments (44%), NGOs (19%), the UN (9%) and the private sector (9%), with the highest number of commitments in the North Atlantic and South Pacific, relating to marine ecosystems, pollution and science. Co-President Isabella Lövin, Sweden, congratulated delegates, in particular Fiji, for placing the ocean at the center of the political agenda as a matter of human survival, in light of the combined pressures of marine litter, ocean acidification and overfishing. She welcomed Kenya and Portugal’s offers to host the next conference in 2020, and called for a “strong home for the ocean at the UN” and leadership by the UN Secretary-General to drive SDG 14 forward. Conference Secretary-General Wu Hongbo called for follow-up action on marine litter, marine ecosystem restoration, ocean acidification, sustainable fisheries, and scientific knowledge and encouraged registering further commitments after the conference.

The UN Ocean Conference convened at UN Headquarters in New York, US, from 5-9 June 2017. Approximately 4,000 delegates attended the conference, including 16 Heads of State or Government, two deputy Prime Ministers, 86 Ministers, 16 Vice Ministers, and other government representatives; and participants from the UN system, other intergovernmental organizations, international and regional financial institutions, civil society, academic and research institutions, indigenous peoples and local communities, and the private sector. In addition to the Conference’s plenary sessions and partnership dialogues, the Conference included 150 side events, 41 exhibitions and interviews at the SDG Media Zone.