The 193 Member States of the United Nations agreed last week to adopt the new Sustainable Development Agenda at a UN Summit in New York. The new agenda contains 17 core goals and includes for the first time a stand-alone goal for the world’s Oceans: Goal 14: ‘Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development’.
A specific goal for the protection and sustainable use of the planet’s oceans and coasts is greatly welcomed but somewhat overdue, given that the oceans provide critical global roles in terms of carbon absorption, oxygen production and the provision of food and livelihoods for billions of people. And many of the other new core goals (food security and nutrition, or addressing climate change) will be very difficult to achieve unless there are healthy and resilient oceans. The main aim of the agenda to eliminate global poverty will not be achieved unless the marine environment is restored from its currently highly damaged state to a healthy, more resilient and productive condition.
The new Oceans Goal contains ten targets that are considered key to the sustainable use and conservation of the marine environment. These include reducing all kinds of marine pollution, protecting and restoring marine ecosystems and the sustainable management of fisheries to prevent overfishing, and illegal or destructive fishing practices. In particular, target 14.5 to conserve at least 10% of coastal and marine areas by 2020 fits very closely to BLUE’s current mission. But we think that more ambitious but realistic targets for marine protection should also be set for 2030, the overall timeframe for this new sustainable development agenda.
There have been concerns that some of the Oceans Goal targets are re-hashing existing commitments of other global initiatives and conventions. Or that the goal does not specifically mention halting the loss of (marine) biodiversity which is the case for Goal 15 (terrestrial environments). However, creating a stand-alone goal for the oceans substantially raises the profile of the marine environment and can give it the attention it deserves as an intrinsic component of global sustainable development.
One of the next steps is the development of indicators to measure progress to meet the new goal, and BLUE strongly supports the indicators proposed by the Global Ocean Commission which will greatly help to enable the conservation and sustainable use of the High Seas, a previously neglected part of the oceans.
However, there is still an urgent need to use the United Nations Law of the Sea to increase the protection of the High Seas by enabling the designation of highly protected areas within a spatial planning framework. The proposed UN Oceans conference to be held every three years will be crucial to ensure that countries and international organisations meet their commitments to ocean protection and restoration at the national, regional and global level.