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Ocean Conference: Countries agree on decisive actions to restore marine health

The 193 Member States of the United Nations unanimously agreed to a set of measures that will begin the reversal of the decline of the ocean’s health as the five-day Ocean Conference came to a close in New York on Friday, June 9, 2017.

The outcome document, together with more than 1,300 commitments to action, observers say, marks a breakthrough in the global approach to the management and conservation of the ocean.

Ambassador Peter Thomson
President of the UN General Assembly, Peter Thomson

The Ocean Conference, the first UN conference of its kind on the issue, is believed to have raised global consciousness of ocean problems ranging from marine pollution to legal and over fishing, from ocean acidification to lack of high seas governance. By including all stakeholders in the discussions, the Conference, according to the organisers, produced a comprehensive and actionable range of solutions.

“The Ocean Conference has changed our relationship with the ocean,” said the President of the UN General Assembly, Peter Thomson. “Henceforth none can say they were not aware of the harm humanity has done to the ocean’s health. We are now working around the world to restore a relationship of balance and respect towards the ocean.”

Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and Secretary-General of the Ocean Conference, said the Conference marked a major step forward for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

“Participants from member States, NGOs, civil society, the private sector, the scientific community and academia engaged in wide-ranging discussion and shared state-of-the-art knowledge and latest information on marine science and challenges,” he said.

“They showcased and put forward many innovative solutions, which can help us achieve Sustainable Development Goal 14, and through its interlinkages the other SDGs and targets,” he added.

Conference Outcomes
Recognising that the wellbeing of present and future generations is inextricably linked to the health and productivity of the ocean, countries collectively agreed in the Call to Action (hyperlink: http://bit.ly/2rbdtqi) “to act decisively and urgently, convinced that our collective action will make a meaningful difference to our people, to our planet and to our prosperity.”

While the ocean partnership dialogues focused on the multiple problems and challenges the ocean is facing, all participants offered solutions and commitments to reverse these challenges.

The Call for Action was formally adopted at the conclusion of the Conference, as well as the reports from the seven partnership dialogues that have focused on scaling up solutions, and the voluntary commitments to action.

In the Call for Action, countries agreed to implement long-term and robust strategies to reduce the use of plastics and microplastics, such as plastic bags and single use plastics.

Countries also agreed to develop and implement effective adaptation and mitigation measures that contribute to ocean and coastal acidification, sea-level rise and increase in ocean temperatures, and to address the other harmful impacts of climate change on the ocean.  The Call recognises the importance of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The Call for Action also includes measures to protect coastal and blue carbon ecosystems, such as mangroves, tidal marshes, seagrass and coral reefs, and wider interconnected ecosystems, as well as enhancing sustainable fisheries management, including restoring fish stocks in the shortest time feasible at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield. Countries are called upon to decisively prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, and eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

The commitments, in turn, address all the issues needed to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 14 – Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources – and produced significant results:

  • Commitments made at the Conference indicate that the world is well on track to protect over 10 per cent of the globe’s marine areas by 2020.  The commitments made during the conference add 4.4 per cent of marine areas to the existing number.
  • Many countries announced steps to reduce or eliminate various single use plastics, such as plastic shopping bags, which ultimately find their way to the ocean.
  • Numerous countries announced that they were stepping up their efforts to reduce the amount of sewage and pollution entering the ocean from land-based activities.
  • Many commitments focused on expanding scientific knowledge about the ocean and developing and sharing innovative technologies to address ocean challenges.
  • There were new commitments to protect and manage fisheries. Some countries announced “no-take zones” for certain fishing.
  • Commitments were made to establish systems that allow consumers to source sustainable fish.
  • New commitments were also made to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and to curtail fishing subsidies that are working to deplete fish stocks.

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