Niina Heikkinen, E&E reporter
The U.N. General Assembly this week formally decided it will hold a conference in 2017 on how to take better care of the world’s oceans and seas.
Ninety-five countries co-sponsored the resolution to hold the conference, which was first proposed by the governments of Fiji and Sweden. It will be held June 5-9, 2017, in Fiji and is intended to help countries make progress toward the 14th of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.
Participants will focus on five main subject areas or clusters: marine pollution, ecosystems, fisheries, the effects of climate change and oceans governance. The discussions are meant to hold countries accountable for their efforts to further ocean conservation and sustainable management. Countries will determine how well they are progressing toward targets and what areas still need work. They also will identify potential partnerships that can help them stay on track with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, according to a June 24 statement from Fiji’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Peter Thomson.
“If SDG14 is going to succeed, and succeed it must, we have to harness the best knowledge, solutions, energies, economic resources and political will that humanity can put forward,” Thomson said.
In addition to member states and U.N. entities, intergovernmental organizations, civil society organizations, nongovernmental organizations, businesses and others within the ocean community will also take part. Depending on how this meeting goes, the conference could convene again every three years until 2029, the year before countries are supposed to meet the U.N. SDGs. Those goals, which were established by the General Assembly in September, set ambitious targets for global action on issues ranging from eliminating poverty and hunger to reaching gender equality.
Navigating a fragmented system
Thomson noted that there are already conferences on oceans held each year, including a number of formal and informal meetings within the United Nations.
“The Triennial Oceans and Seas [Global] Conferences will be the central process by which all of these strands are weaved together, in one place at one time, to allow the global oceans community to assess the totality of SDG14. The conferences will benchmark the progress of all the interconnected strands of SDG14 to monitor and guide the overall implementation of our oceans goal,” Thomson said.
Holding this conference is especially important for meeting targets because there is no single U.N. organization that covers ocean governance, fragmenting efforts to change ocean management, he added.
His statement drew on a 2014 report by the Global Ocean Commission. In it, the report’s authors discussed the need for closer management of the high seas, an area making up most of the world’s oceans that lies outside coastal countries’ exclusive economic zones.
The decision to hold the conference drew praise from the Global Ocean Commission’s co-chairman, José María Figueres.
“The high level U.N. Conference on Oceans and Seas — Fiji 2017 — can provide the first accountability moment all ocean lovers and conservationists have been waiting for, to assess what we are really doing to and for the ocean,” he said in a statement.