Sustainable Development and Our Oceans, Seas and Marine Resources


*Updated on May 1st 2017*

by Alvin K. Leong. Alvin is an energy and environmental policy advisor and researcher in international sustainable development processes.  He has law degrees from NYU and Pace University, where he was appointed a Fellow at the Global Center for Environmental Legal Studies.

The oceans, seas and marine resources of our planet are in peril, driven by years of resource over-exploitation, destructive fishing, overfishing, marine pollution, habitat destruction and biodiversity loss, while being impacted by climate change and overseen by weak and fragmented governance.

 The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes this perilous state of affairs and advocates for action in the form of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14: “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development“.

To ensure that SDG 14 does not become an “orphan” SDG, the United Nations will hold a global conference to support the implementation of SDG 14.

The conference will be held in New York during 3-9 June 2017 and will have the overarching theme of: “Our oceans, our future: partnering for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14“.   The conference will adopt an inter-governmentally negotiated and agreed declaration in the form of a “Call for Action” to support the implementation of SDG 14.

This Call for Action should be concise yet coherent in crafting a firm foundation for the implementation of SDG 14. This foundation needs to be both visionary and action-oriented.  In this respect, the Call for Action should offer a conceptual-structural framework that is appealing yet analytically rigorous. It should consider the role of the UN system in a holistic and integrated manner, in the light of the longer-term positioning of the UN development system.  It should be grounded in a knowledge-centric approach, to achieve sustainable solutions informed by science, multi-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary research and sound data, and through the appropriate application of technology and innovation, including digital, social and nature-based innovation, in each case contextualized by historical, geographical, cultural, community and other local realities.

On the role of the UN system: Member States should consider the role of UN-Oceans.  UN-Oceans is an inter-agency collaboration mechanism on oceans and coastal issues within the UN system. The mandate of UN-Oceans, as contained in its Terms of Reference, pre-dates the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the SDGs. The General Assembly will be reviewing the Terms of Reference of UN-Oceans during its 72nd session, and thus the Call for Action can take this opportunity to call for the re-orientation of the mandate of UN-Oceans to make it “fit for purpose” for the implementation of SDG 14.

A strengthened UN-Oceans could support and contribute to follow-up and review, and should provide institutional space for the major groups and other stakeholders, especially at the regional and national levels, to participate and contribute.

As part of the re-orientation, the UNFCCC Secretariat should become part of UN-Oceans so as to enable collaboration on climate action involving the oceans and coastal and marine ecosystems, which are part of the UNFCCC’s mandate as provided in Article 4, paragraph 1(d) of the Convention.

On a knowledge-centric approach: The Call for Action should initiate the crafting of scientific and technological roadmaps at national and regional levels. Robust science-policy interfaces at the national and regional levels can be established to facilitate evidence-based policy and decision-making.  In developing scientific and technological roadmaps and science-policy interfaces, the UN Regional Commissions could play a prominent role. A knowledge-centric approach should not only be evidence-based and analytical but also contextual, respecting cultural, community, traditional and indigenous knowledge; sustainable development knowledge and policies have to be co-created with the meaningful engagement of local communities.

The Call for Action should also establish linkages to the Technology Facilitation Mechanism, which includes the annual Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI Forum), established by the Addis Ababa Action Agenda and launched under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Innovative yet sound data collection, analysis and application will be critical.

The use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and other geospatial technologies should be encouraged as means of implementation, for example, in marine spatial planning.  These methodologies can be supported by the work of the UN Initiative on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM).  Funding and capacity development for all of these initiatives, particularly for Small Island Developing States (SIDS), will be critical.

The conference to support the implementation of SDG 14 will be an important step in fulfilling the promise of the integrated and indivisible SDGs.  Achieving the ambitious objectives of SDG 14 will require cohesive and coordinated action by the UN system and collective action by all stakeholders based on sound and practical knowledge.



One thought on “Sustainable Development and Our Oceans, Seas and Marine Resources

  1. Alvin Leong has raised some critical points regarding oceans and the ocean SDG. The role of UN Oceans is a key element to achievement of this SDG. UN Oceans has been under-resourced since its inception and has been very weak. There is also the aspect of regional ocean governance. There are about 16 regions globally in which there are emerging clusters of ocean governance arrangements that are in need of support and strengthening. The combined capacity at the levels of UN Oceans, these regional clusters and countries will be needed to achieve sustainable use of the oceans. These ideas are developed in a recent report on ocean governance produced by the GEF Transboundary Waters Assessment Programme


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