This new decade starts at a critical moment for the future of the Ocean. There is strong agreement among experts that decisions taken in the next ten years will be critical for the future of the Ocean. The current ecological crisis demands a radical shift in the way we treat the marine environment, its precious wildlife, and its invaluable natural resources. We are witnessing continued loss of biodiversity, overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution, and many other serious impacts from human activities – all compounded by climate change, Ocean deoxygenation and acidification. The 2019 IPBES ‘Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’ warns that 66% of the Ocean is experiencing increasing cumulative impacts from human activities and the 2019 IPCC ‘Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate’ highlights the impacts that climate change has already had on our Blue Planet.

2020 has been announced by Ocean advocates as a possible “super-year for the Ocean”, with several opportunities to put the Ocean and seas on a sustainable pathway. At the Marine Regions Forum 2019, over 200 participants from the world’s different marine regions agreed that marine regions have a key role to make this year a success.

The development of regional governance for the conservation and sustainable use of the Ocean is unquestionably a cornerstone of international marine policy. It has been taking place through various types of organizations, including Regional Seas programmes, Regional Fishery Bodies, Large Marine Ecosystems mechanisms and regional economic organizations having a mandate on marine issues. Despite challenges related, for example, to capacity and resources, regional initiatives have proven efficient to foster cooperation and coordination between States across territorial and sectoral boundaries, providing regional stakeholders with support, for example, to set up science to policy interfaces, develop marine protected area (MPA) networks or fight against marine and land-based pollution.

But beyond regional environmental benefits, marine regions can also contribute to deliver global commitments and support international processes.

The adoption of an international legally binding agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) is expected this year. To be effective, the future global regime should be underpinned by a strong implementation framework that that integrates all current and future aspects of Ocean use and management, while ensuring cooperation and coordination across sectors and governance levels. These should be based on shared principles, objectives, and collaborative processes for science across sectors and governance levels. Regional arrangements are particularly effective to engage and coordinate relevant stakeholders and facilitate the exchange of information and data. While decision-making might best be done at the global level through a Conference of the Parties under the new agreement, regional arrangements could play a key role in the implementation and coordination of globally-agreed measures, including monitoring, control, and surveillance. This is also true for the implementation of the post 2020 Global Biodiversity framework that is expected to be adopted in Kunming, China, in October 2020 by the parties to the Convention on Biodiversity.

Achieving SDG14 is likely to be difficult, if not impossible, without robust action initiatives conducted at the regional level. 

Also this year, the United Nations Ocean Conference will be held in Lisbon, from 2-6 June, to support the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG 14). The implementation of SDGs is first and foremost the responsibility of States. National authorities must transpose these commitments into standards and policies, establish monitoring mechanisms, and provide regular reporting on actions undertaken. However, in light of the transboundary nature of the marine environment, achieving SDG14 is likely to be difficult, if not impossible, without robust action initiatives conducted at the regional level. Regional cooperation can play an important role in translating global ambitions and targets into regionally relevant, achievable, harmonized and quantitative agreements. To this end, tailor-made regional and cross-sectoral Ocean governance strategies should be promoted to identify common objectives for coordinated action and to take into account interactions, including trade-offs and synergies between SDG 14 and other Ocean-related goals. Given the complex processes involved in implementing SDG 14, dedicated accelerator approaches that help to speed up action for regional and national priorities should also be developed and applied.

The future of the Ocean is also being played out in relation to the climate regime. Here again, marine regions have a key role to play through the development of measures aimed to mitigate and adapt to climate change impacts on the Ocean. Regional initiatives, such as the implementation of nature-based solutions and the development of strategies to adapt to moving fish stocks, should therefore be extended.

The global community will have to decide this year how to take forward Ocean sustainability after 2020. Whilst updated and new sustainability goals are needed for the Ocean, previous practices of setting ever-more ambitious targets for the distant future without taking appropriate action must be avoided. New Ocean-related goals should be underpinned by robust implementation frameworks that are supported by and build upon strengthened Ocean governance at the scale of marine regions. This “super year for the Ocean” provides the unique opportunity to agree on such an action-oriented approach and the solutions identified at the Marine Regions Forum 2019 lend themselves to accelerating implementation and addressing prevailing short comings in current Ocean governance.

For more information, please also see the Marine Regions Forum 2019: Conference Impressions and the Marine Regions Forum 2019 Conference Report.