28 July 2021
UN Ocean Decade: An Ocean Knowledge Revolution in Action
Photo Credit: Charles Netzler
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On 5 December 2017, the United Nations declared that a Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, the ‘Ocean Decade’, would be held from 2021 to 2030.

The Ocean Decade provides a common framework to ensure that ocean science can fully support countries to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Officially launched and entering its implementation phase on 1 January 2021, the Ocean Decade is gaining momentum around the world.

The first set of Decade Actions have been officially endorsed and will serve as the first building blocks of the Decade, propelling action amongst ocean actors to generate more and improved ocean science and turn that knowledge into transformative solutions for sustainable development.

By Dr. Vladimir Ryabinin

The ocean covers 71% of the planet’s surface. It feeds us, protects us and absorbs more than 90% of the excess heat generated by global warming. It is an inestimable source of economic, social and cultural wealth – 3 billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods. Yet, according to predictions, tropical coral reefs may disappear by the turn of the century, and by 2050 there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Despite the importance of the ocean to human health and well-being, ocean research remains poorly funded: it only receives a tiny fraction – an average of less than 2% – of national research budgets.

In 2016, the first World Ocean Assessment of the United Nations stated that humankind was running out of time to start managing the ocean sustainably. This alarming conclusion poses a question to our civilization: is there a way to reverse the decline in ocean health while continuing to rely on the ocean for our ever-increasing needs, particularly under a changing climate and increasing loss of biodiversity? The proclamation by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2017 of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, 2021–2030, the ‘Ocean Decade,’ is based on the informed conviction of UN Member States that indeed, this opportunity still exists, and that, furthermore, ocean science must play a central role in this process.

Ocean Decade Vision: ‘the science we need for the ocean we want’

Ocean Decade Mission: ‘to catalyse transformative ocean science solutions for sustainable development, connecting people and our ocean’

The Ocean Decade, officially launched on 1 January 2021, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will bring together ocean actors across the world to foster the partnerships and generate the knowledge needed to support a well-functioning, productive, resilient, sustainable, and inspiring ocean. In this way, the Ocean Decade may be considered a tool to help countries not only meet SDG 14 (life below water), but many of the other SDGs that rely on the ocean.

Having celebrated its 60-year anniversary last year, UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (UNESCO-IOC) is proud to be coordinating the work of the Ocean Decade. The UNESCO-IOC has a long history as the lead UN body for ocean science, and is uniquely placed to serve as a global unifier that can leverage and build on past experiences and partnerships so the Ocean Decade can deliver on its mission to ‘catalyze transformative and tangible ocean science solutions for sustainable development, reconnecting people to our ocean.’

The scale of this initiative is unprecedented, but it could not happen at a more critical time. Broad commitment has already been demonstrated at the highest level by 14 countries, whose heads of government or state are members of the High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy. The Ocean Decade Alliance, another group of leading institutions and individuals, have committed to generating a multiplier effect on resource mobilization for the Decade.

Throughout the Ocean Decade, partners around the world will come together at local, national, regional and global levels to co-design and co-deliver a wide range of Decade Actions to meet one or more of the ten Decade Challenges representing the most pressing needs of the Decade. Solutions will be diverse but could include new policies, management frameworks, innovations or technologies, training materials, and more – all based on scientific data and knowledge.

The first set of Decade Actions are already beginning to flourish and grow. These include innovative programmes for state-of-the-art ocean science research on a broad range of issues which will serve as the first building blocks of the Decade, propelling action among ocean actors to generate more and improved ocean science and turn that knowledge into transformative solutions for sustainable development. More Decade Actions are in the pipeline and further Calls for Action will be held regularly throughout the Decade.

Countries have been setting up their National Decade Committees and celebrating the start of national Decade Actions. For example, in CanadaColombia, Japan, and the United States, national stakeholders have been brought together – including UN entities, local authorities, private sector leaders, and the NGO community – to introduce the vision of Decade and helped identify and engage a wide range of national key players wishing to contribute to the achievement of one or more Decade Challenges. 

There are many ways ocean actors across the globe can become part of this knowledge revolution. I invite you to visit the Ocean Decade website and find out more about how you can join the movement for the ocean we want.


This article was authored by Dr. Vladimir Ryabinin, Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO.


Join the movement for the Ocean We Want: https://www.oceandecade.org/resource/162/Publication-Join-the-movement-for-the-Ocean-We-Want

Ocean Decade Brochure: https://www.oceandecade.org/news/94/Brochure—The-Science-We-Need-for-The-Ocean-We-Want

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