23 March 2017
Governments Consult on Ocean Call for Action
UN Photo/Rick Bajornas
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UN Member States exchanged views on the zero draft of the ‘Call for Action’ of the UN Ocean Conference, from 20-22 March.

Governments debated whether to reference: climate change issues; “blue economy” or “ocean-based economy”; the principle of CBDR or the Addis Ababa Action Agenda with regards to means of implementation of ocean-related targets, among other issues.

22 March 2017: UN Member States exchanged views on the zero draft of the ‘Call for Action’ of the UN Ocean Conference. Conducting a first reading on 20-21 March and discussing it further on 22 March, governments generally favored the draft as an accurate and balanced reflection of the discussions that took place during a preparatory meeting for the Conference, held in February. A revised draft will be prepared ahead of another round of consultations to be held in late April.

The UN Ocean Conference, also called the ‘High-level UN Conference to Support the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development,’ will take place from 5-9 June 2017, in New York, US. The Conference is expected to result in three outcomes: an intergovernmental declaration in the form of the ‘Call for Action’; summaries of seven partnership dialogues to take place during the Conference; and a list of voluntary commitments supporting implementation of SDG 14, which are being announced via a Registry of Voluntary Commitments.

The zero draft of the Call for Action was prepared by the co-facilitators for the preparatory process, Àlvaro Mendonça e Moura, Permanent Representative of Portugal, and Burhan Gafoor, Permanent Representative of Singapore, following discussions during a preparatory meeting that convened from 15-16 February 2017. The draft text, titled ‘Our Oceans, Our Future: Call for Action,’ notes that results from the Conference should be submitted as an input to the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) to contribute to the follow-up and review process of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

In the first round of consultations on the text, some countries, including Mexico and the Philippines, proposed referring to “We, the heads of states and governments,” instead of the current framing on behalf of “We, the representatives of our people.” Others such as the EU, Canada, Iceland, the Republic of Korea, and the US highlighted the importance of all stakeholders. Norway said “any move in the direction of making this document more states-oriented would be problematic for us.”

Algeria for the African Group, supported by Belize for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and others, said the Call for Action should refer either to the “Ocean” or to “oceans and seas” explaining that “Ocean” includes oceans and seas. Delegates considered whether and how to reference climate change issues. The EU, supported by CARICOM, Maldives for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), Costa Rica, Timor-Leste and others, called for strengthening references to climate change and for adding a reference to the Paris Agreement, while Ecuador for the Group of the 77 and China (G-77/ China) said the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) should be the only fora dealing with climate change issues.

On the means of implementation (MOI) of ocean-related targets, governments differed over whether to highlight the principle of the common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) or the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA). G-77/ China, supported by many developing countries, stressed the need for: a revitalized global partnership; stronger language showing commitment and ambition on ocean-related MOI; “sustainable and predictable” MOI, including financing and capacity building; and acknowledging CBDR in the text. The EU, with Australia, Canada and the US, called for “finding a balance” when it comes to financing by “accurately” referencing the AAAA and highlighting the importance of partnerships and innovative financing mechanisms. These delegations opposed mentioning CBDR in the Call for Action.

On the country groupings highlighted with regards to MOI, the G-77/ China requested that “developing countries” be referenced, in addition to the least developed countries (LDCs) and small island developing States (SIDS). AOSIS, with Bangladesh for the LDCs, Australia and the US, called for consistency with the SDGs and their targets by mentioning the groups of countries listed there: SIDS and the LDCs. Nauru for the Pacific SIDS (P-SIDS) noted that calls to increase financial support for developing countries, in particular SIDS and LDCs, need to be retained and strengthened. Argentina, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nepal, the Philippines and others proposed adding a reference to Middle Income Countries (MICs), to which the US opposed.

Maldives for AOSIS, supported by Fiji, stressed the need for addressing data gaps without creating additional reporting burdens for SIDS. The US expressed opposition to any references to data sharing that could involve international property rights (IPR), trade secrets or any other information that it is not publicly available.

Argentina, Cuba, Iceland, India, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and others expressed support for the primacy of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as the preliminary framework for dealing with all issues related to oceans. Norway proposed enhancing the references to UNCLOS, objecting to any attempt to weaken the language on the Convention. Venezuela opposed the framing of UNCLOS as the “preliminary framework dealing with all issues related to oceans,” and called for including in the respective paragraph references to other international instruments and agreements dealing with oceans.

The LDCs, with India, stressed the need to reference completing the ongoing negotiations in the World Trade Organization (WTO) to strengthen disciplines on subsidies in the fisheries sector, while the US suggested removing the reference to the negotiations. Some delegations, including AOSIS and India, expressed support for “stepping up engagement in the discussions on the development of an international legally binding instrument” on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ). However, Japan, Russia and others cautioned against prejudging the outcomes of other negotiation processes. CARICOM supported retaining the reference to “effectively implementing flag State and port State obligations,” while Egypt called for language that accurately reflects that some States are not part of the respective agreements.

The EU supported by many proposed adding reference to lost, abandoned or otherwise discarded fishing gear. Many supported the reference to regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs), while Argentina opposed. The EU, supported by China, proposed adding references to the “blue economy,” while Argentina, Egypt and the US opposed.

Fiji, supported by AOSIS, CARICOM, the LDCs and others, called for including references to traditional knowledge. CARICOM supported adding a reference to cultural heritage, which the US opposed.

Expressing preliminary reflections on the consultations, Mendonça e Moura said the co-facilitators are “very encouraged” by the positive reactions to the first draft. He mentioned broad agreement that the Call for Action should be: a vehicle to send a strong political message for the implementation of SDG 14; concise and focused; written in “political language rather than resolution language”; and understandable for unspecialized audiences. He further identified a number of principles that apply to all the themes, such as the need to: ensure coordination and cooperation at all levels; adopt a science-based approach; forge partnerships. In addition, all actions should be fully grounded in the 2030 Agenda, he said, and cautioned against attempting to reopen any of the targets, and encouraged respecting and building upon existing instruments and frameworks. Mendonça e Moura also mentioned “significant support” for: a more comprehensive description of the threats facing the ocean, as well as of its contribution to the planet; the transfer of environmental-friendly technologies and capacity building; the restoration of oceans; marine pollution, to be paired with prevention; addressing both land-based and ocean-based pollution; and clarifying illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and its relationship with other practices. Garfoor said the co-facilitators plan to circulate a revised draft in approximately two weeks, and then hold another round of consultations on 24, 25 and 27 April.

The co-facilitators will hold a dialogue with stakeholders on the consultations on 24 March. [Zero Draft] [Ocean Conference Website] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on the Zero Draft] [IISD RS Coverage of Preparatory Meeting] [IISD Sources]

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