30 May 2017
Governments Reach Agreement on Ocean Call for Action
UN Photo/M Guthrie
story highlights

The co-facilitators for preparations for the UN Ocean Conference submitted an agreed text of the Call for Action to support the implementation of SDG 14.

The US noted its intention to dissociate itself from the agreed text on ongoing WTO negotiations on fisheries subsidies, and will make known its position on this paragraph “and possibly other well-known US sensitivities” at the time of the Conference.

26 May 2017: The co-facilitators for preparations for the UN Ocean Conference submitted an agreed text of the political outcome document, titled ‘Our Ocean, Our Future: Call for Action,’ addressing the implementation of SDG 14. UN Member States reached agreement on the text through a series of informal consultations beginning in March 2017, co-facilitated by Álvaro Mendonça e Moura, Permanent Representative of Portugal, and Burhan Gafoor, Permanent Representative of Singapore.

The final round of consultations took place on 22, 23 and 25 May 2017, based on the 8 May draft of the Call for Action. Issues that were the subject of extensive discussion during the consultations included:

  • Reference to the Paris Agreement on climate change (paragraph 4). Numerous governments supported text recognizing the “particular importance” of the agreement, with some wanted to express stronger support. The EU and others preferred an additional reference to the need to ‘fully and swiftly implement’ the agreement, while Russia objected to such an addition. The US said it is conducting a review of international instruments and could only accept a reference that “notes” the Paris Agreement. The final text recognizes its particular importance.
  • Lack of an explicit reference to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) (paragraph 6). By the text, governments reiterate the “critical importance of being guided in our work by the 2030 Agenda, including the principles reaffirmed therein.” The Group of 77 and China expressed its dissatisfaction with this approach.
  • Country groupings listed as facing specific challenges. The text under discussion recognized the “special importance” of SDG 14 targets for small island developing States (SIDS) and the least developed countries (LDCs). Guatemala and others called for solidarity with the ocean-related needs of MICs, and many argued for a reference to coastal African states and landlocked developing countries. The final text retains the specific mention of SIDS and LDCs in the context of certain Goal 14 targets (paragraph 7), but also acknowledges, in the text on countries facing specific challenges, LLDCs and African states including coastal ones, and notes “serious challenges within many middle-income countries” (paragraph 6).
  • Reference to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) (paragraph 11). The draft under discussion said UNCLOS “provides the legal framework for all the activities in the oceans and seas.” China, Colombia, Venezuela, and Turkey opposed this language. The final agreed language says that UNCLOS “provides the legal framework for the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources,” which is the wording in the Rio+20 outcome document and SDG target 14.c. When joining consensus on the text, several governments stressed that this “painful compromise” is accepted for the current context only, and otherwise they will continue to assert UNCLOS as “the legal framework for all activities on oceans and seas” (Norway, New Zealand, Iceland, India, Argentina).
  • Reference to completing WTO negotiations on fisheries subsidies (paragraph 13P). The text under discussion called for completing the negotiations “without further delay.” China, India, Russia and the US called for deleting this wording. Russia objected to “giving directions” to separate processes. The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) argued that the wording does not prejudge the WTO’s efforts, and New Zealand stressed that the WTO negotiations are integral to achieving SDG target 14.6. Co-facilitator Moura said the call for action “is not going to be less ambitious than what we already agreed [in target 14.6] or else there is no point in having a call for action.” The final language commits to “accelerating work to complete negotiations at the World Trade Organization on this issue.” Taking the floor on the final day of consultations, the US said she did not object to the text being submitted to the UNGA President, but that the US intends to dissociate itself from Paragraph 13P at the Conference. She added that the US will continue to consult internally, and will make known its position on this paragraph “and possibly other well-known US sensitivities” at the time of the Conference.
  • Role of UN Secretary-General and UN-Oceans: The text under discussion (paragraph 14) called on the Secretary-General to support the implementation of SDG 14, in particular by “enhancing coordination and coherence throughout the UN system on ocean issues, building on the work of UN-Oceans.” Russia and China raised objections about the reference to UN-Oceans, preferring to call for enhancing interagency coordination and coherence. The final text calls for “enhancing interagency coordination and coherence throughout the UN system on ocean issues, taking into consideration the work of UN-Oceans.”

On the final day of the consultations, 25 May, the co-facilitators delayed the meeting by two hours to allow for consultations with the UNGA President, said Moura. Gafoor introduced a new version of the text as “ambitious but balanced.”

Many delegations expressed their support for the text and called on others to join consensus. Several noted their acceptance of the document in the context of being “equally unhappy” as everyone else, and the EU and others stressed that they accepted the outcome with a “heavy heart,” noting in particular the lack of strong language such as “we commit.” Tuvalu also noted its desire for more “proactive” language. Egypt expressed great difficulty with accepting certain aspects of the agreement, and Moura thanked him for not standing in the way of consensus. He later extended this sentiment to other delegations, saying “I know personally how difficult it has been for some of you and the efforts you have made with your own capitals.”

Some underscored that they had hoped for a more ambitious outcome. Kenya, while urging “positive energy” around the document and the Conference, cited frustration with the outcome in regard to: ocean pollution, the correlation between climate change and damage to the ocean, the ocean’s economic importance for developing countries, and clearer indications on the way forward and future conferences.

In addition to the qualifications offered regarding the wording on UNCLOS, other remaining concerns highlighted by governments included: means of implementation (paragraphs 12 and 13R), capacity building and technology transfer for LLDCs, invasive alien species being included as a human-induced activity (paragraph 13G), “blue carbon” (paragraph 13K), the wording on maximum sustainable yield (MSY) (paragraph 13L), flag state responsibilities (paragraph 13M), “blue economy” (paragraph 13Q), and the Paris Agreement.

Others described it as a strong outcome, including the Pacific SIDS, which expressed particular satisfaction about the reference to the Paris Agreement and the references to SIDS and LDCs. Micronesia and Papua New Guinea also expressed strong support for the text, and Norway and others said it had struck a good balance among divergent positions. The Solomon Islands said the document gives sufficient recognition of its concerns as an LDC and PSIDS, and fulfills the principle of leaving no one behind.

Mexico called the result a “fantastic display of consensus.” He said the added value of the call for action is in building on the 2030 Agenda and creating a framework of global governance that goes beyond “our positions in this room today.” Fiji said the document is “not just for the UN” but addresses the challenges of those whose livelihoods depend on the ocean.

After these statements, which also included many delegations urging each other not to introduce amendments, which could lead to a “domino effect,” Russia said it had “no clearance as of now to join the consensus.” He requested that the co-facilitators delay submitting the text to the UNGA President until 9 am the following morning, during which time he would notify them of any objections received from his capitol. Co-facilitator Moura asked all delegations to accept Russia’s request, and stressed his understanding that the text is agreed but will not be submitted to President Thomson until 9 am the next morning, to allow for further internal contacts for Russia. Saying “we hope not to hear from Russia by 9 am,” Moura gaveled the document agreed, to applause from the room. Gafoor said the ocean is “magical, it is vast, and it shows the flexibility of the human spirit…. Whatever your governments’ positions may be, we can all – and we must all – do something for the ocean.”

In a letter of 26 May, the co-facilitators reported to President Thomson that consultations had concluded, resulting in a “concise, focused, intergovernmentally agreed declaration” for formal adoption at the Ocean Conference. The UN Ocean Conference – formally known as the high-level UN Conference to Support the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development – will convene from 5-9 June 2017, in New York, US. [Second Revised Draft, 8 May] [Final Text, 26 May] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Ocean Conference Preparations]

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