24 January 2017
UN Secretary-General Proposes Themes for Ocean Conference Dialogues
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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The UN has released a background note of the Secretary-General to guide preparations for the High-Level UN Conference to Support the Implementation of SDG 14 (life below water).

The note proposes seven themes for partnership dialogues for the Conference.

It will be considered at a preparatory meeting in February 2017.

19 January 2017: The UN released a background note of the Secretary-General for the preparatory process of the upcoming UN Oceans Conference, which aims to support implementation of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 (Life below water). The Note proposes themes for the seven partnership dialogues that will take place as part of the Conference.

Governments will consider the proposed themes at a Conference preparatory meeting taking place from 15-16 February 2017, in New York, US.

The UN Ocean Conference, which is scheduled to convene from 5-9 June 2017, in New York, US, will be the first high-level event to focus on the implementation of one specific SDG. The Conference outcome will have three components: an intergovernmentally agreed declaration, or ‘Call for Action;’ a report with the Co-Chairs’ summaries of the partnership dialogues; and a list of voluntary commitments for the implementation of SDG 14.

The partnership dialogues aim to present a scientific update on each theme and to focus on solutions and practical recommendations to address identified gaps and challenges. On possible themes, the Background Note proposes that:

  • Theme 1 will focus on ‘Addressing marine pollution’ and SDG target 14.1;
  • Theme 2 will address ‘Managing, protecting, conserving and restoring marine and coastal ecosystems,’ including targets 14.2 and 14.5;
  • Theme 3 will consider ‘Minimizing and addressing ocean acidification,’ addressing target 14.3;
  • Theme 4 will discuss ‘Making fisheries sustainable,’ including targets 14.4 and 14.6;
  • Theme 5 will focus on ‘Increasing economic benefits to SIDS and LDCs and providing access for small-scale artisanal fishers to marine resources and markets,’ in line with targets 14.7 and 14.b;
  • Theme 6 will explore ‘Increasing scientific knowledge, and developing research capacity and transfer of marine technology,’ addressing target 14.a; and
  • Theme 7 will focus on ‘Implementing international law, as reflected in UNCLOS,’ focusing on target 14.c.

The proposed themes will be discussed at the preparatory meeting, along with elements for the Call for Action. The preparatory meeting will take place under the leadership of co-facilitators Álvaro Mendonça e Moura, Permanent Representative of Portugal, and Burhan Gafoor, Permanent Representative of Singapore. Following the preparatory meeting, the co-facilitators are expected to present a draft ‘Call for Action’ by March 2017, and intergovernmental negotiations on the document will then begin.

In addition to the proposed dialogue themes, the Secretary-General’s Background Note also outlines ocean status and trends. It underscores the importance of oceans and seas and their resources for human well-being, livelihoods, poverty eradication, food security, employment, tourism, protection from natural disasters and climate regulation. The note identifies threats to these resources and services, from marine pollution and litter to destructive fishing practices and fishing subsidies, stressing that the deterioration of coastal and marine ecosystems and habitats “has more severe and immediate impacts on vulnerable groups,” particularly on small island developing States (SIDS). On challenges and opportunities, the note analyzes interrelationships and interlinkages among each SDG 14 target, and cross-cutting issues of financing and capacity building.

The Ocean Conference aims to enable “humanity as a whole” to address ocean issues in a holistic way, and must set the standard for momentum on all the SDGs.

Conference officials and Secretariat have provided briefings on the preparations in both New York and Geneva. In New York, on 12 January 2017, representatives of the Conference co-Chairs, Fiji and Sweden, stressed that the Conference is not just for governments, ocean experts or specific NGOs. It aims to bring together all ocean stakeholders to address a range of ocean issues, from coral reefs and ocean acidification to marine pollution and sustainable fisheries, in one event, with SDG 14 “as a blueprint.” They also said the Ocean Conference will set the stage for considering the implementation of all the other SDGs, and must set the standard for momentum in the SDG era. The Conference is expected to provide a platform to amplify existing and ongoing work on oceans, facilitate new connections among ocean stakeholders and encourage innovative partnerships to address implementation gaps.

The Geneva briefing, held on 19 January 2017, highlighted possible implications for trade-related aspects of fisheries. The Ambassador of Sweden to the World Trade Organization (WTO), Daniel Blockert, stressed the importance of broad stakeholder participation leading up to and at the Conference, calling for the “engagement of all relevant stakeholders to bring forward sustainable solutions and initiate real change.” Participants at the briefing highlighted challenges such as tackling illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, ending fishing subsidies, and protecting ocean ecosystems and their related goods and services. The WTO said target 14.6 on prohibiting fish subsidies that lead to overcapacity, overfishing and IUU fishing has served as an inspiration for WTO members that aim to eliminate subsidies with these impacts. At the briefing, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) launched its ‘Trade and Environment Review 2016,’ which focused on trade in fish and addresses SDG targets 14.4, 14.6 and 14b.

Also on SDG 14 and trade, UNCTAD, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), and the UN Environment Programme (UN Environment or UNEP) released a joint statement, ‘Regulating Fisheries Subsidies Must be an Integral Part of the Implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda,’ in July 2016. A number of UN Member States, international and regional organizations, and civil society organizations (CSOs) supported the statement. This statement is serving as a baseline for defining partnerships and voluntary commitments on regulation of fish subsidies at the Conference.

The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) will set up an online platform to register commitments for implementation of SDG 14, to facilitate their follow-up and review. Commitments are expected to be made by a range of actors, including multi-stakeholder partnerships, governments, the private sector, NGOs and CSOs. Sweden plans to “incentivize and support” countries and other actors in formulating these commitments, it was noted at the New York briefing. [Conference Website] [Background Note of UN Secretary-General] [UNCTAD Press Release] [UNCTAD Briefing] [Statement by Conference Secretary-General at Geneva Briefing] [Ambassador of Sweden Statement] [UNCTAD-FAO-UNEP Joint Statement] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Conference Preparations]

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