6 February 2020
Preparatory Meeting Stresses 2020 as a New Chapter of Ocean Action
Photo by: Lauren Anderson
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Participants discussed themes for the 2020 UN Ocean Conference’s eight interactive dialogues.

The meeting also began discussions on the Conference’s political declaration, which is expected to focus on science-based and innovative areas of action to support implementation of SDG 14 as well as to adopt a list of voluntary commitments in support of achieving SDG 14.

Participants at the 2020 UN Ocean Conference Preparatory Meeting highlighted the importance of a healthy ocean in implementing and achieving the SDGs and stressed that 2020 must be a year of concrete action for the ocean. The 2020 Ocean Conference is one of the first milestones of the UN Secretary-General’s Decade of Action for the SDGs and is expected to provide inputs into the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) and the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.

The 74th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) convened the two-day preparatory meeting at UN Headquarters in New York, the US, from 4-5 February. The Permanent Representative of Palau, Ngedikes Olai Uludong, and the Permanent Representative of Denmark, Martin Bille Hermann, are the co-facilitators of the preparatory process. The co-facilitators emphasized that the UN Ocean Conference is an opportunity to take the momentum from the 2017 UN Ocean Conference further and “drive a new chapter of ocean action.” They stressed that 2020 represents a “huge opportunity for the global community to come together and raise the level of ambition.”

A healthy marine environment holds untold potential for achieving the entirety of the Sustainable Development Agenda.

In opening remarks, the President of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, noted that “a healthy marine environment holds untold potential for achieving the entirety of the Sustainable Development Agenda,” highlighting the role of the ocean in mitigating climate change, providing food security for hundreds of millions of people around the world, and contributing to the global economy. Despite the importance of the world’s oceans, the UNGA President said the unsustainable use and misuse of ocean resources, climate change, and pollution threaten this resource. He called for accelerating action on SDG 14 targets and identified the upcoming Ocean Conference as an opportunity to demonstrate progress, accelerate necessary actions, and “reframe our understanding of nature as an accelerator for implementing the 2030 Agenda.”

The UN’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, Peter Thomson, reflected on five major challenges facing the world’s oceans. He said pollution and fisheries sustainability are “eminently fixable by 2030.” Thomson observed that challenges associated with acidification, deoxygenation and ocean warming, all of which are linked to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will be more difficult to fix. He urged immediate action to reduce GHG emissions, reminding participants that action on the oceans, biodiversity and climate change are all linked, and called for focusing on “positive tipping points,” such as scaling up science and innovation. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also addressed the importance of the oceans and the climate crisis, outlining the impacts of a warming ocean on the planet.

Participants discussed a background note prepared by the UN Secretary-General titled, ‘Preparatory process of the 2020 UN Conference to Support the Implementation of SDG 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development,’ (A/76/630). The note outlines the status, trends, challenges and opportunities for implementing SDG 14 and proposes themes for the Conference’s eight interactive dialogues.

The note suggests the following themes: addressing marine pollution (SDG target 14.1); managing, protecting and restoring marine and coastal ecosystems (SDG targets 14.2 and 14.5); minimizing and addressing ocean acidification (SDG target 14.3); making fisheries sustainable and providing access for small-scale artisanal fishers to marine resources and markets (SDG targets 14.4, 14.6 and 14.b); promoting and strengthening sustainable ocean-based economies, in particular for small island developing States (SIDS) and least developed countries (SDG 14.7 and other relevant targets); increasing scientific knowledge and developing research capacity and the transfer of marine technology (target 14.a); enhancing the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources by implementing the international law, as reflected in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (target 14.c); and leveraging interlinkages between Goal 14 and other Goals towards the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

Participants discussed marine plastic pollution and opportunities to transition towards a circular economy. They called for building on the 2019 UN Environment Assembly’s (UNEA) discussion on land-based pollution and a circular economy, which resulted in a ministerial declaration calling for reducing single-use plastic products. The preparatory meeting also discussed additional challenges related to the oceans, including a decline in coral reefs, which has had an adverse impact on food security; and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, which negatively impacts both fishing and marine ecosystems. On climate change, the meeting underscored the importance of climate action to improve ocean health and limit sea level rise. They recognized the threat sea level rise poses to SIDS and observed that climate action is key to ensuring the world’s future.

The UNGA President called for implementing 2017 Ocean Conference voluntary commitments and urged Member States to “present new and more ambitious commitments during the upcoming 2020 UN Ocean Conference.” He recommended partnering with all stakeholders to create networks to implement existing and upcoming voluntary commitments effectively and to monitor implementation efforts thereafter.

The meeting also began discussions on the Conference’s political declaration. The declaration is expected to focus on science-based and innovative areas of action to support implementation of SDG 14 as well as to adopt a list of voluntary commitments in support of achieving SDG 14.  [UN Press Release 4 February] [UN News Story] [UNGA President Opening Statement] [UNGA Press Release] [Meeting Webpage] [Publication: A/74/630] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Decision to Convene Ocean Conference] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on 2017 Conference] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Analysis of 2017 Commitments] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Communities of Action] [SDG Knowledge Hub Coverage of UN Ocean Conference]

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