State of the Planet

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UN Includes Comprehensive Oceans Goal in the Sustainable Development Goals

marinecoralThe 12th Session of the UN Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals will take place at the UN in New York City on June 16-20. An important opportunity is unfolding for the SDG process to contribute to the health and prosperity of our oceans and seas.

The civil society groups, including academics and environmental organizations, attended the 10th session of the Open Working Group from March 31-April 4. Speaking as the “Friends of the Sustainable Development Goal on Oceans and Seas,” they issued the statement: “We Stand Together for a Stand-alone Sustainable Development Goal on Oceans and Seas.”  In that statement, civil society groups strongly supported a stand-alone goal on oceans and seas as essential to the three pillars of sustainable development: environment — for planetary survival, economy — for national and global economic well-being, and society — for social well-being.

On May 7 at the 11th Session of the Open Working Group, the civil society groups issued another statement regarding the Sustainable Development Goals Focus Area 13: Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Resources, Oceans and Seas. They continued their focus on a stand-alone goal for oceans, suggesting improvements for marine biodiversity and conservation, consideration of impacts of ocean acidification, and immediate action to end illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing. Some of the civil society groups also supported a specific focus on education of the public on the importance of conservation of marine resources, oceans and seas and educational programs at all levels, specifically to encourage youth to enter this field. The complete statement can be found  here.

The Open Working Group chairs recently released a zero draft of the Sustainable Development Goals, which included a stand-alone oceans goal. The draft can be seen in full here. This zero draft for the goals will be discussed by states participating in the Open Working Group, and then go before the UN General Assembly. Proposed Goal 14: Attain conservation and sustainable use of marine resources, oceans and seas, is a good beginning for a stand-alone oceans goal which can meaningfully contribute to the health and prosperity of the oceans and seas. It addresses key oceans issues such as preventing ocean acidification; reducing land-based pollution; sustainably managing, restoring and protecting marine ecosystems; more effectively regulating fisheries; establishing further protected areas; and full implementation of all oceans agreements.

Many countries support a comprehensive stand-alone oceans goal. The United States, Canada, Australia, the European Union, and Asian countries (such as China, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Singapore and United Arab Emirates) have been among those supporting a standalone and comprehensive oceans goal. Please see the Global Oceans Forum summary here, which brings hope that they will continue to express their support and fully develop the oceans goal at the June meeting.

It is particularly important to have sound targets and indicators for ocean acidification under an oceans goal so countries can understand and respond to one of the most important global impacts of climate change.

Magdalena AK Muir has been participating in the UN Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals process under a Fulbright Scholarship with the Columbia Climate Center at The Earth Institute and the College of Earth, Ocean and Environment at the University of Delaware. She is also supporting the participation of two environmental non-governmental organizations: the Global Oceans Forum and the Coastal and Marine Union.

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