Will ‘Our Oceans’ Conference change our view of oceans

By Malik Hossain 
[Port Louis, Mauritius] It was supposed to be a major event with an attention grabbing streak. However the US Presidential election and the shock win of President Donald Trump stole the thunder and as such the press conference even with its great significance had to compete for news space.

The place was Marrakech, Morocco and the date was November 16 2016. It was a press conference convened by The President of the UN General Assembly, Peter Thomson, the Prime Minister of Fiji, Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for International Development Cooperation and Climate of Sweden, Isabella Lövin, and the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Wu Hongbo, on the sidelines of COP 22 in Marrakech. The core of the press conference was to announce a major United Nations conference on oceans. 

The Oceans Conference which will be held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, from 5 to 9 June 2017 was the key agenda of this press conference.

President Thomson reiterated the United Nations Conference to support the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG14) which denotes “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.”

Thomson reiterated that the Governments of Sweden and Fiji are the co-Presidents of the conference and Wu Hongbo who is the UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs would act as Secretary-General of the conference.

According to Thomson the conference “was mandated by the member states of the United Nations because they recognized that SDG 14 — the Oceans Goal — needed some means of support to make sure it was being implemented” and that it would be the “game-changer that will turn around the cycle of decline in which the ocean is caught.”

Prime Minister Bainimarama told the media that, as a Pacific Small Island Developing State whose coastal communities are totally dependent on marine resources, Fiji intended to work as hard as possible to bring the world’s attention to the urgent need of reversing the degradation of oceans and seas.

“I want to urge my fellow leaders from around the world to join us, and to urge you, the men and women of the media, to highlight the importance of this conference for everyone on the planet, no matter where they live. We must act now to save our oceans and seas. Not only for ourselves, but for the sake of the generations to come,” he said.

On his part Deputy Premier Lövin said that, as a long-time champion of the environment, the initiative was of the highest priority for Sweden. She added that cooperation was essential, given that the issue did not recognize borders, and that this forthcoming conference would help mobilize the right partnerships.

“The SDG on Oceans needs special attention. We need to turn the tide if we’re going to achieve SDG 14 by 2030. We need to start working now, in a coordinated way,” Lövin said.

The Secretary-General for the Conference Mr. Wu talked about the structure of the meeting and pointed out that it would have three major outcomes: an intergovernmentally-agreed declaration in the form of a “Call for Action” to support the implementation of Goal 14, a report containing the co-chairs’ summaries of seven partnership dialogues of the conference, as well as a list of voluntary commitments for the implementation of Goal 14.

The Ocean Conference Logo [Image: DPI]

Wu said the overarching theme of the conference is “Our oceans, our future: partnering for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14”.

“As Conference Secretary-General, I assure all Member States of the United Nations that we will do whatever we can to support this conference,” Mr. Wu concluded.

In December while speaking during the meeting on “Oceans and the Law of the Sea”, Thompson reiterated: “The Ocean is the lifeblood of our planet.  It is a vital and complex ecosystem that billions of people depend on for their livelihoods, food security, cultural identity and traditions. We are all united by the Ocean – with its boundless energy, indispensable trade routes, and marine resources feeding our communities.” Thomson said.  “The over-exploitation of fish stocks, and pollution from fertilizers, plastics, and waste, are diminishing its resources, while climate change is exerting enormous pressure on the Ocean as well as coasts, and marine ecosystems. Rising sea-levels, ocean acidification, increasing deoxygenation, and a reduced mixing of ocean water are exacerbating challenges, while the changing interaction between the Ocean and atmosphere is affecting our climate, weather and air quality.”

Threats facing our oceans [Image: CC-IOO]

The threats facing oceans today are not just limited to ocean acidification and carbon pollution but stretch to other human induced causes. The Indian Ocean region has experienced climate change effects since 1999 when coral bleaching damaged much of its coral reefs. A similar bleaching scenario was experienced last year again undermining conservation and marine life. 

Peter Thompson, President of the UN General Assembly [Image: CC-DPI]

It is these challenges that have compelled the UN member states to re-imagine the oceans. And just as had been pointed out at Marrakech last year, 2017 is here and preparations for the oceans conference are in high gear.

The Indian Ocean Observatory has obtained the roadmap that the UN intends to follow to ensure a successful and action oriented conference. Among the key milestones that the Ocean Conference shall adopt include: 

  • "Call for Action" – A inter-governmental, focused and  concisely agreed declaration by consensus. The deliberations for this has already started with a preparatory meeting held this month.  Before March 2017 a draft will be presented by the co-facilitators and consultations are to be concluded by May 2017
  • A report containing the co-chairs’ summaries of the partnership dialogues. The partnership dialogues will be multi-stakeholder and interactive. They will aim on strengthening cooperation, scaling up and replicating existing successful initiatives and launching concrete and new partnerships that will advance the implementation of SDG 14. 
  • A list of voluntary commitments for the implementation of Goal 14 to be announced at the Conference
  • The President of the General Assembly will convene a two-day preparatory meeting, on 15-16 February 2017, at United Nations Headquarters in New York, to be chaired by H.E. Mr. Alvaro Mendonya Moura, Permanent Representative of Portugal to the UN, and H.E. Mr. Burhan Gafoor, Permanent Representative of Singapore to the UN, the two co-facilitators, with a view to considering the themes for the partnership dialogues and elements for a "Call for Action".
  • The co-facilitators will present a concise draft "Call for Action" no later than March 2017, taking into account the deliberations of the preparatory meeting and other inputs, without prejudice to the processes established by the General Assembly in its resolution 69/292 of 19 June 2015.
  • The intergovernmental consultations on a "Call for Action" will be concluded by May 2017.
  • The President of the General Assembly will finalize the organizational arrangements for the Conference no later than April 2017.


Published in Environment


In light of the UN General Assembly’s decision to convene a High-Level UN Conference on Seas and Oceans in June 2017 the Indian Ocean Observatory (IOO) had an exclusive interview with Remi Parmentier, Deputy Executive Secretary of the Global Ocean Commission. Parmentier explains why oceans matter to everyone and brings to the fore the opportunities for Africa. His insights are a captive read and a point of reference to the emerging Blue Economy discourse

Remi Parmentier, Deputy Executive Secretary of the Global Ocean Commission. [Image:De Agueda/Varda Group]

IOO: The UN General Assembly has decided to convene a high level UN Conference on Seas and Oceans in June 2017 to support the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14: Conserve and Sustainably Use the Oceans, Seas and Marine Resources for Sustainable Development. What does this decision mean for our oceans and seas?

Remi: Because ocean governance within the UN is so fragmented, with many different bodies responsible for only parts of the SDG14 agenda, it was thought that it was a good idea to create a forum to promote SDG14’s implementation holistically. Some have used the expression “orphan SDG” for SDG14; well now it looks like the UN General Assembly has adopted it to make sure it does not get lost.  

Fiji: The host of the high level UN Conference on Seas and Oceans in June 2017 [Image: GOC/RP Rights Reserved]

IOO: The conference will be held in Fiji from 5 to 9 June, 2017. In 2014 the Third UN International Conference on Small Islands Developing States was held in Samoa. These are crucial developments experienced in the last decade. Can we conclude then that there is a global shift whereby oceans and seas are finding their way into international policy discourse?

Remi: Indeed, as awareness is growing, action is taking a new pace, and not just with the two conferences you mention. The “Our Ocean” conferences in Washington DC (June 2014) and Valparaiso, Chile (October 2015) are good examples and there will be two more of those in 2016 and 2017 in Washington and Brussels respectively. The Economist magazine is also organizing an event they call “Ocean Summit” every couple of years. And – most importantly – the UN General Assembly also last year has decided to launch negotiations for a new implementing agreement for the sustainable use and conservation of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea – a proposal the Global Ocean Commission, among others, had called for.

IOO. Briefly enumerate on the benefits of oceans and seas in light of the landmark UN June 2017 conference decision?

Remi: With SDG14, the international community committed to seven targets, some of which with a bottom date of 2020 for completion. 2020, that’s less than five years, so there’s no time to waste. For example, according to SDG14.6, the elimination of harmful fisheries subsidies should take place by no later than 2020, yet when it held its ministerial conference in Nairobi in December 2015 the World Trade Organization maintained business as usual. We cannot afford to miss the boat again, and this is why hopes are placed in the Fiji 2017 UN Ocean conference. The fragile ocean cannot afford business as usual.

IOO. What is the place of Africa in this maritime discourse?

Remi: The livelihoods of millions of African people are affected by continued illegal, unreported and unreported (IUU) fishing operations along the coasts of Africa. One important measure the Global Ocean Commission has identified is the ratification of the FAO Ports State Measures Agreement, or PSMA, which was adopted in 2009 but hasn’t entered into force yet. For it to enter into force it needs 25 ratifications and today six countries are still missing. More African countries joining would be to their benefit. IUU fishing is also fed by subsidies rich countries provide to their respective long distance and high seas fishing fleets; Africa should have a bigger say because it is also a global equity concern.

Our ocean is the engine of our living planet. It’s our most valuable asset, and it’s shrinking”. Remi Parmentier [Image: IOO]

IOO. There has been a new clamour for the Blue Economy. Can you break down what the "Blue Economy" is for the benefit of a lay person?

Remi: Economy is about maintaining and fructifying assets. And our ocean is the engine of our living planet. It’s our most valuable asset, and it’s shrinking.

IOO. In the overall discussions on oceans and seas landlocked countries feelleft out. Are they included in this conference and what can be done tomake them feel part of global oceans discourse?

Remi: The Fiji 2017 conference is open to all UN member States without exception, and to all concerned stakeholders. Whether you live on the top of the Himalayas or along the coastline of India, everyone without exception relies on the ocean: every second breath of air you breathe comes from the Ocean.

IOO. Pollution, piracy, over-fishing and maritime border conflicts are someof the key concerns within our seas. How is the Global Ocean Commission handling these issues?

Remi: In June 2014 the Global Ocean Commission released its report “From Decline to Recovery: A Rescue Package for the Global Ocean” (http://www.globaloceancommission.org/wp-content/uploads/GOC_Report_20_6.FINAL_.spreads.pdf) which contained eight key proposals to address these issues. Eighteen months later, we are now about to publish a progress report. It will say what has happened and what has not happened in this last year and a half, and provide a Vision for the Future of the Ocean. It will be available in mid-February on our website www.globaloceancommission.org

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Published in Insight