Statement at the Triennial Oceans and Seas Global Conferences Side Event

New York
Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Mr Chair,

Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen.

We have heard today from the Permanent Representatives of Senegal, Peru, Palau,  and Sweden and from Remi Parmentier of the Global Ocean Commission.  For many of you, what they have told you today is not news.  Those of you who have been immersed in these matters for a while, know the health of our oceans and seas is imperilled.

Last week the Papal Encyclical letter “On Care for our Common Home” put it plainly.  It talks of the threat to marine life, the drastic depletion of species, rising ocean temperatures and the decline of coral reefs.  It repeats the question asked at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines “Who turned the wonderworld of the seas into underwater cemeteries bereft of colour and life?”  The Encyclical calls for greater investment into research of ecosystems and greater love and respect for all living creatures, with particular care for species headed towards extinction.

Again, this is not news for most of you.  Last year, after two years of diligent research, the Global Ocean Commission issued its report “From Decline to Recovery. A Rescue Package for the Global Ocean.”  It also plainly stated that our ocean is in trouble.  The GOC found that, “Benign neglect by the majority, and active abuse by the minority, have fueled a cycle of decline.  No single body shoulders responsibility for ocean health, and an absence of accountability is characterized by blind exploitation of resources and a willful lack of care.”

The Papal Encyclical also points to the weakness of our governance system for oceans.  It says, “International and regional conventions do exist, but fragmentation and the lack of strict mechanisms of regulation, control and penalization end up undermining these efforts.”

We must face it, in our lifetimes we have jointly presided over this decline of our oceans and seas.  We have been taking more resources from the marine environment than it can sustainably provide us, and through marine pollution and debris, illegal and destructive fishing practices, and the man-made effects of climate change, we are severely testing the ability of the oceans and seas to maintain significant life for the sustenance of generations to come.

Faced with these dire portends, two years ago the Pacific small island developing States, committed to the creation of a Sustainable Development Goal for oceans.  A coalition of concerned nations steadily built around this commitment, and it is now all but certain that the Post-2015 Development Agenda will contain the desired marine goal.  That goal, the so-called “SDG14”, sets out to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

While SDG14 will represent a great achievement in the context of the intergovernmental negotiations undertaken at the United Nations, we cannot allow ourselves to rest on our laurels.  We know full well that many international agreements and well-intended commitments amount to little more than beautiful collections of words.  Thus, if we are going to actually reverse the cycle of decline of oceans and seas, we will have to take special measures to ensure that SDG14 succeeds; we will have to hold ourselves accountable to the high aspirations of SDG14; and we will need an effective process to assess and report on our progress in implementing this vital sustainable development goal.

Facing the challenge of ensuring the success of SDG14, we confront a core deficiency, for as things currently stand, SDG14 is effectively an orphan.  It does not have a champion to follow-up and review its progress the way SDG2 on food security has in FAO, or SDG3 has in WHO, SDG4 in UNESCO, SDG8 in ILO, SDG11 in UN Habitat, and so forth.  As the GOC report so graphically illustrates, international ocean governance is covered by a plethora of organisations, agencies and programmes, all with a finger in the pie, but with no prime entity or process responsible for the whole.  This is the picture of fragmentation of oceans governance painted in the Holy Father’s Encyclical letter last week.  Given the current and forecasted state of our oceans and seas, and given the stringent actions required by SDG14 to ensure its success by 2030, it is thus necessary for us to put in place an empirical process to serve as parent and champion of our goal.

That process will be the Triennial Oceans & Seas Global Conferences.  The process is expected to be mandated by a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly and will feed into the overall home of the sustainable development goals – the High-Level Political Forum of ECOSOC and the General Assembly. The Triennial Oceans & Seas Global Conferences are planned to be held respectively in 2017, 2020, 2023, 2026 and 2029, with the intention of holding the conferences in five different geographical regions over the course of the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

At the first conference, currently scheduled to be held from the 5th to the 9th of June 2017 in Fiji, the intention is to organize proceedings into five clusters relating to marine pollution, ecosystems, fisheries, climate change effects and oceans governance. These clusters break down further into strands that comprehensively cover all aspects of SDG14.  For example under marine pollution there are strands relating to land-based polluting activities, nutrient pollution, and marine debris.  The fisheries cluster obviously includes strands of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, subsidies, destructive fishing, marine protected areas, and so on.  All of these separate strands will be intricately interwoven into the complex net of SDG14’s ambition.

The  intention is for the conferences to be inclusive of the world ocean community as a whole. Member States, UN entities, IGOs, NGOs, CSOs, and the knowledge and business communities, are all expected to participate.  If SDG14 is going to succeed, and succeed it must, we have to harness the best knowledge, solutions, energies, economic resources and political will that humanity can put forward.

Within the aforementioned clusters, we will hold ourselves to account at the conferences, by assessing where we are not making enough progress, where we are moving in the right direction, how we can fill the gaps in implementation, and what action alliances and partnerships need to be formed to take us forward. In short, each conference will benchmark our progress, so that when we reconvene three years later, we will be able to form clear pictures of how we are travelling towards our goal of attaining the integrity of delivery of SDG14 by the year 2030.

As you know there are many meetings on marine matters held around the world in any given year.  They go by many names and involve many different themes, memberships and formats.  The great majority are most laudable and deserve the full support of the oceans community.  Here at the United Nations we have formal processes that play important roles, such as the Review Conference on the UN Fishstocks Agreement, the Informal Consultative Process of UNCLOS, and the Regular Process for Global Reporting and Assessment of the Marine Environment.  We also have informal processes such as the side-events held at the United Nations, like the June 19th  WAP side-event on tackling lost and abandoned fishing gear, or the forthcoming symposium on July 1st on regenerating fishstocks through marine protected areas.  They are all addressing important strands that will be critical to the overall success of SDG14.

Having said that, the Triennial Oceans & Seas Conferences will be the central process by which all of these strands are weaved together, in one place at one time, to allow the global oceans community to assess the totality of SDG14. The conferences will benchmark the progress of all the inter-connected strands of SDG14 to monitor and guide the overall implementation of our oceans goal.  We are confident that through the discipline of a global assessment  of progress every three years, step by step, we will make our way towards fulfillment of SDG14 by the year 2030.

As our Chairman has already pointed out, today’s side-event is meant as a sensitization exercise to inform the oceans community and the wider sustainable development community.  It follows on from a long series of consultations this year with Member States and UN agencies on the subject of the Triennial Oceans & Seas Global Conferences and from long deliberations by Members of the small island developing States and the ambassadorial Group of Friends of Oceans and Seas. Arising from these consultations, it has been agreed that a mandate will be sought from the General Assembly for the conference process.  The requisite draft resolution will be tabled in the last quarter of 2015, with a modalities resolution to follow in  2016.  The intention is to table the draft resolution under the existing agenda item on Sustainable Development, since the Triennial Conferences fit squarely within the processes by which the SDGs will be reported to the High Level Political Forum.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, you have heard many times about the seminal importance of the Post-2015 Development Agenda for the sustainability of humanity’s place on this planet.  Nowhere is that sustainability more important than in the health of our ocean and the sustainable use of marine resources.  We have many mouths to feed, and as it has for millennia, the marine environment can feed billions of humankind.  But it cannot do so if we continue along the present path of forcing marine species to the brink of extinction, of disregarding the warnings of science, of ignoring the litany of harmful practices that are perpetrated everyday against ocean’s health, and of our acidifying oceans and seas to the point where they will no longer be able to sustain significant life.  We have come to the year when we must put the times of benign neglect behind us.  We have come to the year when we must set the foundations for our oceans goal in a manner that ensures its success.  By mandating the Triennial Oceans & Seas Global Conferences, the United Nations will enable the global oceans community to progressively achieve our goal, so that SDG14 will go down in history as the paradigm shift that did indeed safeguard the sustainability of our planet’s marine resources.

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