A Conference to #SaveOurOcean



By Wu Hongbo

From 5 to 9 June 2017, the United Nations will convene a major meeting to promote ocean sustainability. The United Nations Conference to Support the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development—better known as the Ocean Conference—will be the first United Nations forum of its kind on the issue, and an important step in reversing the decline of our oceans.


Our oceans are in serious trouble. Human activities are having major impacts on the oceans, affecting everything from the viability of marine habitats to the quality and temperature of the water, the health of marine life, and the continued availability of seafood. This in turn affects poverty eradication, economic growth, sustainable livelihoods and employment, global food security, human health and climate regulation. What happens in the ocean affects our daily life and the health of our planet-and what we do matters a lot to the oceans.

Billions of people depend on the oceans as their main source of food and millions others draw their livelihood from the seas. Major economic activities, such as tourism and trade, depend on healthy oceans. Oceans are also the primary regulator of the global climate. They supply half the oxygen we breathe and absorb a third of the carbon dioxide we produce.

Despite their critical role in sustaining life in this world, our oceans are increasingly threatened, degraded or destroyed by human activities, reducing their ability to provide crucial ecosystem services.

Already today, 30 per cent of the world's fish stocks are overexploited, while more than 50 per cent are fully exploited. Coastal habitats are under pressure, with approximately 20 per cent of the world's coral reefs lost and another 20 per cent degraded. Plastic waste alone kills up to 1 million sea birds, 100,000 sea mammals and countless fish each year. An estimated 80 per cent of marine pollution comes from land-based activities.

Moreover, vulnerable groups, including people living in poverty, women, children and indigenous peoples are particularly affected, as are coastal communities and countries with a high dependency on the oceans and their marine resources, such as small island developing States.

We know that the oceans, which cover three quarters of the Earth's surface, form an integrated and essential component of our planet's ecosystem and are critical to sustainable development. With this in mind, the Ocean Conference is dedicated to supporting the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14, which seeks to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. Action on this Goal, however, will support the implementation efforts of all the SDGs, as they are all interlinked. The oceans matter to all of us, regardless of who we are or where we live, and we matter to the oceans.


The Ocean Conference will present an invaluable opportunity for countries, the United Nations system, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, as well as the private sector, media and the general public, to mobilize urgent and tangible action to reverse the cycle of ocean decline.

The Conference will not only serve as a place to raise awareness of the state of the oceans, but will produce a global call for action and generate new dialogues and partnerships aimed at implementing solutions. In addition, many participants will announce new voluntary commitments to address ocean challenges. Indeed, close to 30 commitments have been registered as of the end of March 2017.


The Conference will feature seven partnership dialogues on the following themes:

1.   Addressing marine pollution.

2.   Managing, protecting, conserving and restoring marine and coastal ecosystems.

3.   Minimizing and addressing ocean acidification.

4.   Making fisheries sustainable.

5.   Increasing economic benefits to small island developing States and least developed countries and providing access for small-scale artisanal fishers to marine resources and markets.

6.   Increasing scientific knowledge, and developing research capacity and of marine technology.

7.   Enhancing the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources by implementing international law as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.


Three critical outcomes are expected at the Ocean Conference. United Nations Member States will adopt by consensus a "Call for Action". This document will serve as a concise, focused and concrete declaration to set the course towards a more sustainable future for our oceans.

The Conference is not only about what Governments can do to address this issue, but also about how we can all contribute and do our part, however big or small. A list of voluntary commitments for the implementation of Goal 14 will therefore be another important outcome of the Conference and will be included in its report. The voluntary commitments are initiatives to be undertaken by Governments, the United Nations system, financial institutions, civil society, academic and research institutions, the scientific community and the private sector. They can include various local, regional, national and global projects, addressing the various targets of SDG 14, ranging from efforts to protect the marine environment to curbing marine pollution and dealing with the impact of ocean acidification. The United Nations has launched a process for registering voluntary commitments online. I encourage everyone who has a commitment to register it.1

The report of the Conference will also include the co­chairs' summary of the partnership dialogues, another important outcome. The partnership dialogues will deal with all targets of SDG 142 and aim to strengthen cooperation, scale up and replicate existing successful initiatives, and launch concrete and new partnerships that will advance the implementation of the Goal.


Progress needs to be made, and there are many actions that can be undertaken now. These include preventing and cleaning up marine pollution, such as the growing islands of plastic waste that are circulating in the ocean. Urgent action is also needed to reduce land-based pollution, which accounts for 80 per cent of marine pollution, including by reducing agricultural run-off that ultimately ends up in the oceans and causes 'dead zones'.

Action is required to end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and destructive fishing practices. We must take steps to sustainably manage, protect and conserve marine and coastal ecosystems by increasing community-based conservation efforts and educating and raising awareness, among other measures.

We need to implement the Paris Agreement on climate change. We will have to reduce emissions that are causing changes in our oceans, as well as take measures that build resilience to the impacts of ocean acidification and climate change, such as sea level rise.

Trouble for the oceans means trouble for people. Human well-being and health, economic prosperity, and a stable climate depend on healthy oceans. Action now to address ocean problems will go far in promoting sustainable development, which is critical for a more equal and peaceful world.

For more information on the Ocean Conference, please visit https://oceanconference.un.org/.


1  Voluntary commitments for the Ocean Conference can be registered through the following website: https://oceanconference.un.org/commitments/.

2   Information on SDG 14 targets and indicators is available from https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg14#targets.