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Ocean Conference,
Preparatory Meeting (AM & PM)

Life Below Water ‘Essential to Life on Land’, General Assembly President Stresses, at Meeting on 2020 United Nations Ocean Conference

The world must galvanize collective action to protect and preserve the planet’s major water bodies, experts said today at the opening of a two-day preparatory meeting on the 2020 United Nations Conference to Support the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14.

Exploring themes of interactive dialogues and hammering out details of an action-oriented declaration ahead of the Conference, to be held from 2 to 6 June in Lisbon, delegates focused on various aspects of Goal 14, which aims at conserving and sustainably using the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development, with the preparatory meeting.

“Life under water is essential to life on land,” said General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande (Nigeria).  “The ocean produces half of the oxygen we breathe and provides food for 3.2 billion people around the world.”

With the global ocean economy valued at $1.5 trillion annually, he said, a healthy marine environment holds untold potential for achieving the entirety of the sustainable development agenda.  However, the future of this ocean economy and the livelihoods it supports depend on the success of the Conference, he said, calling on Member States to urgently present new, more ambitious commitments.

The co-facilitators of the preparatory process elaborated on the grave consequences of inaction.  Martin Bille Hermann (Denmark) cautioned that:  “Our oceans are facing a global emergency.  Sea levels are rising, plastic pollution is increasing, the ocean is warmer and more acidic, fish stocks are over‑exploited and half of all living coral has been lost.”

But, change is possible, Ngedikes Olai Uludong (Palau) said, stressing that:  “2020 has been coined as a ‘super year’ for nature.”  As such, the Conference’s theme will focus on “scaling up ocean action based on science and innovation for the implementation of Goal 14:  stocktaking, partnerships and solutions”.

Ricardo da Piedade Abreu Serrão Santos, Minister for Sea of Portugal and co‑host of the 2020 Conference, said that only “tangible, ambitious, transformative action can help us deliver a meaningful, consequential conference”.  The role of science and innovation is critical and cross-cutting to all of the dialogues, as is the need for greater cooperation, especially on information and data‑sharing.

The declaration should highlight the science-based areas of action to support implementation of Goal 14, he said.  Noting that environmental justice cannot be solved separately from social justice, he expressed hope that the 2020 Conference will feed into other processes, including the twenty-sixth United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  There is an historical opportunity to address conservation and sustainable ocean use.  “Let’s not waste it,” he said.

Micheni J. Ntiba, Principal Secretary for Fisheries, Aquaculture and the Blue Economy of Kenya, said the 2017 Ocean Conference raised global awareness of the challenges and led to an agreed call for action.  He expressed hope that the 2020 Conference will deliver action.  Systemic changes must be made in the global approach to sustainable ocean use, as many voluntary commitments have not been honoured, he said, recalling that, in 2017, more than 1,000 commitments were made, “which we haven’t done much about”.  Moving forward, a new generation of specific, time-bound commitments will be needed.

Peter Thomson, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, recalled comments by the Secretary-General that “humanity is knowingly destroying the life support systems of this planet”.  The ocean is sick, which is why Member States mandated the holding of the United Nations Decade.  It is important to move quickly from diagnosis to treatment, with a focus on “positive tipping points”, in particular, scaling up science and innovation.  Developing countries are eager to participate in such activities, however, financing is a challenge.  In 2018, the Sustainable Blue Economy conference made clear that the financial world and the project world are talking past each other.  “We want to fix that in Lisbon,” he said, noting that a sustainable investment forum will be held on 1 June.  “If we look after the ocean, it’s going to look after us,” he assured.

During the day, delegates discussed the Secretary-General’s proposed themes for the Conference’s eight interactive dialogues:  addressing marine pollution; managing, protecting, conserving and restoring marine and coastal ecosystems; minimizing and addressing acidification; sustainable fisheries; promoting and strengthening sustainable ocean-based economies; increasing scientific knowledge and developing research capacity and the transfer of marine technology; enhancing conservation and sustainable use by implementing international law; and leveraging interlinkages between Sustainable Development Goal 14 and other targets towards the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

With that in mind Guyana’s representative, speaking for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, underscored the timeliness of the 2020 Conference.  “We see this as an opportunity to recommit to existing agreements and forge new levels of ambition.”

Lesotho’s delegate, who spoke on behalf of the world’s 32 land-locked developing countries, emphasized the importance of leaving no one behind in realizing the 2030 Agenda.

Angola’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the African Group, recalled the consensus around the role that a blue economy can play in Africa’s structural transformation.  He advocated for South-South, North-South and triangular cooperation, as well as joint actions to address financial technical and infrastructure gaps.

The observer for the European Union meanwhile favoured the wide involvement of stakeholders in the Conference, including local communities.  Outlining the bloc’s position on each of the dialogues, he said dialogue 1 should cover various types of pollution, with particular attention given to land-sea interaction.  Dialogue 2 should focus on tools like marine protected areas to restore marine and coastal ecosystems, while dialogue 3 should provide solutions to reduce greenhouse‑gas emissions.  Dialogue 4 should focus on global data‑exchange standards to improve fisheries management.  In dialogue 5, he suggested a focus on the sharing of best practices.  On dialogue 6, monitoring and reporting capacities, and digitalization are useful topics to explore, he said, adding that dialogue 7 should look at how new technology can solve the identified challenges, and dialogue 8 should showcase links between Goal 14 and other Goals.

During the opening segment, Stephen Mathias, Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, provided details of arrangements for the Conference, including a website launched by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs in all United Nations official languages,

Participating in the discussion on dialogue themes were representatives of Belize (on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States), Maldives, Malta, Singapore, Papua New Guinea, Norway, Republic of Korea, Sweden, Brazil, Indonesia, Monaco, Chile, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, Finland, United States, Dominican Republic, New Zealand, Iceland, Estonia, Honduras, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, Federated States of Micronesia, Viet Nam and Costa Rica, as well as observers for the European Union and the Holy See.

Representatives from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) also spoke.

In the afternoon, delegates considered how the Conference’s declaration can advance action on science-based solutions to support implementation of Goal 14, how the international community can leverage synergies in science to foster ocean conservation, and how to surmount challenges to achieving Goal 14.

In that context, Guyana’s representative, speaking for the Group of 77, said the new declaration must avoid reiterating what was captured in the 2017 Call for Action and renegotiating its content.  It must highlight the current state of the marine environment, expand the horizons for marine scientific research and outline ways to enable better access to scientific information.  The provision of financial resources, transfer of technology, provision of international support and capacity-building for developing countries are all necessary elements, as is a focus on the nexus between the ocean and the adverse effects of climate change.

Tuvalu’s representative, speaking for the Pacific Island Forum, said ocean mapping, data information, modelling and prediction, disaster risk reduction and ocean literacy are scientific applications that can support clean oceans.  He highlighted the role of traditional knowledge in maintaining healthy oceans, as a complement to science or to be used when science is lacking.

Fiji’s delegate, speaking for the Pacific small island developing States, outlined key messages that must be included in the Conference’s declaration, among them an acknowledgement of science and innovation capacity challenges faced by some countries and the critical role played by traditional knowledge.

The representative of Belize, speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States, said the Conference outcome should have a narrow and ambitious focus.  Alliance members can inform sustainable fisheries practices and coastal management strategies, including by sharing traditional knowledge as a complement to science.  He said current scientific information must be included in the declaration.

Similarly, Saint Lucia’s representative, speaking for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said small island developing States in his region require financial and technical support to implement the required scientific and technical work to achieve Goal 14.  Citing existing agreements that must be fully implemented to make progress, he said General Assembly resolution 73/229 foresees a debt swap proposal to enable Caribbean economies to mitigate and adapt to climate change consequences while reducing the debt burden.

Japan’s delegate said the issue of marine plastic litter deserves pride of place in the declaration.  He proposed embedding a call for all countries to reduce marine plastic‑litter pollution to zero by 2050 — a goal also outlined in the Osaka Blue Ocean Vision presented at the 2019 Group of 20 Summit and now supported by more than 50 countries.

During a segment open to civil society and the private sector, a representative of the Youth of India Foundation highlighted the need to act now.  Upon his request, delegates stood and pledged to reduce plastic use from today forward.

Also speaking were representatives of Mauritius, Morocco, Germany, Republic of Korea, Finland, Federated States of Micronesia, Brazil, Ecuador, Argentina, India, Honduras, Canada, Monaco, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Netherlands, El Salvador, Thailand, Dominican Republic, United States and Uruguay, as well as observers for the European Union and the Holy See.

Representatives of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), Global Environment Facility, Kongsberg, Heirs to Our Oceans, Ocean and Climate Platform and the Foundation for Environmental Protection also spoke.

The preparatory meeting will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 5 February, to conclude its work.

For information media. Not an official record.