Thursday, 02 March 2017 07:52

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.


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