United Nations Conference to Support the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14

Note: Complete coverage of today’s meetings of the Ocean Conference will be available after their conclusion.

Partnership Dialogue I

In the morning, the Ocean Conference held a partnership dialogue on the topic “Managing, protecting, conserving and restoring marine and coastal ecosystems”.  Moderated by Martha Rojas-Urrego, Secretary General, Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, and co-chaired by Tommy Esang Remengesau Jr., President of Palau, and Silvia Velo, Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Environment, Land and Sea, Italy, it featured a panel discussion by Lin Shanqing, Deputy Administrator, State Oceanic Administration, China; Cristiana Paşca Palmer, Executive Secretary, Convention on Biological Diversity; Jake Rice, Chief Scientist Emeritus, Fisheries and Oceans Canada; and Cyrie Sendashonga, Global Director, Program and Policy Group, International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Opening the discussion, Mr. REMENGESAU said Governments were faced with the “monumental” task of developing a new model of ocean governance to replace a failed one that had allowed unlimited human activity to damage marine ecosystems.  There was now the forum and the obligation to develop a sustainable approach to the management, protection, conservation and restoration of marine and coastal ecosystems.  He encouraged delegates to keep an open mind and maintain transparency in implementing the sometimes contradictory — but necessary — objectives.  For Palau, the best option was to create a large marine protected area, setting aside 80 per cent of its waters — 190 square miles of ocean — as a marine sanctuary, with the remaining 20 per cent available for domestic fishing.  Within that setting, Palau still had to deal with management, monitoring, protection and restoration.  In line with the Convention on Biological Diversity, stakeholders must work together to establish by 2020 an effectively managed set of marine protected areas, beyond areas of national jurisdiction, covering 10 per cent of marine and coastal areas.

“We should increase our ambition” and protect at least 30 per cent of such areas by 2030, he said, noting that States must also consider sustainable development and create opportunities for food security initiatives by enhancing small-scale and artisanal fisheries, as well as building tourism and aquaculture.  Multi-country and multi-stakeholder partnerships must tackle illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, human and drug trafficking and harmful fisheries subsidies.  He urged all States to ratify the Port State Measures Agreement, stressing that connections must be made to funding mechanisms — such as the Green Climate Fund, Global Environmental Facility, World Bank and Asian Development Bank — with new and unique funding mechanisms focused solely on oceans identified.  He objected to funding mechanisms that were impossible for least developed countries and small island developing States to access, based on a perceived lack of capacity.

Ms. VELO said that Italy in 2010 had introduced measures for the management of marine protected areas, a multi-stakeholder model that mapped habitats and protected space.  Italy had adopted a methodology for the allocation of financial resources, based on objective criteria and performance indicators, with assessments conducted in areas such as conservation and human-impact free management.  Italy could count 29 marine protected areas within a European Union network, which overall accounted for the protection of nearly 20 per cent of its territorial waters.

At the global level, she said that while marine protected area coverage had grown over the decade, the geographic distribution was uneven, with more needed in Africa, Latin American and the Caribbean, South-East Asia and in small island developing States, which depended more heavily on protected marine systems.  Noting that Italy was chair of the Ocean Sanctuary Alliance, along with Kenya, Bahamas, Palau and Poland, she said the group was working to mobilize efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 14.5 and identify globally significant areas as candidates for additional marine protected area development.  Italy also had increased its engagement with small island developing States, focusing on capacity-building and the establishment and maintenance of marine protected areas.  It also had partnered with Palau on the implementation of marine sanctuaries, and more broadly, was ready to support its partners in moving towards more sustainable ocean-based economies.

Ms. ROJAS-URREGO said the topic under discussion went to the heart of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.  Conservation management and restoring marine ecosystems were prerequisite for achieving Sustainable Development Goal 14 as well as other Goals.  Many communities, especially in developing countries, depended on marine ecosystems for food and water.  Such ecosystems also played a critical role in the context of climate change by mitigating disasters and serving as carbon sinks, she said.  However, marine ecosystems were being lost at an unprecedented rate, she added, noting for example that 90 per cent of coral reefs had suffered damage.  Measures were being taken by States and stakeholders, but there was still a long way to go, she said, adding that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was an opportunity to put the preservation of marine ecosystems at the heart of development.

Mr. LIN said the Government of China paid great attention to environmental protection, with the marine space being a critical part of its overall environmental plan.  Since the turn of the century, China had promulgated and amended ocean-related laws and regulation, creating a comprehensive legal system for marine protection.  It also sought to move towards a payment system through which the State regulated royalties, with revenue going towards conservation efforts.  The percentage of marine protected areas and reserves was being increased, he said, adding that China was also introducing an ecological monitoring system that went beyond measuring pollution alone.

Ms. PAŞCA PALMER said conservation efforts had failed to put a dent on the loss of species or the degradation of marine ecosystem functions.  The consequences would be severe, particularly for those who relied on the oceans for their livelihood and nutrition.  Noting that adherence to the Convention on Biological Diversity was near-universal, she said Goal 14 represented a critical opportunity to build on political will and experience.  An integrated and holistic approach was a must, however.  She said the world was well on the way to achieving the target of conserving at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, noting that since the Convention came into force in 1993, such areas had increased 10 fold to 5.7 per cent today.  But there remained much to do to improve the management of those areas and to ensure that they were representative of many ocean ecosystems.  In that regard, the Sustainable Ocean Initiative produced by the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity addressed the question of capacity-building, especially for developing countries.  Going forward, she emphasized the critical importance of having clear targets and political commitments, as well as basing actions on a scientific understanding of the ecological and biological value of marine biodiversity.

Ms. SENDASHONGA said that since the 2016 World Conservation Congress, the International Union for Conservation of Nature had included a new membership category for indigenous peoples’ organizations.  More broadly, its structure involved 16,000 experts in six commissions and many of its projects were implemented with local communities.  Sharing lessons learned in working with those communities, she said success was about ensuring the resilience of ecosystems, and, in turn, the communities that depended on them.  The “Mangroves for the Future” project was being carried out in South and South-East Asia across 11 countries by bringing together all stakeholders.  Through a “resilience approach” the project was examining socioecological systems, exploring the dynamics and interactions associated with the ecological system.  “You can’t do that without involving all the stakeholders,” she said, stressing that local communities understood their context best.  Another project called “Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services in Territories of European Overseas” was funded by the European Commission across five regions.  In terms of alternative livelihoods, her organization had learned to take a holistic view of an ecosystem and create a framework of jobs that aligned with the goods and services produced by the marine or coastal ecosystem at hand.  The conditions for equitable benefit sharing included empowering the community with knowledge and establishing good governance.  Projects that allowed all voices to be heard, promoted local ownership and fostered opportunities for collaboration were those that succeeded.

Mr. RICE, describing technical measurement challenges, said “the ocean is not an easy place to sample” to create the iron-cast knowledge that justified management decisions.  There must be a proper forum to translate that knowledge into advice for decision-makers in terms that could be understood.  The conceptual challenges about what constituted progress — about the outcomes to seek, for example, or the costs and benefits involved — could be perceived differently.  While the ocean had been “woefully” under-sampled, there was a huge scientific legacy, with the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) among the vast number of forums created.  If anything, there was a turf war over who had the right to assess what, creating a travesty that allowed people with preconceived ideas of what answers should be to find the data that supported the answers they wanted.  Those challenges must be overcome.  “We need to discuss more”, he said, stressing that focusing on how much of the ocean should be put away in “pristine deposit boxes” of protection was insufficient.  Several of the Sustainable Development Goals would not be achieved without using the ocean as a greater source of wealth.  The issue of measuring progress was an equally great challenge, as costs and benefits were perceived by people with different world views.  In terms of assessment, interest groups — those holding the knowledge and those whose lives would be forever altered by the decisions made — must participate in assessment processes.  The vast knowledge of the ocean was not being used as effectively as it could be and he advocated using it more wisely.

In the ensuing discussion, participants discussed a range of initiatives being undertaken to manage, protect, conserve and restore marine and coastal ecosystems.

HENRY PUNA, Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, said that upon his return from the Conference, legislation would be tabled in his country’s Parliament that would establish 16 per cent of its exclusive economic zone as a marine protected area comprising 324,000 square kilometres in which no industrial activity would be permitted.  The Cook Islands aimed to be a model of sustainability, but its efforts would be in vain if it was left to do it alone, he said, calling upon the international community to do more to control high-seas activities and to meet emissions commitments.  He added that his country supported the immediate creation of a “blue fund” for sustaining conservation efforts.

A representative of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, which served 21 Pacific island countries and territories over an area almost twice the size of the Russian Federation, said its work currently focused on climate change resilience and environmental governance, among other topics.  Noting that the region led the world in marine protected areas and sanctuaries totalling 3 million square kilometres, he emphasized the enormous strain and threat posed by climate change, overexploitation and pollution.  He suggested that, with regards to the environment, the word “pristine” should be removed from the English language.  He added that achieving Goal 14 would require a major ongoing commitment on the part of Pacific Island countries and partners.

The representative of French Polynesia called the ocean a link between people and cultures.  Since 2002, French Polynesia had become one of the world’s largest sanctuaries for marine animals, where all shark species were protected.  The Marquesas Islands had established the first six educational marine areas.  In terms of resource management, French Polynesia had in 1996 stopped selling fishing licenses to foreign fleets to its exclusive economic zone.  Fishing in the maritime area was reserved for Polynesian fishers and its exclusive economic zone would be reclassified as a marine protected area.

The representative of Tonga described lack of financing mechanisms to achieve long-term conservation goals, stressing the need to build the capacity for using financial and management tools.  He saw the dialogue to build a unified path to achieving Goal 14.  In Tonga, conservation efforts had been carried out to address challenges.  It sought to enhance and foster new partnerships to support those efforts, which included a marine protected area as part of the “10 times 20” initiative between Tonga and Italy.

The representative of Monaco said his country had a long regional history in establishing the Pelagos Sanctuary, which today was seeing a new impetus with an agreement signed in April for the protection of marine mammals.  Monaco was focused on creating new marine protected areas to achieve the Aichi Biodiversity Targets; developing regulatory and legal frameworks on national, regional and international levels; supporting scientific studies on the merits of such areas; and strengthening the management and financing for such areas.

ANTÓNIO DA CONCEIÇÃO, Minister for Commerce, Industry and Environment of Timor-Leste, said his country depended on the unique biodiversity of both Asia and Australia.  Although it was a small developing country, it took its responsibilities seriously, as demonstrated in the Coral Triangle Initiative.  Through traditional law, Timor-Leste had created marine protected areas that were co-managed with local communities, thus protecting biodiversity and improving food security while guarding against the effects of climate change.  While Timor-Leste would do its part, it looked to the community of nations for partnerships, he said, adding that even the biggest countries could not go it alone.

The representative of Grenada said that without ocean health, there could be no ocean wealth.  In his country, conservation was mainstreamed into the wider economic strategy, with the private sector playing a key role as demonstrated by an underwater sculpture park described by National Geographic as a wonder of the world.  Emphasizing that Grenada was open to innovative partnerships, he said it had developed investment prospects of bankable projects that were environmentally sustainable.

The representative of France said that, as a sailor, she had never made a voyage without seeing garbage at sea.  While that made her feel responsible, she hoped that an historic moment had come to raise awareness and take collective action.  She added that, since the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris, the substantial role of the oceans in regulating climate was acknowledged.  For that reason, France supported the Oceans and Climate Initiatives Alliance and affirmed that the good health of the oceans depended on implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The representative of the Seychelles addressed the problem of marine plastic pollution, stressing that his country was doing its best to ensure effective solid waste management and take targeted approaches to plastics.  It had banned the import of plastic bags, utensils and other items, and was partnering on another strategy that sought to avoid their design.  To implement such plans, effective partnerships were required.

The representative of the Pacific Community said more ocean data and better communication of ocean science was required for decision-making.  She advocated knowledge- and skills-transfer, under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, as well as funding for adequate monitoring.  Her organization was committed to providing the best scientific and technical advice to Pacific islands and territories so they could make informed decisions.

A representative of the Drammeh Institute, explaining she was a Haitian voodoo priestess, advocated enshrining the eco-theological beliefs of more than 200 million people in Haiti, Cameroon, the United States and Ghana into marine management issues.

The representative of Togo described the creation of the High Council of the Sea, composed of public, private and civil society bodies, which regulated sea and coastal areas, and worked to strengthen regulations related to assessments.

The representative of Sri Lanka explained that coral reefs, mangroves, sand dunes and coastal wetlands played an important role in protecting his country from tidal waves.  Marine protected areas covered 289,000 hectares and there were six marine sanctuaries.  Sri Lanka aimed to increase its marine protected areas by 1,000 square kilometres by 2020.

The representative of Nepal said landlocked countries were catchment areas from where rivers eventually flowed into oceans.  Welcoming the Call of Action that would emerge from the Conference, he said special support must be given to climate-vulnerable countries, both coastal and landlocked, to fight climate change in a smart manner.  It was incumbent upon mankind to manage, protect, conserve and restore marine and coastal ecosystems and Nepal was on board that effort, he said.

Also speaking were Heads of Government, ministers and other senior officials and representatives of Samoa, United Arab Emirates, Sweden, Colombia, Philippines and Canada, as well as of the Holy See.

Also taking the floor were representatives of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Union Nationale des Travailleurs Democrates and the Ocean Sanctuary Alliance.

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