Ocean Conference Officials Call for Focus on Action

2 February 2017: In briefings for Member States and civil society, the co-facilitators and co-hosts of the UN Ocean Conference emphasized the potential contributions of Sustainable Development Goal 14 to the overall 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and called for a focus on solutions, actions and concrete recommendations.

The UN Ocean Conference, or high-level UN Conference to Support the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development, will take place from 5-9 June 2017, in New York, US, on the theme of ‘Our oceans, our future: Partnering for the implementation of SDG 14’ (life below water). Addressing civil society in a briefing on 2 February 2017, Burhan Gafoor, Permanent Representative of Singapore and co-facilitator for the preparatory process, said the 2030 Agenda must be seen as an integrated whole, and that ensuring the implementation of SDG 14 will make a contribution to the entire agenda.

Before the Conference in June, a preparatory meeting will convene from 15-16 February 2017, in New York, US. The programme for the two-day meeting was issued on 24 January. The meeting will include a discussion of the themes for the partnership dialogues, building on suggestions contained in the background note of the UN Secretary-General. Gafoor cautioned against extensive discussions on the themes, noting that the preparatory meeting should mark “the start of the thematic discussions, not the conclusion of them.”

The other major component of the preparatory meeting is to discuss the elements of the ‘Call for Action’ that will result from the Conference. Gafoor said this document should be uplifting and inspiring, not bureaucratic, stressing that it is a “call for action, not a call for rhetoric.” He asked for action-oriented recommendations from stakeholders on what the UN system, governments and UN stakeholders must do to implement SDG 14. Following the preparatory meeting, a zero draft will be prepared, and consultations will take place beginning in March. He said the consultations must conclude by May.

Gafoor also emphasized the need to engage with all stakeholders, saying that in order to create an intergovernmental outcome on “such a major enterprise as sustainable development” requires the input, participation and knowledge of all stakeholders.” He said the co-facilitators’ “doors are always open,” and they are committed to listening to stakeholders just as they listen to government delegations.

On behalf of the Government of Sweden, one of the Conference co-hosts along with Fiji, Cecilia Vaverka said the Conference should focus on solutions, actions and practical recommendations, and that this requires stakeholder engagement and participation both at the Conference and during the preparatory process. She reported that an online platform for voluntary commitments will be launched on 15 February, at a side event of the preparatory meeting. She said commitments to support SDG 14 implementation can be brought forward either by single entities or by partnerships.

In a briefing for Member States on 1 February, Álvaro Mendonça e Moura, Permanent Representative of Portugal and co-facilitator for the preparatory process, said the process leading to the Ocean Conference “must be firmly grounded in the 2030 Agenda.” It also, he said, must be inclusive and transparent in its methods “while mobilizing and inspiring in its purpose,” which is to rally the international community around implementing SDG 14, in order to guarantee a healthier and more resilient ocean for present and future generations.

Miguel de Serpa Soares, Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and UN Legal Counsel, Special Advisor to the Co-Presidents on oceans and legal matters, added that Goal 14 provides a road map for action through its ten targets, and that the current challenge is to move from words to action. The Background Note outlines opportunities for and challenges to achieving each target, he said, and also highlights potential sources of financing and other means of implementation, including the important role of partnerships. Serpa Soares also said that Goal 14 depends on the progress of other goals, including those that address food security (SDG 2) and combatting the impacts of climate change (SDG 13). The UN Conference is our opportunity to act before damage to the oceans and seas becomes irreversible, he concluded.

Also highlighting interlinkages, Juwang Zhu, Director of the Division for Sustainable Development of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), on behalf of Wu Hongbo, Secretary-General of the Conference, said the targets within SDG 14 are closely related to each other, and that achievement of one will boost the others, while failure on one undermines the rest. He said the themes of the partnership dialogues for the Conference suggest that the targets are addressed in relation to one another, rather than in silos.

Gafoor stressed the co-facilitators’ intention to adhere to the modalities resolution (70/303), and said intergovernmental consultations are for UN Member States, UN specialized agencies, and Parties to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, while other stakeholders will participate and engage per the modalities resolution. Fiji, co-president of the Conference along with Sweden, said Member States have been invited to contribute to the trust fund to facilitate developing countries’ participation in the Conference process. Maldives, for the Alliance of Small Island States, also encouraged contributions to the trust fund.


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