24 April 2018 - The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) has published a summary and an analysis of the voluntary commitments made in support of the UN Ocean Conference and achievement of SDG 14 on life below water. The commitments covered all SDG 14 targets, with most relating to more than one. The most frequently addressed target was 14.2 (sustainable management and protection of marine and coastal ecosystems), followed by target 14.1 (preventing and reducing marine pollution by 2025). By the text, a majority of the commitments were registered by governments, followed by NGOs and UN entities, with academia, the scientific community and philanthropic organizations registering the fewest commitments.
The high-level event titled, ‘UN Conference to Support the Implementation of SDG 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development’ (the Ocean Conference), convened at UN Headquarters in New York, US, from 5-9 June 2017. As part of the outcomes of the Conference, stakeholders registered voluntary commitments for implementation of SDG 14. To date, 1,406 have been logged, and the registration continues. The summary cautions that a number of deliverables pre-date the Ocean Conference, often by many years, indicating ongoing projects.
In analyzing the voluntary commitments geographically, the publication finds that overall, voluntary commitments had good global coverage, spanning most countries and including almost all countries with access to the ocean. They covered all ocean basins, with most commitments relating to the North Atlantic, South Pacific and Indian Ocean. Regions contributing the largest number of voluntary commitments were Western Europe, Central America, North America and Oceania. The text notes that developed regions with high GDPs made commitments, but many of these focused on activities within their own regions. UN entities provided commitments covering the largest number of countries and global contributions, or contributions not targeting specific countries.
The authors mention that using the best, currently available data, a total of 541 individual commitments include the provision of financial resources, with the total financing amounting to approximately US$25.5 billion. In addition, almost all the commitments include in-kind funding as well as staff and technical expertise.
The voluntary commitments will contribute, when achieved, an additional 2.85% to the global coverage of marine protected areas (MPAs). The increase in protected areas will add to the MPAs present today, covering 6.35% of the ocean. These actions will contribute to the achievement of target 14.5, and, together with the already proposed but unimplemented MPAs (about 1.3% coverage according to the World Database on Protected Areas), will help reach the 10% target, with approximately 10.3% attained by 2020.
The report also offers an analysis of how the voluntary commitments may contribute to the attainment of other SDGs. It shows close linkages between SDG 14 and SDG 13 on climate action, SDG 12 on responsible consumption and production, and SDG 2 on zero hunger. Voluntary commitments on SDG 14 were most often linked (by a count) to SDG 13 on climate action.
The report also reveals a number of gaps. On targets and priority issues within those targets, the publication notes that more attention needs to be paid to both the politically sensitive topic of fisheries subsidies and the issues impacting small scale and artisanal fishers. In addition, answering the many open scientific questions on ocean acidification should also be made an urgent priority. Other issues, such as marine biotechnology and innovative ocean technologies and engineering solutions, such as renewable ocean energy, the text observes, could also benefit from further attention. While there were no glaring geographical gaps, the authors mention that some adjustments might be necessary to ensure that efforts to increase scientific knowledge, capacity building, and technology transfer (target 14.a) focus on those regions and countries that need it most. This is also the case, the text underlines, for capacity building relating to ocean acidification research (target 14.3).
Noting the large number of commitments and the variety of the types of information submitted when registering them, the publication reports that some aspects of successful follow-up should include:
- a framework, such a web-based registry, to review commitments and incorporate progress reports to assess individual and collective progress in a public follow-up;
- defined methods, data and indicators to support follow-up;
- regular reporting by commitment makers in a manner that accounts for diversity between commitments, while including common elements that allow progress to be summarized across targets and SDG 14 as a whole;
- and maintaining momentum through face-to-face meetings, possibly at the margins of oceans-related conferences.
As new commitments are continuously registered, the authors mention that this analysis will be periodically updated. They further note that the Ocean Conference voluntary commitments should be analyzed in relationship to other similar commitments, such as those registered during the ‘Our Ocean’ Conferences or those found in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) related to the Paris Agreement as well as National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs). They recommend a study that looks in detail into the collective impact of all ocean relevant commitments.
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