Reform, Revolutionize and Reverse: Messages from the 1st Ocean Conference

Photo credit: UNDP Grenada

By Rosaly Byrd and Brenda Hada

Rio de Janeiro and New York City, 14 June 2016 –The United Nations hosted the first global conference dedicated to the oceans in New York City. The Ocean Conference was held on 5-9 June and focused on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to the oceans, especially the SDG # 14: Life below Water. The SDGs represent a global action plan to accelerate the transition towards sustainable development, a legacy of the Rio+ 20 Conference held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2012.

Last week’s Ocean Conference has successfully led to 1328 commitments by national governments, private sector and the United Nations around the preservation of our oceans.

Oceans cover more than 70% of the planet and over half of the world’s population live within 60 km of the coast. The UNDP RIO+ Centre took the historic opportunity presented by the first-ever conference dedicated to oceans to organize the global launch of the documentary film ‘Urban Bay’, produced and directed by Brazilian marine biologist Ricardo Gomes. UNDP’s newest film showcases the rich marine life of one of most famous urban bays on Earth, Rio’s Guanabara Bay, as a strong call-to-action for citizens, governments, civil society organizations and the private sector. The global première of 65-documentary film was held at the Japan Society as an official event of the UN Ocean Conference as well as at Columbia University, in an event open to the public and the academic community. The film was also exhibited during a full day at the Ocean Lab, which was held at the UN Secretariat Building.

During the global première of “Urban Bay” at the Ocean Conference, UNDP’s Assistant Administrator and Director of the Bureau for Policy and Programme Support, Magdy Martínez-Solimán explained the key role of oceans in the quest for sustainable development. Mr. Martínez-Solimán explained that achieving the SDGs by the 2030 deadline will require our policies and practice to be either reformed, revolutionized or reversed. UNDP’s Assistant Administrator pointed out that “protecting marine environments in one of five key targets in the global agenda that fall into the urgent reversal category together with combating climate change, reducing waste, reducing inequality and limiting slum populations”.

UNDP’s statement at the global launch of 'Urban Bay' has also called our attention to some key figures that showcase the need of immediate action to reverse the deterioration of our oceans. Some highlights are reproduced below:

  • From fisheries to shipping to tourism, oceans represent some $3-6 trillion per year of economic output.
  • About 30% of global fish stocks are overexploited and 60% fully exploited, leading to annual global economic losses of $83 billion.
  • Under a business as usual scenario of continued carbon emissions, oceans will continue to acidify and annual costs linked to this acidification could rise to $1.2 trillion per year.

Let's not forget that our oceans provide drinking water through the cycle of evaporation, snow and rain; support jobs and economic growth; provide energy and transport; and contain important ecosystems and biodiversity;

Without healthy oceans, we won’t achieve the Sustainable Development Goals – the ambitious global goals to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for everyone by 2030.

It’s so urgent that the world set even tighter deadlines for many of the SDGs relating to oceans. We have just three years to meet four of the key ocean-related targets, including ending overfishing and conserving coastal and marine areas.

What UNDP is doing: from reducing the risks from marine invasive species, to creating marine protected areas in Belize, and saving fishing livelihoods in India, UN Development is tackling many urgent threats to our oceans. Watch the trailer of “Urban Bay” film and the teaser video on ocean acidification: