Countries agree on decisive actions to restore ocean health at first Ocean Conference

A 14-point Call for Action was adopted by consensus at the recently concluded UN Ocean Conference, where the participating heads of state and government and senior representatives affirmed a “strong commitment to conserve and sustainably use our oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.”

The 193 member states of the United Nations (UN) unanimously agreed to a set of measures that will start the reversal of the decline of the ocean’s health, at the five-day Ocean Conference held this June. The outcome document, together with more than 1,300 commitments to action, marks a breakthrough in the global approach to the management and conservation of the ocean, says the organisation.

The Ocean Conference, the first UN conference of its kind on the issue, has raised global consciousness of ocean problems ranging from marine pollution to illegal and over fishing; from ocean acidification to lack of high seas governance. By including all stakeholders in the discussions, the Conference produced a comprehensive and actionable range of solutions.

“The Ocean Conference has changed our relationship with the ocean,” said the President of the UN General Assembly Peter Thomson. “Henceforth none can say they were not aware of the harm humanity has done to the ocean’s health. We are now working around the world to restore a relationship of balance and respect towards the ocean.”

Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and Secretary-General of the Ocean Conference, said the Conference marked a major step forward for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Recognising that the wellbeing of present and future generations is inextricably linked to the health and productivity of the ocean, countries collectively agreed in the Call to Action “to act decisively and urgently, convinced that our collective action will make a meaningful difference to our people, to our planet and to our prosperity.” While the ocean partnership dialogues focused on the multiple problems and challenges the ocean is facing, all participants offered solutions and commitments to reverse these challenges.

The Call for Action was formally adopted at the conclusion of the Conference, as well as the reports from the seven partnership dialogues that focused on scaling up solutions, and the voluntary commitments to action. Countries agree to implement long-term and robust strategies to reduce the use of plastics and microplastics, such as plastic bags and single use plastics. They also agreed to develop and implement effective adaptation and mitigation measures that address ocean and coastal acidification, sea-level rise and increase in ocean temperatures, and to target to the other harmful impacts of climate change on the ocean. It also includes measures to protect coastal and blue carbon ecosystems, such as mangroves, tidal marshes, seagrass and coral reefs, and wider interconnected ecosystems, as well as enhancing sustainable fisheries management, including restoring fish stocks in the shortest time feasible at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield. Countries are called upon to decisively prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, and eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

The commitments, in turn, address all the issues needed to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 14 – Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources – and produced significant results.