The  United  Nations  Sustainable  Development  Summit  held  on  25  September  2015  formally adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with 169 targets. The agreement by all 193 member   countries   of   the   UN   General   Assembly   to   approve   the   final   document   titled ‘Transforming  our  world:  the  2030  Agenda  for  Sustainable  Development’  is  unique  as  it applies to all countries. These goals and targets are ambitious, indivisible and interlinked and focus   on   all   three   dimensions   of   sustainable   development    –   economic,   social   and environmental.

SDG for Oceans

“Conserve   and   sustainably   use   the   oceans,   seas   and   marine   resources   for   sustainable development” has been accepted  as  SDG  14  and  have  ten clearly identified  targets. The  sub- goals of this SDG are briefly enumerated below:

 14.1  By  2025,  prevent  and  significantly  reduce  marine  pollution  of  all  kinds,  in particular   from   land-based   activities,   including   marine   debris   and   nutrient pollution.

 14.2 By 2020, sustainably manage and protect  marine and  coastal  ecosystems  to avoid significant adverse impacts, including by strengthening their resilience, and take  action  for  their  restoration  in  order  to  achieve  healthy  and  productive oceans.

 14.3  Minimize  and  address  the  impacts  of  ocean  acidification,  including  through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels.

 14.4   By   2020,   effectively   regulate   harvesting   and   end   overfishing,   illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement  science-  based  management  plans,  in  order  to  restore  fish  stocks  in the shortest time feasible.

 14.5 By 2020, conserve at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, consistent with national and international law.

 14.6  By  2020,  prohibit  certain  forms  of  fisheries  subsidies  which  contribute  to overcapacity and overfishing, eliminate subsidies that contribute to IUU fishing and refrain from introducing new such subsidies.

 14.7  By  2030,  increase  the  economic  benefits  to  Small  Island  Developing  States (SIDS) and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) from the sustainable use of marine resources,  including  through  sustainable  management  of  fisheries,  aquaculture and tourism.

 14.a Increase scientific knowledge, develop research capacity and transfer marine technology, in order to improve ocean health and to enhance the contribution of marine  biodiversity  to  the  development  of  developing  countries,  in  particular SIDS and LDCs.

 14.b  Provide  access  for  small-scale  artisanal  fishers  to  marine  resources  and markets.

 14.c   Enhance the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources by implementing international law as reflected in UNCLOS.

While the objectives are unambiguous and time bound, the indicators for measuring specific targets and the mechanisms for monitoring the progress in attaining the SDGs are currently being evolved.


Considering that oceans for long have been neglected and abused, there are many challenges facing  the  international  community  in  attaining  SDG  14.  The  first  challenge  is  the  issue  of ocean governance at ‘high seas’. It is a matter of concern that the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) does not spell out the responsibility of nation states or any other agency  for  protection  of  biodiversity  in  ‘Areas  Beyond  National  Jurisdiction’.  The  existing governance mechanisms and their implementation at the ‘high seas’ are sectoral based and are compartmentalized into fishing, shipping and sea bed mining. This leaves large gaps in ocean governance due to presence of a multitude of agencies with overlapping areas of responsibility. Although  countries  have  agreed  to  progress  with  further  negotiations  on  an  internationally binding  instrument  for  protection  of  Biological  Biodiversity  Beyond  National  Jurisdiction (BBNJ) under the UNCLOS, the legally binding treaty is still a couple of years away.

Secondly, there are no centralized monitoring agencies and international organizations such as the    United    Nations    Environment    Programme    (UNEP)    and    International    Maritime Organisation (IMO) rely on different countries for monitoring and implementation of laws in the EEZ and on the ‘high seas’.   In the absence of political will, poor infrastructure and weak institutions there is inconsistent and poor enforcement of the existing laws on conservation of the oceans. This overall lack of capability is a major challenge for enforcement of SDG 14 for a large number of countries.

Thirdly,  fragmented  ocean  governance  also  leads  to  lack  of  accountability  amongst  national and international agencies. Conflicting interests, lack of coordination and cooperation amongst different government agencies and their counterparts in other countries also add to the list of challenges. While action to prevent pollution from industrial activities on land and overflow of untreated waste into sea is a matter of stricter environmental compliance at the local level, the issue  of  limiting  Green     House  Gases  (GHG)  in  the  atmosphere  calls  for  global  action. Surmounting  these  challenges  require  a  major  shift  in  the  approach  and  attitude  of  the governments.

The Need for Collective Action

Marine  pollution,  dwindling  fish  stocks,  ocean  acidification  and  other  degradation  are  all trans-boundary  issues  which  demand  collective  action.  The  ocean  is  also  a  public  good  and hence  all  countries  are  obliged  to  protect  the  oceans.  It  is  in  this  spirit  that  all  governments have  reached  a  universal  agreement  and  are  signatories  to  SDG  14  as  part  of  the  global development  agenda.  However,  it  must  be  remembered  that  SDGs  are  non-binding  and voluntary in nature and considering that countries are at various stages of development, it is important  that  adequate  support  is  provided  to  countries  by  providing  finance,  transfer  of technology, development of scientific knowhow, capacity building and sharing of best practices for  action  on  SDG  14.  A  joint  call  for  action  at  the  global  and  regional  level  led  by  existing international organizations such as the IMO, or other regional groupings such as the SAARC, BIMSTEC, APEC, ASEAN, IORA etc. may give impetus to the push for collective action on SDG Civil society has an important role to play along with NGOs in implementing the SDGs. Global Oceans Commission1, Oceans Action Network2, Oceans Sanctuary Alliance3, and Global Oceans Forum4  are few of the agencies which are playing an active role in the restoration of oceans and the technical expertise of these organisations can be tapped for developing specific programs for  implementing,  monitoring  and  reporting  on  SDG  14.  Think  tanks  such  as  National Maritime  Foundation  along  with  its  regional  chapters  at  Chennai  and  Vishakhapatnam  can also  play  an  important  role  in  raising  the  awareness  on  SDG  14  and  for  promoting  healthy oceans  around  the  Indian  Ocean  while  collaborating  with  other  maritime  think  tanks  in different countries.

Newer organisations such as the ‘Global Partnerships for Oceans’ (GPO), which is supported by the World Bank, can  also become  a lead  international  agency to coordinate global action for implementing   SDG   14.   The   GPO   has   over   150   partners   representing    governments, international  organizations,  civil  society  groups,  and  the  private  sector  which  addresses  the threats  to  the  health,  productivity  and  resilience  of   the  ocean   by  tackling  problems  of overfishing,  pollution,  and  habitat  loss5.    The  global  network  also  mobilizes  finance  and knowledge  to  implement  solutions  for  the  benefit  of  communities  in  pursuit  of  sustainable development of the oceans.

From Collective to Multi-Level Action

Although  the  SDGs  are  global,  their  implementation  has  to  be  undertaken  at  the  regional, national  and  sub-national  level.  At  the  regional  level,  cross-boundary  cooperation  is  vital  as seas and oceans transcend political boundaries. The Regional Seas Programme (RSP) is a good example of what can be achieved at a regional level. The programme under the guidance of the UNEP  aims  to  reverse  the  degradation  of  the  world’s  oceans  and  coastal  areas  through  the sustainable  management  and  use  of  the  marine  and  coastal  environment6.   The  programme engages neighbouring countries in a comprehensive manner by undertaking specific actions to protect the marine environment through a regional convention and associated protocols. These are  backed  by  a  strong  legal  framework  and  are  coordinated  and  implemented  by  member countries  at  the  regional  level.  There  are  currently  13  such  RSPs  that  are  administered  in different  parts  of  the  world  including  the  South  Asian  Seas  Action  Plan  (SASAP).  The overarching  program  focuses  on  coastal  management,  oil-spill  contingency  planning,  human resource  development  and  the  environmental  effects  of  land-based  activities  on  oceans. Although   there   is   no   regional   convention,   the   SASAP   draws   from   the   existing   global environmental  and  maritime  conventions  and  contributes  to  regional  action  for  maritime conservation.

At the national level, countries need to draw out their action plans for achieving the sub-targets and need to assign responsibilities to relevant agencies for achieving results in a time bound manner. The actions under the RSP and the legal framework for its implementation may serve as  an  example  for  the  governments  which  can  adapt  the  program  to  suit  the  respective domestic institutions and existing national laws.

At the sub-national level, the detailed plans need to be drawn and implemented by respective states  or  agencies  which  can  be  undertaken  under  the  program.  These  actions  have  to  be coordinated   centrally   at   the   national   level   by   a   dedicated   organization.   Financing   for undertaking  the  projects,  technical  knowhow  and  scientific  expertise  needs  to  be  provided centrally   to   these   agencies   and   clear   accountability   needs   to   be   established   before commencement of the program.  Overseas Development Assistance (ODA), domestic financing through national action plan on climate change and development of other innovative ways to tap  into  international  public  and  private  financing  mechanisms  is  also  required  to  ensure  a steady supply of funds for undertaking the activities under the program.

Success Stories

Integrated  Coastal  Zone  Management  (ICZM)  is  a  good  example  of  coordinating  efforts  for coastal and marine management and has been successfully implemented in the Mediterranean, Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Apart from conserving the oceans, it addresses the ‘stressors’ on oceans  and  targets  human  activity  in  coastal  areas.  The  plan  includes  safeguarding  marine protected  areas,  implementing  development  activities  that  takes  land-sea  interactions  into account, conduct  of  Environmental  Impact  Assessments (EAI)  for coastal  projects, measures for pollution control based on a monitoring and assessment programme which are supported by  legislation,  public  education  and  the  involvement  of  coastal  communities.    These  cross- sectoral  linkages  at  the  national  as  well  as  at  the  local  level  are  an  important  reason  for  the success of the program.

The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF & CC), Government of India has initiated the Integrated Coastal Zone Management Project in three states of West Bengal, Orissa  and  Gujarat.  The  World  Bank  assisted  project  which  was  approved  in  2010,  has  a budget   outlay   of   Rs.1155.63   crores   (US$262   million)   and   includes   a   National   Coastal Management   Programme.   Under   the   project,   a   National   Centre   for   Sustainable   Coastal Management  (NCSCM)  has  been  established  in  the  Anna  University,  Chennai  and  it  will  be linked to eleven collaborating regional centers in each of the coastal States/Union territories. Further,  the  Society  of  Integrated  Coastal  Management  (SICOM)  has  been  set  up  for  the implementation of the project. At the national level, the MoEF & CC is the lead agency and the Departments  of  Forests  and  Environment  (DoFE)  are  partners  at  the  state  level.    National Project Management Units (NPMUs) and State Project Management Units (SPMUs) have also been   set   up   as   registered   societies   to   manage   the   project   and   to   achieve   the   Project Development  Objectives  (PDOs).  These  entities  coordinate  project  activities  on  a  full-time basis and directly execute some of the relevant project’s sub components. In addition, Steering Committees  (SCs)  at  the  national  and  the  state  levels  have  been  set  up  for  inter-sectoral coordination.7


Any  effort  for  conservation  and  sustainable  use  of  the  oceans  demands  universal  action. Similar to the vexing issue of climate change, global governance of oceans is challenging and requires  that  all  parties  agree  to  a  common  framework  for  implementation  and  monitoring. International cooperation is inbuilt in the SDGs framework, given that the goals are universal and have been  arrived  at  by  a rigorous intergovernmental  process. These  also promise   long term  benefits  to  all  countries.  The  objectives  having  been  defined  and  its  implementation agreed  to  in  a  time  bound  manner,  the  focus  must  now  shift  to  the  processes  for  the implementation  and  monitoring  to  achieve  the  targets.  Although  there  are  many  success stories  which  could  serve  as  models  for  the  implementation  of  SDG  14  for  oceans,  shared responsibility, global commitments, collective and multi-level actions which are built on broad, multi-stakeholder  participation  and  accountability  are  essential  for  achieving  the  SDG  for oceans.


About the Author

Kapil  Narula  is  a  Research  Fellow,  National  Maritime  Foundation,  New  Delhi.  The  views expressed are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the NMF, the Indian Navy or the Government of India. He can be reached at


1  Global Ocean Commission. Available at: [Accessed 18 Nov. 2015].

2  Clinton Foundation. Action Network – Oceans Action Network. Available at: [Accessed 18 Nov. 2015].

3  Ocean Sanctuary Alliance. Available at: [Accessed 18 Nov. 2015].

4  Global Ocean Forum. Available at: [Accessed 18 Nov. 2015].

5  World Bank. Global Partnership for Oceans (GPO). Available at: [Accessed 20 Nov. 2015].

6  United Nations Environment Programme. UNEP :: Regional Seas Programme. Available at: [Accessed 20 Nov. 2015].

7  National Project Management Unit of India. SICOM. Sicom – About Us. Available at: [Accessed 24 Nov. 2015].


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