‘LIFE BELOW WATER’: AN AGENDA FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT OF THE OCEANS

The  world  has  moved  on  from  Millennium  Development  Goals  (MDGs)  to  a  new  era where   the   ‘2030   Agenda   for   Sustainable   Development’   will   now   drive   global development.  The  world  leaders  finally  adopted a  set  of  17  Sustainable  Development Goals (SDGs) with 169 targets at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit on  25  September  2015.    In  these  goals  and  targets,  they  have  set  out  a  supremely ambitious  and  transformational  vision  –  to  achieve  sustainable  development  in  three dimensions  –  economic,  social  and  environmental  –  in  a  balanced  and  integrated manner.

These  ‘global  goals’  build  on  the  eight  MDGs  which  were  adopted  in  2000  and were  to  be  achieved  by  2015.  Although  large  strides  and  progress  was  made  towards achieving  the  MDGs,  these  goals  remained  unfulfilled.  Nevertheless  the  process  of building  consensus  was  validated  and  a  common  agenda  agreed  by  all  nations  was evolved.  The  recently  adopted  goals  and  targets  take  this  effort  forward  and  are  the result  of  over  two  years  of  intensive  public  consultation  and  engagement  with  civil society and other stakeholders around the world. This was made possible by a series of Open  Working  Group  on  SDGs  coordinated  by  UN  General  Assembly  and  by  the Secretary-  General  United  Nations,  who  undertook  a  parallel  discussion  on  the  ‘Post-2015 Development Agenda’. It is universally agreed that these global goals are expected to shape policy worldwide for next 15 years till 2030 and would go much further than the MDGs, as they encompass a broader sustainability agenda.

Goal 14, represented as ‘Life Below Water’ states, “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas  and  marine resources  for sustainable development” and is one of  the adopted goals with 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.

As   seen   from   the   sub-goals,   the   agenda   of   the   SDG   14   for   oceans   is unprecedented in scope and significance, is integrated and indivisible and balances the three  dimensions  of  sustainable  development.  This  universal  goal  and  targets  which involve the entire world are accepted and applicable to all 193 member states of the UN, developed  and  developing  countries  alike.  However,  it  takes  into  account  different national  realities,  capacities  and  levels  of  development  and  respects  national  policies and priorities.

The  SDG  for  the  oceans  provide  unambiguous  targets  and  is  supported  by  a robust and universally agreed framework. While framing of goals has been completed, SDG  14  has  to  be  backed  by  a  set  of  measurable  indicators,  for  what  cannot  be measured,  cannot  be  achieved.  Some  work  in  this  direction  is  ongoing  and  hopefully measurable  indicators  will  be  adopted  soon.  This  would  further  entail  investment  in systems  and  procedures  to  implement  and  support  regular  and  appropriate  collection and recording of data. Secondly, implementing SDG 14 requires a strong commitment from  all  countries.  This  may  not  be  possible  due  to  competing  goals  and  limited resources available with developing and  LDC  countries. They countries may choose to divert funds to meet basic and critical necessities such as food, water and energy which affect day to day life and are of immediate concern. The third challenge is that with 169 targets,  the  full  implementation  of  the  SDGs  might  not  be  possible  and  countries  will prioritise   these   goals   and   sub-goals.   Fourthly,   there   are   issues   related   to   weak institutions, gaps in legal framework, poor ocean governance due to lack of capability, presence  of  a  multitude  of  agencies  with  overlapping  areas  of  responsibility,  lack  of coordination  and  non-existent  enforcement  capability.  Surmounting  these  challenges require a major shift in the approach and attitude of the governments. Finally, efficient management  of  the  program  will  be  the  key  to  achieving  SDG  14.  This  may  require setting  up  of  specialized  agencies  with  dedicated  funding  at  the  local,  regional  and federal level.

Be  that  as  it  may,  an  agreement  on  global  goals  is  no  mean  task.  The  fact  that healthy  oceans  and  marine  resources  have  figured  in  the  SDGs  is  indicative  of  the importance   which   the   international   scientific   community   and   policy   makers   have attached to the oceans. However, identification of the goals is just the beginning and a lot  remains  to  be  done  to  fulfill  the  targets  of  SDG  14.  This  would  require  vision, commitment, sustained effort and constant monitoring. Finally, a sustainable future for this planet is what our children deserve and one must spare no effort in realising this dream.

 

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