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Ocean Conference Addresses MPAs, Ocean Acidification

Posted on June 7, 2017

from the International Institute for Sustainable Development’s (IISD’s) daily coverage of the Ocean Conference 5-9 June 2017.


  • On the second day of the UN Ocean Conference, two partnership dialogues took place on: (1) managing, protecting, conserving, and restoring marine and coastal ecosystems; and (2) minimizing and addressing ocean acidification.
  • UNCTAD, FAO and UN Environment announced a voluntary commitment that aims to remove or reduce harmful fisheries subsidies, and additional commitments focused on phasing out single-use plastic.

6 June 2017: UN Member States outlined commitments on increasing marine protected area (MPA) coverage, reducing or banning plastic bags and microplastics, enhancing integrated coastal management, and improving pollution control during the second day of the UN Ocean Conference. The Conference is focusing on efforts to achieve the targets under SDG 14 (life below water) and related SDGs and targets.

The UN Ocean Conference is convening at UN Headquarters in New York, US, from 5-9 June 2017. The second day included a plenary meeting continued from the first day, as well as two partnership dialogues, on ‘Managing, protecting, conserving, and restoring marine and coastal ecosystems’ (Partnership Dialogue 2) and ‘Minimizing and addressing ocean acidification’ (Partnership Dialogue 3).

Partnership Dialogue 2 highlighted the role of marine and coastal ecosystems and MPAs in achieving progress on multiple SDGs. Noting that implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) can inform SDG 14 implementation, CBD Executive Secretary Cristiana Pașca Palmer highlighted opportunities for synergistic implementation, including:

  • expected achievement of Aichi Target 11 (10% of coastal and marine areas conserved through PA systems by 2020);
  • science-based policy making; policy coherence; and engagement of stakeholders, including local communities.

Participants also shared national progress, such as:

  • designation of 80% of Palau’s waters as a no-take zone (Palau);
  • “imminent” designation of the Cook Islands’ entire exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as multiple-use marine park, including 16% as MPAs (Cook Islands);
  • efforts to improve MPA ecological representativity, connectivity and effective management (Sweden); the role of national legislation to implement SDG 14 (Timor-Leste);
  • a blue economy “master plan” that has been translated into a sustainable investment prospectus (Grenada); and
  • progress towards protecting 32% of French marine waters and 55% of mangroves by 2021 (France).

In Partnership Dialogue 3, participants stressed the importance of the Paris Agreement on climate change to mitigate ocean acidification. World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Secretary-General Petteri Taalas explained the link between atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) and ocean acidification. Noting that acidification will continue for at least 60 years even if CO2 emissions decline rapidly, he underlined the need for adaptation. Participants shared commitments to reduce CO2 emissions and implement local adaptation strategies, including the designation of MPAs and support for MPA networks and resilient marine ecosystems, protection of sea cucumbers, which digest CO2, and efforts to improve global ocean acidification monitoring.

The European Investment Bank (EIB) committed to leverage support for climate projects and the development of the blue economy in small island developing States (SIDS) with a US$100 billion investment. Finland announced a joint voluntary commitment with Sweden and Canada on the Arctic MPA network toolbox project to support MPA network development and promote resilience of Arctic marine ecosystems. New Zealand recalled providing NZD1.8 million to its partnership with the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) to foster Pacific islands’ resilience to ocean acidification.

On sustainable trade in fisheries, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and the UN Environment Programme (UN Environment) announced a voluntary commitment that aims to remove or reduce harmful fisheries subsidies, which the UN estimates could amount to US$35 billion. The commitment stresses a “strong correlation with overcapacity and overfishing” and fisheries subsidies, and emphasizes that trade and trade policies can facilitate a transition to sustainable ocean-based economies. The commitment identifies four minimum outcomes, including: provisions for transparent notification of all relevant fisheries subsidies; prohibition of subsidies that contribute to overfishing and overcapacity and those that undermine sustainable development, food and nutritional security; instruments and tools to deter introduction of new harmful subsidies; and special attention and treatment to developing countries, in particular the least developed countries (LDCs) and SIDS. This commitment is one of 855 voluntary commitments listed in the Conference’s Registry of Voluntary Commitments, as of 7 June.

Additional commitments focus on phasing out single-use plastic. According to UN Environment, more than one million people have signed an Avaaz petition to phase out single-use plastic worldwide within the next five years, as part of the Programme’s Clean Seas campaign to end the use of single-use plastic and eliminate microplastics in cosmetics. UNEP Executive Director Erik Solheim noted that 20 countries have committed to reducing their plastic waste.

According to the Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB), some participants in the dialogues reflected on the indivisibility of the SDGs, stressing the interlinkages between actions on oceans and addressing biodiversity loss, climate change or food security. The ENB’s daily report further highlights discussions on availability of resources and “sustainable financing to revive and restore life below water.” [UN Press Release] [UNCTAD Press Release] [UNCTAD/FAO/UNEP Commitment] [UNEP Press Release] [ENB Coverage of UN Ocean Conference, 6 June][ENV Video Summaries from Ocean Conference] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Fisheries Subsidies] [Conference Programme]

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