The UN Ocean Conference in support of Sustainable Development Goal 14 on the protection of the oceans came to a close with the adoption of a ‘Call for Action’ and over 1300 volutary commitments towards ocean conservation. For the first time ever, the UN devoted an entire week to the oceans, raising awareness at the highest political level about the importance of the oceans to human survival, and creating the overwhelming sentiment amongst about 4000 participants of a collective movement for the oceans.

The Call for Action was unanimously approved by all 193 UN member nations, although Egypt and Russia dissociated their governments from specific provisions, and the United States rejected its support for the Paris agreement to tackle climate change. The call, while not legally binding,  recognises the critical importance of the oceans for the future of the planet, acknowledges the serious threats to the ocean from overexploitation, pollution and climate change and the need for much greater ambition to tackle these threat in order to achieve the agreed global sustainable development goals.  It calls on stakeholders to take a series of urgent actions addressing climate change mitigation and adaptation, marine pollution with specific attention for marine litter (plastics), illegal and over fishing, protection through marine protected areas, and other issues.

The conference also adopted the reports from seven ‘partnership dialogues’ that focused on scaling up solutions, and the voluntary commitments to action.

Throughout the week many speakers, starting with the co-president Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden Isabella Lövin from Sweden, highlighted that the oceans cover three quarters of our planet, supply nearly half the oxygen we breathe, absorb over a quarter of the carbon dioxide we produce, plays a vital role in the water cycle and climate system, and is an important source of our planet’s biodiversity.  During the celebration of World Ocean Day on 8 June, Richard Branson, Silvia Earle, Fabian Cousteau and many other high profile champions of the ocean reminded the participants of the need  for urgent action going beyond business as usual, even going beyond the actions under Sustainable Development Goal 14. That celebration, as well as the opening of the Conference started with traditional Pacific island dances and songs, emphasising the importance of the ocean for the future of Small Island Development States and the important role these countries had in the conference, as small islands but large ocean nations.

Seas At Risk was active at the conference with the co-organisation of a side event on solutions to marine litter, the submission of three voluntary commitments on advocacy for healthy oceans and productive ecosystems,  work towards an end to disposable, single-use plastic products   and awareness raising about sustainable alternatives to deep-sea mining, and the delivery of a joint statement on behalf of 39 organisations  on alternatives to deep-sea mining.

The conference brought the oceans high on  the political agenda. Now it is time to get on with the implementation of all agreed actions and commitments, high ambition is urgently needed. The next push for futher action and implementation is the ‘Our Ocean Conference’ 5-6 October in Malta.  And in 2020 Seas At Risk will take stock of the results when Portugal and Kenya will host the next UN Ocean Conference.

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