Oceans and seas is a very important issue for New Zealand and one which we want to see well-reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), ideally as a standalone goal. Oceans are essential for sustainable development. Many of the reasons why are flagged in the Technical Support Team’s useful brief:
The rapid decline in global fish stocks, sea level rise, ocean acidification, increasing demand for space, land-based impacts, and loss of marine biodiversity are threatening these essential services and along with them the health, livelihoods, homes and food security of billions of people. It is critical, therefore, that oceans are given priority attention as we develop the sustainable development goals.
There is a tendency for oceans to be seen as an environmental issue or one that only has relevance for SIDS and coastal states. This significantly diminishes their importance to the planet. While we recognise the specific challenges and opportunities oceans offer to such States, including our own, oceans is a global issue requiring global attention.
At Rio+20 we agreed that SDGs “should address and incorporate in a balanced way all three dimensions of sustainable development”, taking a holistic, integrated approach”. New Zealand believes that oceans encompass all three dimensions:
Capitalising on the potential of oceans provides an important development pathway for millions of people. But it is crucial that States can benefit from the true economic value of their oceans resources.
These points clearly illustrate the importance of oceans to economic, social and environmental development. They also illustrate why healthy, productive, and resilient oceans are relevant for all countries regardless of whether they have a coast.
But what takes oceans from just being important to being a priority issue that warrants inclusion in the SDGs?
Oceans are under considerable strain. As noted earlier, essential services and the ocean’s food supply are threatened by the continued and rapid decline of marine biodiversity caused primarily by overfishing, IUU fishing, pollution including from land-based sources, and climate change. Ocean acidification threatens the survival of some marine organisms, including corals, which are essential for biodiversity, fish stocks, tourism and coastal protection. It also threatens a range of other species including molluscs, bryzoans and seaweeds, with significant implications for our oceans’ biodiversity.
Rising sea levels created by climate change will make life impossible in some SIDS and low-lying regions. Intensive use of oceans and runoff from land-based pollution, particularly in coastal areas, increases risks to human health, for example, from waterborne infectious diseases and chemical pollutants. Like many marine industries, while the tourism sector provides significant employment and economic growth, its continued viability is inextricably linked to the health of the oceans and the species they support. Coral reef tourism is a perfect example of a tourism sector that is significantly threatened by continual decline in ocean health. In addition to these strains, the capacity for many developing States to address these issues and to capitalise from the potential of their oceans resources is limited.
We have not been blind to these problems: in The Future We Want we acknowledged the human impact on oceans and the importance of building the capacity of developing countries to be able to benefit from the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans. But we have reached a critical juncture where concerted collective action is necessary.
When we consider these commitments, some may ask why we need to address the oceans in the SDG process. In a crowded field of competing issues, what is the value-added of having an oceans SDG. It is this question that I wish to speak to today.
The overarching answer links to the truly critical nature of oceans to the health of our planet and our livelihoods. When considered in this light it is hard to imagine how member States could “map” the next 15 years of development priorities and exclude oceans and seas.
However putting aside that larger picture, there are also three other, relatively simple, reasons why for New Zealand considers having an oceans SDG would add value to existing commitments.
The co-chairs have stressed the need not just to identify potential goals but also possible targets/actions that would contribute to their achievement in the next 15 years. There are many existing targets relevant to oceans agreed in other processes but not achieved for some reason. One option is to build on those. The TST paper highlighted some key areas:
New Zealand, as a strong supporter of an ambituous outcome for oceans, stands ready to work with others during the next phase of the SDG process on an oceans goal that builds on the outcomes in The Future We Want.
There is really only one ocean: something that happens in one part of the world affects oceans elsewhere. We all therefore have a stake in ensuring that the world’s oceans deliver on their potential for sustainable development. New Zealand considers that oceans should be regarded as a priority issue and would be best addressed through a standalone goal.