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Symposium 2013

Proposal - Ensure sustainable development for oceans and coasts

The Challenge

The significance of our oceans for human life, the world’s climate and biodiversity is immense. Oceans cover more than 71 per cent of the planet’s surface, provide 97 per cent of its water supply, ...

The significance of our oceans for human life, the world’s climate and biodiversity is immense. Oceans cover more than 71 per cent of the planet’s surface, provide 97 per cent of its water supply, and their yet widely unknown biodiversity is unparalleled. They provide jobs and growth, food, energy, and raw materials, and 70 per cent of global trade is handled by ships. Oceans thereby secure the livelihoods of millions of people, especially in coastal regions. But these livelihoods are increasingly endangered by the effects of global warming, by the unrestricted exploitation of the oceans and by the ecological damage the oceans are suffering from overfishing, pollution and noise.

The oceans are our most diverse and important ecosystems, covering more than 70 percent of our planet’s surface. The oceans are essential for supporting life on earth and contribute to global and regional elemental cycling. They regulate our climate and thus facilitate the formation of habitats that allowed humans to thrive and develop our current societies. The oceans also provide us with natural resources such as food, raw materials, medical substances, and energy. Moreover, they are essential for international trade, and for recreational and cultural activities.

However, marine and coastal ecosystems are subject to increasing pressures caused by free access to and availability of ocean resources and services, together with human development. The resulting pressures range from overfishing and reckless resource extraction to various channels of careless pollution. Irrespective of these threats, the mitigation of marine environmental problems and approaches to sustainable use and development of marine resources still have a very low priority in many states. There is limited but quickly growing awareness of the life-supporting role of the oceans and the associated need for concentrating on ocean affairs in the context of overall economic and human development.

International cooperation and negotiations are required to protect the marine environment and to ensure that marine resources are used in a way that the needs of future generations will still be met. To support this process we propose the creation of a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) for oceans and coasts. The definition of an SDG for oceans and coasts (SDG Oceans and Coasts), the formulation of a set of specific targets and the development of an underlying indicator set to measure the achievement of these objectives are essential elements of a prudent ocean management strategy.

The definition of an SDG Oceans and Coasts should take place in accordance with the process launched by the United Nations to develop a set of SDGs. These SDGs will build upon the Millennium Development Goals and replace them by 2015. So far, the oceans are not explicitly mentioned in the Millennium Development Goals although ensuring environmental sustainability is one of the eight goals. We propose to account for the importance of coastal and marine ecosystems by explicitly incorporating them in the new SDGs.

The primary objectives of the proposed SDG Oceans and Coasts should be: i) ensure the basic life-sustaining and regulating functions of the oceans (oxygen production, key processes in the climate system, and in the hydrological cycle), ii) ensure a healthy and productive marine environment to sustain all provisioning and non-provisioning (i.e. cultural) services of oceans and coasts, iii) build resilient coastal communities through mitigation and adaptation strategies, innovation, and sustainable development by sharing benefits and responsibilities, and iv) engage in integrated and multi-level ocean governance. Importantly, both the SDG and the corresponding indicator set should cover the coasts, the exclusive economic zones (EEZs), and the high seas.

Furthermore, an SDG Oceans and Coasts should reflect the ecosystem approach and make reference to the polluter pays principle. The ecosystem approach, adopted as the primary framework for action under the Convention on Biological Diversity, aims at managing the ecological system as a whole by integrating land, water, and living resources. It promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way and incorporates the precautionary principle by urging stakeholders, especially states, to take action even under conditions of scientific uncertainty.

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