by Dr. Motseki Hlatshwayo
The Ocean Conference, currently being held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, USA, runs Monday 06 to Friday 09 June 2017, and focuses on the targets outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by the Governments in 2015. In particular, among the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Goal 14 highlights the need to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources to benefit present and future generations. The main areas of work at The Ocean Conference will be a political call to action, a segment on partnership dialogues and voluntary commitments. Over 800 voluntary commitments were already registered by start of business on Monday 5th June. One such is the SADC voluntary commitment to “establish and strengthen existing regional fisheries monitoring control and surveillance (MCS) mechanisms in the Eastern Africa, Southern Africa and Indian Ocean (EA-SA-IO) region,” which is based on the SADC Protocol on Fisheries and its annex, Statement of Commitment to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing by SADC Ministers responsible for Fisheries.
The conference is attended by thousands of participants, including Heads of State and Government, Ministers and senior government officials, representatives of intergovernmental organizations, civil society representatives, business people, scientists, actors as well as ocean and marine life advocates.
Opening a “game changing” conference on Monday 5 June 2017, the UN officials urged coordinated global action to protect the planet. Speaking at the UN General Assembly Hall, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres cautioned Governments that unless they overcome short-term territorial and resource interests, the state of the oceans will continue to deteriorate. “Improving the health of our oceans is a test for multilateralism, and we cannot afford to fail,” the Secretary-General said addressing his first major UN conference since taking on his post. “We must jointly address the problems of governance that have held us back,” he said, calling for new strategic vision of how to govern the oceans and marine resources.
One of the main challenges, he said, was to end “the artificial dichotomy” between jobs and healthy oceans: “The conservation and sustainable use of marine resource are two sides of the same coin.” He called for strong political leadership and new partnerships, based on the existing legal framework, and concrete steps, such as expanding marine protected areas and reducing plastic waste pollution. Among other specific actions, Mr. Guterres urged Governments to allocate the promised funding for the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, as well as improving data collection and sharing their best experiences.
His words were echoed by President of the General Assembly, Peter Thomson. “The time has come for us to correct our wrongful ways,” said Mr. Thomson, who hails from the island of Fiji, which is co-hosting the event alongside Sweden. He spoke out against “inexcusable” actions, such as dumping the equivalent of one large garbage truck of plastic into the oceans every minute of every day, driving fish stocks to the points of collapse, and destroying marine life through acidification and deoxygenation. “We are here on behalf of humanity to restore sustainability, balance and respect to our relationship with our primal mother, the source of life, the Ocean,” he noted.
Also addressing the plenary session in the UN General Assembly Hall was His Excellency, Robert Mugabe, President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, who is attending the conference. He commended the Governments of Fiji and Sweden for organizing this ground breaking conference, which is dedicated to the implementation of SDG14, but reiterated that we should not lose sight of other SDGs as we implement this important SDG, due to their integrated nature.
“The oceans and the seas are a vital resource for all of us irrespective of our geographical location on this planet. Developments around, on or under the oceans affects coastal and landlocked countries alike, admittedly with varying degrees and significantly so for Small Island Developing States (SIDS),” he said. “Oceans have rightly been referred to as life givers, not only in supplying oxygen, but also as a major source of food and nutrition to humankind. They have also been identified as a climate regulator with their function as a carbon sink.” he said, as he emphasized the importance of oceans and indicated that we cannot live without them.
“We are therefore concerned by the alarming degradation of the marine environment and depletion of its biodiversity. It is time for all of us to act to prevent the further deterioration of this common heritage of humankind,” said the President, and he also indicated that the oceans and seas contribute significantly to the development of landlocked countries like Zimbabwe, especially with transportation of goods through sea freight, which is a preferred choice for its environmental friendliness and higher carrying capacity than air freight.
One of the challenges identified in the implementation of SDG 14 is that of the unsustainable extraction of marine resources, developing countries continues to suffer mostly from IUU fishing in their waters. President Mugabe called for an end to this illegal practices which prejudice the development prospects of the affected developing countries. “We also call for increased support to developing countries to capacitate them to derive optimum benefits from the exploitation of their marine environment. In this regard we support the voluntary commitment made by our sub-regional organization, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), to establish and strengthen existing regional fisheries MCS mechanisms in EA-SA-IO region,” he said.
The first day of the conference ended with the commemoration of the World Environment Day, which was addressed by the UN Goodwill Ambassador for Environment, actor and scriptwriter Mr. Adrian Grenier. Also in attendance were the SADC political leaders, His Excellency Vincent Meriton, Vice President of the Republic of Seychelles; Honorable Edna Molewa, Minister of Environment from South Africa; Honorable Gilbert Francois, Minister of Fisheries Resources and Fishing from Madagascar; Honorable Agostinho Mondlane, Minister of Sea, Inland Waters and Fisheries from Mozambique; Honorable Michael Benstrong, Ministers of Fisheries and Agriculture from Seychelles; and Honorable Charles Tizeba, Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries.