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An Ocean-Specific Sustainable Development Goal at the United Nations

Billions of people worldwide depend on the ocean for food, work, and culture. Yet the Millennium Development Goals created by the United Nations, which helped to reduce global poverty by half, failed to protect the ocean.

Fortunately, the United Nations have a new opportunity to safeguard the ocean for generations to come.

In 2016, the United Nations will launch a new set of goals to make the relationship between people and our planet more sustainable – the Sustainable Development Goals. World leaders have the opportunity to create a Sustainable Development Goal that protects the ocean for coming generations. But they need to hear how important the ocean is to you.

More About the Ocean-Specific Sustainable Development Goal

The proposed ocean-specific Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) will focus on the two key challenges in promoting a healthy ocean -- ensuring sustainable fish stocks and ensuring a healthy marine environment. The SDG on oceans will target the causes of these problems. With respect to sustainable fishing, the goal must confront overfishing generally, as well as specific problems, including illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and subsidies that contribute to overcapacity in fishing fleets and unfair trade. With respect to the marine environment, the goal must encourage the protection of vulnerable marine areas and address the stressors on the fragile marine ecosystem, including pollution, destructive fishing practices, and ocean acidification.

SDGs vs. MDGs

The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) were created in 2000 as the first global policy initiative to set out measurable targets and indicators by which the international community could track the success of its commitments. The result was a massive achievement: the reduction of extreme poverty by half worldwide. The MDGs, however, failed to make progress on the environment, and ignored ocean issues entirely. The SDGs are set to replace the MDGs when they expire in 2015. Though they are yet undefined, the SDGs will incorporate the MDGs’ imperative of alleviating poverty, but they will to do so in a more inclusive way that addresses social as well as environmental concerns. The result will be a series of quantifiable targets and indicators aimed at global sustainability that will be implemented and measured. If incorporated, an ocean SDG will direct international attention and resources towards saving the world’s fish stocks, preserving the marine environment, and helping people in island and coastal states to secure food and jobs for generations.

Technical Procedure at the United Nations

The U.N.’s General Assembly will adopt the SDGs at the end of 2015, culminating a multi-year intergovernmental process involving stakeholders and expertise from civil society, the scientific community, and the United Nations system. The task of crafting the SDGs belongs to a Working Group of U.N. Member States that will synthesize diverse perspectives, aspirations, and experiences to produce an international consensus.

Ways to Get Involved

A number of portals allow for commentary on the SDG process. Elevating oceans will be important to ensuring that they get the attention they deserve.

Major groups: Organizations and entities can contribute directly to the sustainable development discussion by registering with the UN’s Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform (http://sustainabledevelopment.un.org) . Registered groups can add material for viewing and comment to the Sustainable Development Goals workspace.

Thematic consultations: Eleven global thematic consultations are taking place all over the world, sponsored by two UN agencies each. Individuals can participate via the "World We Want” portal (http://www.worldwewant2015.org/). Oceans do not have their own theme, but are critical to the cross-cutting issues addressed. For example, food security, environmental stability, and energy are all thematic issues.

Reaffirming the importance of the ocean to each topic is critical to keeping it atop the agenda. Sustainable Development Solutions Network: Universities, civil society organizations, technology companies, and other institutions that have deep expertise in areas related to sustainable development can join the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network. The SDSN aims to mobilize support from a diverse knowledge base to address sustainable development problems.

Sign the I Love the Ocean pledge at the TerraMar Project and help create a global community around the ocean. We will use the power of our ocean community to speak up for the ocean. Spread the word that you love the ocean and that you want it to be sustainably managed for generations to come.