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United Nations Ocean Conference: Our Oceans, Our Future

Source: World Ocean Radio/Peter Neill - May 19, 2017 in Radio

United Nations Ocean Conference: Our Oceans, Our Future
Photo: Joel Hatfield/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

On June 5th the United Nations General Assembly will convene for The Ocean Conference in New York City to set objectives, cultivate partnerships, and build consensus for the further implementation of sustainable development goal 14—Life Below Water. In this episode of World Ocean Radio, host Peter Neill describes the sustainable development goals and lays out the plan for this major four-day event and the final report which will follow as an agenda for targeted success by 2030.

Transcript:

Welcome to World Ocean Radio…

I’m Peter Neill, Director of the World Ocean Observatory.

Meetings, conferences, workshops, breakout sessions, academic papers—this is the conventional format and process today for the presentation of ideas. It is effective to a point, and I have attended and spoken at many, but one begins to wonder about it all as a kind of system apart, a secret society that has its rules of selection, rituals of initiation, politics of leadership and reputation, and sense of its relation to the rest of the world that is independent, elite, and indifferent to effect beyond its hallowed walls.

That may be harsh, but so often these meetings conclude with lofty resolution, urgency defined by the long view, and impact at best as stimulus for others within the circle to affirm or deny. Some such endeavors have the highest aspiration. The United Nations is a place for the best of such discussions, sometimes, as in the recognition of climate change as a compelling circumstance in the security and insecurity of a globalized world. The UN process extends for decades, literally tens of years at a time in the evolution of policy and practice in such areas as the rights of indigenous peoples, international standards, and the law of the sea.

At this moment, the UN has before it the challenge of its 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
Goal 14 is Life Below Water, and it is the subject of a major UN Conference in June 2017 wherein all the nations, UN agencies, civil society and non-government organizations, the scientific community, financial institutions, and other interested parties will convene at the General Assembly in New York to exchange views, set objectives, seek funds, build partnerships, and otherwise focus specifically on the ocean and its relation to action toward sustainability in the 21st century. This conference, co-hosted by Sweden and Fiji, purports to be “a game changer that will reverse the decline of our ocean for people, planet, and prosperity.” There will be a final consensus declaration and call for action for the implementation of Goal 14 as part of an agenda targeted for success by 2030.

The United Nations is the world’s grand secret society. Its machinations are pervasive, sometime fraught, oftimes successful, and in its hand is found in the middle of the mix of international policy, regulation, collaborative practice, and conflict resolution that affects our lives in ways the public does not fully perceive or understand. It is, nonetheless, a system based on voluntary funding and commitments and is subject to the limits of consensus, not to mention the veto power of certain individual nations that can defy the agreement among all the others.

Progress in such an organization requires understanding of the conflicting needs among nations, diplomacy, compromise, and integrity measured mostly by payment of dues, funds dedicated by certain nations for certain goals and objectives, and time. The schedule of events and the organizational structure is designed to allow for the process to unfold at the most practical level, hence a pace that is set not so much by the disinterested as by the capacity of every nation to live up to its best intentions. For a long time I misunderstood and fought against this apparently endless dialogue and practice, until I realized that it is the only way such a complicated set of interests and needs can be communicated and reconciled toward incremental achievement.

So for a week in New York, the ocean apparat will gather for one of those seminal events where expectation is high and the urgency to move forward is palpable. The final report will include summaries of partnerships made, specific new projects and concrete action to advance Goal 14, and voluntary contributions committed. Toward this outcome I can only add an enthusiastic voice of support and the full participation of the World Ocean Observatory to communicate the outcome.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) were created as an attempt to organize a vast compendium of issues and needs, of knowledge and intent, into understandable goals, objectives and strategies. But what I continue to argue is that the ocean is THE GLOBAL COMMONALITY encompassing the entirety of this compendium. There is no other totally inclusive system that contains all the problems and all the solutions. The ocean cross-cuts them all, involves them all, integrates them all, and relates them all as the focus, the ecological commons that overlays all this effort and aspiration and informs all response at every level, from the consequence of indifference to the success of future action, from individual to local, regional, and global response. I assert that the ocean is the nexus for the true collaboration and realization of all these goals for worldwide sustainable development.

We will discuss these issues, and more, in future editions of World Ocean Radio.

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