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The Ocean Conference: An integrated vision must be delivered

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Man a boatGiven the multiplicity of inter-connected vulnerabilities and risks that SIDS face, the Ocean Conference has the task of delivering a thoroughly integrated vision. Photo: UNDP

In the run up to the Ocean Conference in June, this blog series explores issues related to oceans, seas, marine resources and the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14, Life below water.

At the Ocean Conference, scheduled to take place 5 to 9 June in New York, nations will gather to discuss how best to deliver on Sustainable Development Goal 14, Life Below Water. This event is critical because it will, for perhaps the first time, focus on how essential our oceans are to our life and livelihoods.

Even a glance at the targets and indicators of this goal make that clear: The Ocean SDG is about poverty reduction, economic development, adapting to climate change and protecting the environment, not just the health of the oceans and those who depend on it. Delivering on SDG 14 will help deliver on the other 16 goals and vice versa.

For Small Island Developing States (SIDS), this integrated approach is not just important, it is critical. On the one hand, their ocean environment provides them with critical needs, communications, transportation, livelihoods, trade and more. But it also makes them vulnerable in many inter-connected ways.

Logistics, transportation and communications are complex and expensive given these island nations’ distance to other nations and distance between their own islands. Their income is vulnerable, with often middle-income status masking very narrow productive sectors, such as tourism. Often lacking in fossil fuel, they import heavily and access to energy remains poor. And these vulnerabilities are exacerbated by increasing disaster and climate risks, the growing threat of cyclones and the seemingly every-rising sea-levels.

Tourism accounts for a very high percentage of GDP for small islands. In the Maldives, for example, it accounts for 28 percent of GDP and more than 60 percent of its foreign exchange receipts. The Solomon Islands and Tuvalu have at times drawn close to half of their entire national income from international development assistance. Palau has been increasing the percentage of its population’s access to energy to nearly 70 percent, but despite significant potential for renewable energy, it still relies almost exclusively on the import of fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, climate change is an existential threat: The Maldives, the Marshall Islands and Kiribati all have most of their population living below five meters above sea level. In these and many other small island nations, rising seas are already eroding land, significantly threatening tourism, making agriculture untenable and infiltrating fresh water wells, while storm surges and extremely high tides are increasing in both number and severity.

Given the multiplicity of inter-connected vulnerabilities and risks that SIDS face, the Ocean Conference has the task of delivering a thoroughly integrated vision, not only to achieve the significant ambition of SDG 14, but also to ensure a message of integration is at the heart of its deliberations, and especially of its solutions.

Tackling economic development, poverty reduction, coastal erosion, agricultural adaptation and more, can only be successful if it is thought of as a single inter-connected problem.

With Fiji both the co-chair of the Oceans Conference and current president of the climate negotiations, there is no better opportunity to deliver on this challenging ambition, binding actors together in a vision to deliver on all their global commitments -Sendai, Paris, the SDGs – at the country level.

The full version of this blog post appeared in the Inter Press Service News Agency.

Blog post Oceans blog series Oceans Small island developing states Sustainable development Jan Kellet

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