Our Perspectives

Conserving and sustainably using the oceans, seas and marine resources


UNDP’s Ocean Governance programme is strongly aligned with SDG 14. Photo: Mirja Neumann/UNDP

In September 2015, the international community adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

As we observe World Oceans Day, let’s explore the SDG 14 targets in terms of what concrete actions will be required to achieve each one.

Achieving Target 14.1 of reducing nutrient pollution and marine debris will require transformational change in nutrient and solid waste management across multiple sectors at all levels of governance.  The private sector, driven by the right kinds of enabling policies, will play a pivotal role in moving management of these resources – not waste - towards a much more ‘circular economy’.

Thirty percent of all man-made CO2 emissions dissolve into the ocean.  If we can achieve the Paris climate agreement leading to sizeable reductions in CO2 emissions, we will in turn make substantial progress on Target 14.2 - minimize and address ocean acidification.

There is a strong relationship between illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, overfishing and weak fisheries governance. Achieving Target 14.4 end IUU and overfishing will require reducing the proportion of overexploited stocks by average of 6 percent per year and reducing IUU by 4 percent per year by 2020.  This will require significant efforts to strengthen fisheries governance at regional, national and local levels.

Target 14.5 calls for putting 10 percent of the ocean under Marine Protected Area (MPA) by 2020; we are presently at 3.5 percent.  The world added on average 0.26 percent per year from 2004-2014; to achieve 10 percent, we need to place an additional 1.3 percent of the ocean area under MPA per year thru 2020. That’s 4.7 million square km per year, five times the 2004-2014 rate.

About US$16 billion per year is spent on destructive fisheries subsidies (tax breaks, fuel subsidies, etc.) that overcapitalize the sector, leading to overexploitation. To achieve Target 14.6, prohibit destructive fish subsidies by 2020, these subsidies need to be reduced to near zero through WTO mediated processes – that have been underway since the year 2000.

Target 14.7 calls for increasing economic benefits to Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Least Developed Countries from marine resources by 2030.  SIDS exports of fish products hit $1.75 billion in 2012, a 50 percent increase over 2006 levels. SIDS tourism exports amount to $24 billion, 50 percent of their services exports, and hotel related FDI to SIDS increased to $0.5 billion in 2012. However, SIDS fisheries are subject to $872 million per year in harmful subsidies; about 60 percent of SIDS stocks are considered overfished leading to realization of only 48 percent of potential economic benefits. To reach Target 14.7, SIDS need assistance in developing and implementing their ‘blue economy’ strategies to create jobs, reduce poverty and sustainably grow their economies in their new roles as “Large Ocean States”.

Target 14.b calls for providing access for small-scale fisheries (SSF) to marine resources and markets. SSF supply almost half the world’s seafood and employ 90 percent of those involved in the sector, contributing to far more livelihoods on a per volume seafood basis than large-scale fisheries. SSF use a quarter the energy to catch the same volume fish, making them far more climate friendly. However, most SSF are providing raw products to domestic and international markets so are gaining little in value added. 

Small-scale fisheries are disadvantaged by much greater subsidies to large-scale, lack of access to markets and lack of pricing power. To achieve 14.b, SSF need capacity building and financing. Governments need to enact legislation to incentivize wholesalers and processors to source fish from SSF. Fish pricing needs to be more transparent and accessible.

This analysis underscores that achieving SDG14 is extremely ambitious and in several cases achieving its targets requires transformational changes in ocean management and governance, at all levels.

UNDP’s Ocean Governance Programme is strongly aligned with SDG 14. We support the creation of an enabling policy environment for ocean restoration and protection through the development and delivery of ocean, coastal and linked watershed management strategic planning tools and methodologies at all scales, from Large Marine Ecosystems to SIDS.

UNDP helps build upon and advance global multilateral agreements to address threats to ocean sustainability such as invasive species and ocean acidification. We support countries in the creation or strengthening of Marine Protected Areas and promote knowledge sharing to improve management of ocean ecosystems.

Lastly, we foster the creation of partnerships, with UN agencies, the GEF, intergovernmental organizations, NGOs and the private sector, that leverage technical, financial, institutional and other resources for ocean sustainability.

We have a pretty good grasp on what we need to do, to achieve SDG14.  Our challenge is to do more, do it better, and do it sooner.


This post was originally published on IPS.

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