UNEP Launches New Sustainable Oceans Initiative
October 27, 2015  //  By:   //  Blog Post, Featured  //  No Comment

sdg 14One of the more specific and interesting Sustainable Development Goals is SDG 14: Conserve and Sustainable Use Oceans, Seas, and Marine Resources for Sustainable Development. This goal is unique to the SDGs, meaning that it did not appear in any form in the now defunct Millennium Development Goals. What’s more, sustainable environmental management and biodiversity preservation in every other ecosystem (deserts, forests, etc) are lumped together in SDG 15: Sustainably Manage Forests, Combat Desertification, Halt and Reverse Land Degradation, Halt Biodiversity Loss.

There are a couple of reasons why oceans received their own unique SDG. First off, the SDGs were created through a transparent negotiation process involving almost 70 member states. Unlike the Millennium Development Goals, which were developed in private by a handful of UNDP professionals, the SDG open Working Group was made up of political representatives from every region of the planet. Therefore, typically under-represented groups like the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) were better able to assert their vision of a sustainable world. For the SIDS and other island and coastal states, the oceans are critical resources. The mismanagement of oceans has tremendous impacts on those who rely on fishing, the productivity of coral reef systems, and more.

Another reason why oceans have their own SDG is climate change. Climate change impacts oceans. It is increasingly clear that oceans are massive carbon sinks, and that the influx of carbon into the oceans is changing the chemical composition of the waters. Namely, carbon increases water acidity. High levels of acidity negatively impact creatures that are the building blocks of ocean life: plankton, coral, and other animals that build exoskeletons and shells. This is significant because long-term ocean acidification could lead to massive oceanic extinctions that would have devastating consequences on communities that rely on the ocean for food and wealth.

With all this in mind, UNEP, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies, and the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations launched a new initiative: the Partnership for Regional Oceans Governance. Now that oceans are themselves at the forefront of sustainable development, this new partnership will work to fill the gaps in ocean management and governance that are essential for meeting SDG 14.

Taken directly from the UNEP website, here are the main objectives and activities of the Partnership:


  • Identifying lessons learned and developing innovative approaches to regional ocean governance;
  • Promoting regional exchange and, wherever requested, assisting in strengthening regional capacities and ocean governance structures
  • Fostering the role of regional ocean governance approaches at the global level through engaging in mutli-stakeholders processes, and by partnering with key players including intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, research centers, and think tanks


There is no doubt that UNEP is taking an important step towards achieving SDG14. However, it is important to remember that as a category, oceans are highly economically productive and used by a large number of industries for myriad purposes. In order to govern the oceans effectively, the international community will need to engage with businesses ranging from fishing to transportation.

To read more about the initiative, click here.

About the Author :

Michael Denney is a PhD student in the Global Governance and Human Security program at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He is a Research Associate at the Center for Governance and Sustainability.

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