Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources
Our rainwater, drinking water, weather, climate, coastlines, much of our food, and even the oxygen in the air we breathe, are all ultimately provided and regulated by oceans.
Our life on Earth is made possible by our oceans. The temperature, currents, chemical and biological constituents of ocean waters play an important role in driving global systems that make the Earth a habitable environment. Careful management of this crucial global resource is essential for humanity as a whole and is a key feature of our sustainable future.
The ocean temperature and currents influence weather patterns around the world and act to counter-balance the effects of climate change. Our rainwater, drinking water, weather, climate, coastlines, much of our food, and even the oxygen in the air we breathe, are all ultimately provided and regulated by oceans. Climate change will also cause further stress on water resources, with wet areas tending to become wetter and dry areas even drier. Water scarcity is also fuelled by rapid patterns of water consumption as well as growing urbanization and rapid development. Persistent poverty, inequitable access to water and sanitation services, also further exacerbate the issue.
The oceans of Earth together cover over seven tenths of the planet, it is on average 4,000 meters deep and contains around 1.3 billion cubic kilometers of water. That is no doubt a large amount of water, but despite the vastness of the oceans its capacity to withstand damage caused by human activity is limited and compromises their critical contribution to the future of sustainable development.
In this regard, it is laudable that Member States at the United Nations have finally agreed to develop a legally-binding instrument to conserve and sustainably use marine biological diversity of areas beyond their national borders. The 193 member-UN General Assembly agreed in May of this year to establish a preparatory committee, open to all countries, to negotiate the new instrument over 2016-2017. The negotiations will cover, among other issues, the sharing of benefits related to the use of marine genetic resources; marine protected areas and environmental impact assessments, as well as the transfer of marine technology.
With water being undeniably a fundamental enabler of sustainable development, there is increasing realization that it is critically important to ensure access to water for all and to maintain its sustainability. Also, in acknowledgment of the importance of oceans and other large water bodies to the future of our planet, the United Nations Sustainable Summit held in New York in September 2105, adopted conserving and sustainably using our waters and marine resources as Goal 14 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
Goal-14 creates a framework to sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems from land-based pollution, as well as address the impacts of ocean acidification. Enhancing conservation and the sustainable use of ocean-based resources through international law will also help mitigate some of the challenges facing our oceans.
The goal targets the prevention and significant reduction by 2025 of all kinds of marine pollution, in particular from land-based activities including marine debris and nutrient pollution.
Another target is to achieve by 2020, the sustainable management and protection of marine and coastal ecosystems to avoid significant adverse impacts, including by strengthening their resilience and restoring them to a healthy and productive status.
Of particular interest to Goal-14 is regulating fish harvesting and overfishing, as well as other illegal and destructive fishing practices by 2020 in order to restore fish stocks to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield. It specifically calls for prohibiting, within the same time frame, certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and over fishing. The goal also urges providing access for small-scale artisanal fishers to marine resources and markets.
Another target of Goal-14 is to minimize and address the impacts of ocean acidification, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels. Also, based on best available scientific information, conserve at least 10 percent of coastal and marine areas in accordance with national and international laws.
According to the UN’s 2015 World Water Development Report, a possible 40 percent water shortfall in freshwater supplies is likely by 2030. The report projects that global water demand is projected to increase by 55 percent by 2050, by which time the world’s population will have surpassed nine billion. Much of this expected increase in water consumption will come from manufacturing, thermal electricity production and domestic use. In addition to focusing on the outcomes, this year’s report provides recommendations, such as creating policy measures and other practical approaches on the national and regional level, so that the international community can offset the possible global water deficit by 2030.
In addition to the UN’s annual assessment on water resources, another study the findings of which were condensed in the form of a report titled, ‘Summary of the First Global Integrated Marine Assessment, shows that delays in implementing solutions to the problems that have already been identified as threatening to degrade the world’s oceans will lead, unnecessarily, to incurring greater environmental, social and economic costs.
The new report, released in August is the most comprehensive scientific and socio-economic assessment ever undertaken on the world’s oceans and reinforces the science-policy interface for oceans. It shows that sustainable use of the oceans cannot be achieved unless the management of all sectors of human activities affecting the oceans is coherent. “Human impacts on the sea are no longer minor in relation to the overall scale of the ocean. A coherent overall approach is needed,” say authors of the report.
Oceans cover three-quarter of the Earth’s surface, contain 97 percent of the Earth’s water, and represent 99 percent of the living space on the planet by volume.
Oceans absorb about 30 percent of the carbon dioxide produced by humans
There has been a 26 percent rise in ocean acidification since the industrial revolution
Despite the oceans accounting for 1.3 billion cubic kilometers of water, the 7 billion people on Earth each have just one-fifth of a cubic kilometer as our portion to provide us with all the services. That small, one fifth of a cubic kilometer generates half of the annual production of the oxygen that each of us breathes, and all of the sea fish and other seafood that each of us eats. It is the ultimate source of all the freshwater that each of us will drink in our lifetimes. It also suffers from the sewage, garbage, spilled oil and industrial waste which we collectively allow to go into the ocean every day. Overwhelming majority of all marine pollution comes from land-based sources and it is estimated that an average of 13,000 pieces of plastic litter can be found on every square kilometer of ocean.
Over three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods
Globally, the market value of marine and coastal resources and industries is estimated at $3 trillion per year or about 5 percent of global GDP
Marine fisheries directly or indirectly employ over 200 million people
Nearly 40 percent of the world’s oceans are heavily affected by human activities, including pollution, depleted fisheries, and loss of coastal habitats
More than 30 percent of the world’s fish stocks are overexploited, well below a level at which they can produce sustainable yields
Subsidies for fishing are contributing to the rapid depletion of many fish species and are preventing efforts to save and restore global fisheries and related jobs, causing ocean fisheries to generate US$ 50 billion less per year than they could