- Oceans sustain life by providing myriad ecosystem services and foods which over three billion people depend on for survival, so its conservation is covered in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14.
- Though #14 is underfunded, leaders of the global community can take action during the 2023 SDG Summit taking place today and tomorrow, 18-19 September, in New York City.
- “We call on the President of the General Assembly and donor governments to increase investments in the ocean [as it is] vital to the success of each of the other sustainable development goals. We must ensure a vital ocean for the billions that depend upon its health,” a new op-ed argues.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily of Mongabay.
When the sustainable development community gathers in New York on September 18-19 it would do well to answer an important call. Our ocean is calling for our help — and the call is being placed not just on behalf of the ocean itself, but for the billions of people around the globe who depend on ocean action to meet a range of critical sustainable development goals. Investing in our ocean is an investment in climate mitigation, food security, community resilience, gender equity and poverty alleviation.
Yet historically, the ocean gets far too little attention on the international stage. We continue to neglect it at our peril. We have already seen just this year catastrophic headlines: hot tub temperatures fueling unprecedented storm events; massive loss of coral reefs in the Florida Keys and elsewhere, destroying habitats critical to a wide range of important fish species; and even the threat of vital ocean currents collapsing. These crises make clear the connections between a healthy ocean and healthy communities — both at the water’s edge and far inland.
The ocean impacts every person on the planet.
The 2023 SDG Summit is proposed to mark “the beginning of a new phase of accelerated progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals with high-level political guidance on transformative and accelerated actions leading up to 2030.” The goals were formulated in 2015 to create a roadmap for a thriving planet, both for the environment and people. The new beginning should start with new foundational commitments to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14, “Life Below Water.” Shifting emphasis in this way will have outsized benefits for many other critical goals — especially No Poverty, Zero Hunger and Gender Equality.
Historically, “Life Below the Water” is the least-funded goal of all, leading to a huge missed opportunity. Prioritizing new investment in this goal directly invests in small-scale fisheries, critical blue foods, and coastal and supply chain livelihoods. Notably many of the communities that would benefit are also those hit hardest by climate change.
What would new investment in the ocean buy?
We know that the ocean provides a variety of climate change-related benefits, including carbon absorption and sequestration. The ocean absorbs around a quarter of the world’s annual CO2 emissions. Ocean carbon capture and storage occurs through biological processes in coastal areas and open ocean environments alike. Salt marshes, seagrasses and mangroves’ roles are fairly well known. Less well known are the roles of the open ocean ecosystem in capturing and sequestering carbon and the extensive carbon stores in marine sediments. Sustainable fisheries, protected areas and a variety of other ocean-based solutions deserve more attention.
Plus, blue foods (foods harvested from and cultivated in the ocean) and small-scale fisheries underpin all the other SDGs. More than three billion people depend on the seas for their livelihood. Fully half of all fishing jobs globally exist within small-scale fisheries. And half of those fishing jobs belong to women. Of those farming fish (aquaculture), 70% are women. Ignoring the ocean is ignoring the livelihoods of billions of people.
At the same time, food from the sea globally provides our most carbon-efficient animal protein, and it also provides the most readily available animal protein for many of our most vulnerable coastal communities. Shellfish and seaweed foods go even further, playing restorative roles for coasts and the climate.
Right now, most SDG14 funding focuses on plastic pollution. While important, attention to other aspects of ocean health, including habitat protections and sustainable fisheries, is critical to stabilize and enhance small-scale fisheries that produce a yearly revenue of nearly $77 billion for nearly 500 million people.
Funded and well-managed fisheries and ocean protections can tip the balance for a range of sustainable development goals. How we choose to invest can make the blue economy a virtuous cycle — or a vicious one.
Public and philanthropic funding primes the pump and provides critical capacity at the community level. Ocean-based food systems need public financial help to reach their potential. Additionally, the solution lies partially in the boardroom rather than on the docks. As we train and equip fishers, we should also be doubling down on the investment opportunity associated with fisheries, climate solutions and other blue economy opportunities. We should be advancing these opportunities, too.
While the ocean’s potential is full of hope and power, it won’t be realized without support. With funding, sustainable use, better technology and better management we can ensure we are preserving our oceans, prioritizing livelihoods and health, and building a major force for a better climate, while protecting a resource that helps us meet other SDGs.
We call on the President of the General Assembly and donor governments to increase investments in the ocean, both in their bilateral and multilateral funding commitments. Investing in the oceans is vital to the success of each of the other sustainable development goals. We must ensure a vital ocean for the billions that depend upon its health. We can’t afford to let our seas slip through the net.
Eric Schwaab serves as Senior Vice President for People and Nature at Environmental Defense Fund, and leads a global team of scientists, lawyers and advocates working to create thriving, resilient oceans.
Related audio from Mongabay’s podcast: Author Cynthia Barnett discusses global oceanic health and journalist Leilani Chavez shares views on marine conservation in her home country of the Philippines, listen here:
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