Last updated: 06 Oct 2021

Covering more than 70% of the Earth's surface, the ocean is essential to human lives and livelihoods. Discover more about the vital role that the ocean plays in our lives and the work undertaken in Geneva to preserve marine environments and foster a more sustainable blue economy.

Why the Ocean Matters

The ocean is our planet’s largest ecosystem. It is our life source, supporting humanity’s sustenance and that of every other organism on earth. It stabilizes climate, stores carbon, nurtures unimaginable biodiversity, and directly supports human well-being through food and energy resources, as well as by providing cultural and recreational services. Not to mention, the ocean is key to our economy with an estimated 40 million people being employed by ocean-based industries by 2030.

Even though all its benefits, the ocean is now in need of support. Despite improved management and conservation actions, the UN Second World Ocean Assessment, launched in April 2021, found that pressures from many human activities continue to degrade the ocean and destroy essential habitats. With 90% of big fish populations depleted, and 50% of coral reefs destroyed, we are taking more from the ocean than can be replenished.

As the world population will reach an estimated 9 billion people by 2050, impacts on the ocean associated with human activities will increase. Therefore, now more than ever, action to protect and preserve the ocean and all it sustains is needed.

Global Action for the Ocean

SDG 14 – Life below Water

As part of the 2030 Agenda, governments have set the ambition protect the ocean’s resources by eliminating pollution and overfishing to responsibly manage and protect all marine life around the world under SDG 14 – Life below water. However, current efforts to protect key marine environments and small-scale fishers and invest in ocean science are are still insufficient to achieve SDG 14. Thus, strengthening global action is essential to protect the ocean, safeguard people’s livelihoods and health, and allow a sustainable future for generations to come.

Source: UNEP

UN Ocean Conference 2022

The forthcoming Ocean Conference, co-hosted by the Governments of Kenya and Portugal, comes at a critical time as the world is strengthening its efforts to mobilize, create and drive solutions to realize the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. As one of the first milestones of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ newly launched Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals, the Conference will propel much needed science-based innovative solutions aimed at starting a new chapter of global ocean action.

UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development

The UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) is an opportunity for nations to work together to generation the global ocean science needed to support the sustainable development of our shared ocean. It creates a new foundation across the science-policy interface to strengthen the management of our oceans and coasts for the benefit of humanity, and strengthen the international cooperation needed to develop the scientific research and innovative technologies that can connect ocean science with the needs of society.

World Oceans Day

World Oceans Day, celebrated each year on 8 June, reminds every one of the major role the ocean has in everyday life. The purpose of the Day is to inform the public of the impact of human actions on the ocean, develop a worldwide movement of citizens for the ocean, and mobilize and unite the world’s population on a project for the sustainable management of the ocean.

Addressing Climate Change

Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are one of the biggest pressures on the ocean. According to the IPCC, the great majority of the world’s coral reef will be lost once global temperatures increase beyond 2˚C above pre-industrial levels. The ocean plays a fundamental planetary role in mitigating the effects of climate change through its absorption of heat and carbon. The resulting sea-level rise, warming surface temperature and acidification have tremendous impacts on ecosystems, as well as human lives and livelihoods.

Getting to a global net zero economy as soon as possible is absolutely fundamental to ending the cycle of decline in which the ocean’s wellbeing is currently caught.

Peter Thomson, UN Special Envoy on the Ocean, 17 June 2021

Fostering Sustainable Blue Economy

The ocean supports the livelihoods of more than 3 billion people. The value of the ocean economy sectors, such as fisheries, maritime transport, coastal tourism, off-shore energy and marine bio prospecting, has been estimated at about 3 trillion USD annually. Worryingly, the current mode of operating of ocean economic activities is no longer sustainable. The natural assets that the blue economy depends on are fast eroding under the pressure of human activities.

The heart of SDG 14 is the sustainable blue economy. Developing the sustainable blue economy will mitigate climate change, create massive employment in blue-green industries, and provide us with the medicine and healthy nutrition that we need for a secure future.

Peter Thomson, UN Special Envoy on the Ocean, 17 June 2021

Therefore, we need to diversify towards economic activities that will have a lower impact on ecosystems, while sustaining livelihoods and stimulating job creation. It’s possible to combine production from the ocean while protecting its economic, social and environmental value for the future. The UN Decade of Ocean Science will be an opportunity to maximize the benefits of effective science-based management of our ocean space and resources.

Stopping Plastic Pollution

Plastic pollution is found everywhere from the Mount Everest to the Mariana Trench, and the deepest part of the ocean.  Of the approximately 275 million metric tons of plastic waste produced annually, up to 12 million tons leak into the ocean, wreaking havoc on livelihoods and ecosystems . The result is an estimated $13 billion in annual environmental damage to marine ecosystems.

In 2017, the UN Environment Assembly established the Ad Hoc Open-Ended Expert Group (AHEG) on Marine Litter and Microplastics. The expert group put forward a series of possible policy responses to reduce plastic pollution in marine environments ahead of UNEA-5.1 in February 2021. In September 2021, the first ever Ministerial Conference on Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution was held in Geneva in order to build momentum and political will to advance a coherent global strategy on the topic. On that occasion, Peru and Rwanda have put forward a draft resolution to be presented at UNEA-5.2, which calls to start negotiations on an international treaty on marine litter and plastic pollution.

Ending Overfishing

More than 820 million people depend on fisheries and aquaculture for food, nutrition, and income. But the ability of the world’s fisheries to provide jobs and nutrition is being threatened by an unprecedented crisis of overfishing and improper resource management.  The Second World Ocean Assessment revealed that, while fisheries management is improving in many regions, a third of global stocks are still overfished.

Efforts to reverse the trend are thus essential to secure livelihoods and food security and protect biodiversity. Scientific findings indicate that 98% of currently overfished stocks could recover by the middle of this century if managed properly. At the global level, negotiations on fisheries subsidies are ongoing at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to achieve SDG 14.6. WTO members have pledged to conclude negotiations before the WTO’s Ministerial Conference in early December.

Role of Geneva

Various Geneva-based organizations or secretariats – listed below in alphabetical order – work actively to protect and restore the oceans and promote a sustainable blue economy. UN system’s engagement with oceans-related issues also goes beyond Geneva, with organizations around the world involved, such as the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)

CITES is a multilateral agreement to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants – including listed marine species – does not threaten their survival.

Food and Agriculture Organization Liaison Office in Geneva

The FAO Geneva Office works with the Fisheries Division to strengthen global governance and the managerial and technical capacities of members and to lead consensus-building towards improved conservation and utilization of aquatic resources.

Group on Earth Observations (GEO)

GEO is a partnership of more than 100 national governments and in excess of 100 Participating Organizations that envisions a future where decisions and actions for the benefit of humankind are informed by coordinated, comprehensive and sustained Earth observations. GEO is contribute to the Ocean Decade by providing data and observations on the status of the oceans, for instance through the GEO Blue Planet Initiative.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

The IPCC is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change. Its reports provide scientific knowledge on the role of oceans in regulating climate change and the impacts of global warming on the oceans. The Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, published in 2019, provides an extensive review of the state of science in the field of climate science in marine environments.

International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)

The IISD is an independent think tank working to create a world where people and the planet thrive. The Institute supports the current WTO negotiations to end harmful fisheries subsidies, recognizing the need to restore the sustainability of fish stocks while supporting livelihoods and food security.

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

IUCN is the world’s largest conservation network with the mission to influence, encourage and assist societies throughout the world to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature. The IUCN Red List is the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global extinction risk status of animal, fungus and plant species – including marine species. IUCN also advocates to influence policy and international agreements for a sustainable management of fisheries and aquaculture worldwide.

Luc Hoffman Institute

The Luc Hoffmann Institute follows the principles of systems thinking, convening and co-creation to incubate and accelerate new ideas and approaches that will deliver significant gains for biodiversity. By convening a wide range of stakeholders, the institute is a leading catalyst for innovation and transformative change to maintain biodiversity, in both terrestrial and marine ecosystems.

Mava Foundation

Founded by naturalist Luc Hoffman, MAVA supports conservation that benefits people and nature. MAVA accompanies key partners on their conservation journey, helping them develop the skills they need and strengthening their ability to deliver. Engaged in favor of marine and coastal biodiversity, MAVA committed 70 million euros from 2017 to 2022 to the conservation of marine biodiversity in the Mediterranean Basin and in West Africa.

Oceana

Oceana is an international organization focused on oceans, dedicated to achieving measurable change by conducting specific, science-based policy campaigns with fixed deadlines and articulated goals. Since its founding, Oceana has won over 200 victories and protected more than one million square miles of ocean.

Partnership for Environment and Disaster Risk Reduction (PEDRR)

PEDRR is the clearinghouse for knowledge, training, advocacy and practice on Ecosystem-based Disaster Risk Reduction (Eco-DRR). PEDRR is reinforcing knowledge to manage ecosystems,including coastal systems, in a way to reduce physical exposure to many hazards and increasing socio-economic resilience of people and communities.

The SeaCleaners

The SeaCleaners fights for a pollution-free ocean, by integrating economic, social, human, educational and scientific perspectives in a dynamic and solidarity-based project. The SeaCleaners is active on several fronts: raising awareness and promoting prevention, sharing scientific knowledge, accelerating the transition to a circular economy, and developing innovative solutions for waste collection and repurposing on land and at sea.

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)

UNCTAD is supporting developing countries to identify the opportunities and challenges that the oceans economy can bring. It also supports national trade and other competent authorities to design and create an enabling policy and regulatory environment that promotes the development and emergence of a sustainable blue economy.

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)

The UN Fisheries Language for Universal Exchange (UN/FLUX) developed under UNECE’s UN/CEFACT enables the automatic exchange of fisheries data. This is crucial in the fight against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing practices. UN/FLUX is now implemented in EU member states, with preparations underway to control fish stocks in the North-East Atlantic.

World Economic Forum (WEF)

The WEF is an international organization for public-private cooperation shaping shape global, regional and industry agendas. Its work on oceans aims to shape a new ocean economy, addressing the interlinkages between oceans, climate change, biodiversity, technologies, governance and more. The WEF convenes the Friends of Ocean Action – a coalition of over 65 ocean leaders who are fast-tracking solutions to the most pressing challenges facing the ocean. It also hosts the Global Plastic Action Partnership which supports the transition to a circular plastics economy.

World Meteorological Organisation (WMO)

As a specialized agency of the United Nations, WMO is dedicated to international cooperation and coordination on the state and behaviour of the Earth’s atmosphere, its interaction with the land and oceans, the weather and climate it produces, and the resulting distribution of water resources.

World Trade Organisation (WTO)

The WTO is the only global international organization dealing with the rules of trade between nations. Since 2001, WTO members are negotiations rules to eliminate subsidies for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and to prohibit subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, with special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries.

World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF)

WWF is one of the  leading organization in wildlife conservation and endangered species, including in marine environmentd.  WWF works to help local communities conserve the natural resources they depend upon; transform markets and policies toward sustainability; and protect and restore species and their habitats.

Events

Nature-based Solutions and the Ocean

Geneva Nature-based Solutions Dialogue | IUCN & GEN | 27 September 2021, 15.00 CEST | Online

How can financial institutions support and benefit from ocean health?

UNEP Finance Initiative | 21 October 2021, 11.00 – 12.00 CEST | Online

Learning