Words Ingmar Strum, Teodora Cakarmis, Victoria Hamdorf and Sania El Kadi

The world today is in trouble. More than one-eighth of the world’s population goes to bed hungry and maternal mortality rates remain alarmingly high in Sub-Saharan Africa. News network CNN has just recently announced that five Solomon Islands have been swallowed up by the ocean within the last seventy years because of rising sea levels.

We have known that we are in trouble for quite some time. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), presented by the United Nations in September of 2001, were aimed at dealing with many of the pressing issues of the century until 2015. Progress towards achieving these goals has been made, but not all of the goals have been attained everywhere, with progress varying greatly from region to region. The MDGs have therefore not been exactly a success for the international community. Some people have said that they were too ambitious, while others have argued the opposite. They have been criticized for not being binding, for being too simplistic and elitist. Given that they were signed by 189 countries why were they so flawed? In the words of the Secretary General of UNESCO, Ms. Irina Bokova, they lacked “inclusivity, integration, and universality.”

The Sustainable Development Goals are more on the mark

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Development Agenda, adopted in September of 2015, represent a paradigm shift, a different way of looking at problem-solving. The new understanding is that the world’s most pressing problems are not only equally important but also interdependent. For this reason, the SDGs go much further than the MDGs, addressing the root causes of poverty and the universally recognized need for development.

Protecting marine resources

Let us take as an example SDG 14, which requires us to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources. Achieving the targets set out by this SDG not only calls for the development of a local and a global implementation agenda, but for a nexus approach. In order to ensure efficiency, we must use our resources in a comprehensive manner, one that recognizes that we must be responsible in our production and consumption (SDG 12), that we must prevent and reduce marine pollution, as well as limit carbon dioxide emissions (SDG 13) in order to mitigate ocean acidification. It would also help to have an appropriate legal framework as well as accountable and transparent institutions (SDG 16) to fight illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. Finally, it is paramount to ensure that the SDGs affect the everyday lives of the world’s most vulnerable in a positive way. Therefore, it is very important to increase economic benefits to Small Island Development States (SDG 8), in order to incentivize sustainable use of marine resources, as well as to promote sustainable tourism.

Regulating fishing

At the intergovernmental level, a far-reaching process for the protection of endangered fish was initiated in June 2016, when the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (PSMA) entered into effect. The 25 countries, including Palau, which have become parties to the agreement, which was negotiated among the delegations of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), have agreed to implement measures to detect illegal fishing, prevent unlawfully caught fish from being offloaded and sold, and participate in global information-sharing about criminal vessels. Such measures include requiring fishing vessels to request authorization before entering a port, and sending details about their activities and the kind of fish that they have onboard. Inspectors will verify whether the vessel is licensed to fish by the state whose flag it flies. If not, vessels will be denied entry and reported as violators.

The role of UNESCO

Another key player in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is the UN’s cultural agency UNESCO. This organization is committed to safeguarding and promoting cultural and natural heritage, in cooperation with cultural and creative industries, as well as through joint programs with other UN Agencies and national authorities. To achieve the SDGs, UNESCO has tried to find a way forward to support countries that are trying to implement the Agenda and the SDGs through a revitalized and enhanced global partnership, mobilizing governments, civil society, the private sector, the United Nations system, and other actors.

The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission

The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO) is an organization within UNESCO that is focused on marine science and thus concerned with the SDG 14 targets, dealing especially with reducing marine pollution, addressing the impacts of ocean acidification, and restoring fish stocks. As many developing nations still lack basic scientific infrastructures, human skills, and technological advancement, the IOC-UNESCO has called for global intergovernmental cooperation to fill knowledge gaps.

The IOC-UNESCO is working on the publication of The Global Ocean Science Report, which consists of assisting local and national governments, academic and research institutions, as well as international organizations and donors, to provide an overview of various countries’ investments, resources, and scientific productivity in ocean science. The results presented in the Global Ocean Science Report will create baselines that are needed to enable future research investment and technology to reach the sustainable development targets, in particular SDG 14.

Palau shows the way

One of the pioneering states in protecting the oceans is the Republic of Palau, located in the Pacific 800 kilometers east of the Philippines, with only 18,000 inhabitants. Palau has been a pioneer in protecting the ocean over which it has jurisdiction. It has established no-entry zones such as the Ngerukewid Island Preserve (1956) and no-take zones such as the Ngerumekaol Spawning Area (1976). Today there are over 40 such sites, most of which are protected by state legislation.

The marine reserve covers an area of over 500,000 square kilometers, about the size of Spain. Because of its small size, Palau has a marine police division with only 18 members and one patrol boat. Small island states establishing marine reserves all face the challenge of enforcing the regulations that protect them.

Palau undertakes significant effort to protect its conservation areas, particularly by preventing illegal fishing. In 2015, the Palauan coast guard caught several Vietnamese shipping vessels in its marine sanctuary. In an effort to make a deterring example, their catch and nets were confiscated and their boats burned. The fishermen were then sent back to Vietnam.

Because of the unprecedented measures taken by Palau, Palau’s president received the Peter Benchley Ocean Award in May 2016. The award acknowledges exceptional achievement in the protection of the ocean, coasts, and the communities that depend on them. The award recognizes the interconnectedness among the SDGs, because sustainable fisheries can ensure that people will have enough to eat (SDG 2), that they consume responsibly (SDG 12), and that there are enough sharks and fish left to grow a sustainable tourism industry (SDGs 8 and 9).

A need for global cooperation

The sustainable development goals require decisive, united global action. They require action from governments, industry, and the consumers of goods and services such as tourism. Every level of social organization, from individuals to intergovernmental organizations, has to contribute to the attainment of these goals. Every individual can do his part, either by consuming responsibly, founding or participating in initiatives, asking his supermarkets about the way in which their food has been produced, and lobbying representatives at all levels of government. The ocean has been a victim of unchecked globalization.  Cooperation between different countries and cultures can help us to solve the crisis.