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Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)


Oceans and seas account for 70% of the planet’s surface, and seawater for 97% of its waters. Seas give us food and energy but they also regulate our climate, provide us with half of our oxygen and take up a considerable proportion of the carbon dioxide we emit. The oceans are in fact our strongest allies against climate change. In addition, the oceans are home to 80% of the Earth’s living beings, and although they cover 70% of the Earth’s surface, currently only 2% of the world’s oceans are protected by some category of nature conservation. Throughout history, the seas and oceans have been crucial to both trade and transportation, and careful management of this essential global resource is fundamental to a sustainable future. Twenty-three countries out of twenty-eight EU Member States have a coastal zone. Only with its remote regions, the EU has the largest maritime area in the world.

The UN General Assembly proclaimed in December 2017 in New York a Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030). The intention was to mobilize all actors around the world in ocean protection to implement the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development thus strengthening public awareness of the urgent need for new research and the use of existing scientific data to understand cumulative effects to which the seas and oceans are exposed. As mandated by the UN General Assembly, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO will coordinate the Decade’s preparatory process and realization. IOC UNESCO is the world's leading organization (149 member States) dealing with the sea and the marine environment founded in 1960.  

The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development identified conservation and sustainable use of oceans as one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. This decision demonstrates that in the international fora the crucial role of the sustainable use and preservation of marine and coastal ecosystems and their biological diversity has been recognised as essential to achieving the 2030 Agenda for a new global development framework. It is precisely the Goal 14: Life below water a primary focus of the IOC UNESCO - to enable its Member States, UN partners, scientific organizations, private sector and civil society to build the scientific and institutional capacity needed to deliver, together, the ocean we need for the future we want. The Decade of Ocean Science will help to mobilize partnerships and increase investment in priority areas where action is urgently needed.

This means, among other things, that by the end of 2025 we should prevent and significantly reduce all types of pollution of marine resources, especially those activities that come from land. The plan is to effectively regulate fishing and end overfishing, as well as destructive fishing practices. The intention is, furthermore, to implement management plans prepared on a scientific basis in order to replenish fish stocks as soon as possible. On the other hand, small professional fishermen need to be provided with access to marine resources and markets. We should reduce ocean acidification and address its effects, inter alia through improved scientific collaboration at all levels.

To tackle all these issue a better international governance is need, in order to strengthen regional and global efforts. There is still no unified world mechanism to ensure the preservation of the world's seas. In this regard, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), concluded in 1982, plays a fundamental role in the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas outside national jurisdiction under the Convention. UNCLOS sets out the rights and obligations of Member States operating on the world's seas, which includes their responsibility to protect marine life from the dangers that threaten it.

The world's governments were to conclude the last round of negotiations at the UN's 4th Intergovernmental Conference on the Law of the Sea and draft a legally binding instrument on marine biodiversity in areas outside national jurisdiction (Agreement on the World Seas). The conference was planned to be held from 23rd March - 3rd April 2020 in New York but was canceled due to COVID-19 pandemic. This would pave the way for the establishment of a huge network of protected areas, i.e. marine reserves, the protection of the third of the world's seas would be achieved, which would therefore lead to the recovery of the marine world from numerous pressures of human activity and industrial exploitation.

The Republic of Croatia, together with other EU members, participates in the work of the UN Intergovernmental Conference on an internationally binding instrument based on UNCLOS. The Convention entered into force on 16th November 1994 and the Republic of Croatia submitted a corresponding notification of succession to the UN Secretary-General on 5th April 1995.

It is important to recall that the UN General Assembly adopted the United Nations Millennium Declaration in September 2000 in New York, the UN policy document for the 21st century which sets out development goals in areas of interest to the international community and activities that should contribute to their realization. Eight Millennium Development Goals were adopted by all UN Member States committed to achieve by 2015.

Progress in achieving the Goals has not been uniform across the world and not all expectations have been met. At the UN Summit on Sustainable Development in September 2015 in New York, 193 Member States adopted a document entitled "Change the World: A Sustainable Development Agenda 2030" and 17 sustainable development goals included in that Program. UN Member States have undertaken a political commitment to implement the Sustainable Development Agenda.  Although it is not a legally binding document (so-called “soft law”), the implementation of 17 Goals should be reflected in almost all spheres of political, social and economic life at the national level.  The Global Sustainable Development Goals were developed to succeed eight Millennium Development Goals which marked the period up to 2015.


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