Life Below Water: Sustainable Development Goal 14

The Ocean Conference 
United Nations, New York
June 5–9, 2017

At this moment, the UN has before it the challenge of its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 14 is Life Below Water, and it is the subject of a major UN Ocean Conference in June 2017 wherein all the nations, UN agencies, civil society and non-government organizations, the scientific community, financial institutions, and other interested parties will convene at the General Assembly in New York to exchange views, set objectives, seek funds, build partnerships, and otherwise focus specifically on the ocean and its relation to action toward sustainability in the 21st century. This conference, co-hosted by Sweden and Fiji, purports to be “a game changer that will reverse the decline of our ocean for people, planet, and prosperity.” There will be a final consensus declaration and call for action for the implementation of Goal 14 as part of an agenda targeted for success by 2030.

The United Nations is the world’s grand secret society. Its machinations are pervasive, sometime fraught, oftentimes successful, and in its hand is found in the middle of the mix of international policy, regulation, collaborative practice, and conflict resolution that affects our lives in ways the public does not fully perceive or understand. It is, nonetheless, a system based on voluntary funding and commitments and is subject to the limits of consensus, not to mention the veto power of certain individual nations that can defy the agreement among all the others.

Making progress in such an organization requires understanding of the conflicting needs among nations, diplomacy, compromise, and integrity measured mostly by payment of dues, funds dedicated by certain nations for certain goals and objectives, and time. The schedule of events and the organizational structure is designed to allow for the process to unfold at the most practical level, hence a pace that is set not so much by the disinterested as by the capacity of every nation to live up to its best intentions. For a long time I misunderstood and fought against this apparently endless dialogue and practice, until I realized that it is the only way such a complicated set of interests and needs can be communicated and reconciled toward incremental achievement.

So for a week in New York, the ocean apparat will gather for The Ocean Conference: Our Oceans, Our Future — one of those seminal events where expectation is high and the urgency to move forward is palpable. The final report will include summaries of partnerships made, specific new projects and concrete action to advance Goal 14, and voluntary contributions committed. Toward this outcome I can only add an enthusiastic voice of support and the full participation of the World Ocean Observatory to communicate the outcome.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) were created as an attempt to organize a vast compendium of issues and needs, of knowledge and intent, into understandable goals, objectives and strategies. But what I continue to argue is that the ocean is the global commonality encompassing the entirety of this compendium. There is no other totally inclusive system that contains all the problems and all the solutions. The ocean cross-cuts them all, involves them all, integrates them all, and relates them all as the focus, the ecological commons that overlays all this effort and aspiration and informs all response at every level, from the consequence of indifference to the success of future action, from individual to local, regional, and global response. I assert that the ocean is the nexus for the true collaboration and realization of all these goals for worldwide sustainable development.

Follow the conversation using the hashtags #SaveOurOcean and #SDG14. Join the effort to save our ocean by registering your voluntary commitment at oceanconference.un.org/commitments.


United Nations Ocean Conference: Our Oceans, Our Future first appeared as a 5-minute audio episode on World Ocean Radio. Host Peter Neill is founder and director of the World Ocean Observatory, a web-based place of exchange for information and educational services about the health of the world ocean. Online at worldoceanobservatory.org.