The focus of this year’s United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea (ICP) meeting from 6 to 10 April was ‘Oceans and sustainable development: Integration of the three dimensions of sustainable development, namely, environmental, social and economic’.
With the high-level UN Summit on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set for the 25–27 September, the SDG process and proposed indicators was one of the key focal points at the ICP’s sixteenth meeting. The adoption of a stand-alone goal for oceans is critical if the importance of the ocean and its linkages in all three areas of sustainable development is to be emphasized in the post-2015 development agenda.
Under the proposed stand-alone goal – SDG14 – which aims to ‘Conserve and Sustainably Use the Oceans, Seas and Marine Resources for Sustainable Development’, specific targets have been set, particularly 14.5 (to conserve at least 10% of marine and coastal areas by 2020) and 14c (to ensure full implementation of international law under UNCLOS for conservation and sustainable use of oceans). While strong indicators to assess global progress toward these targets are needed, a key element of full implementation of SDG14 will be a new legally binding instrument under UNCLOS on the conservation and sustainable use of high seas biodiversity. This instrument, which will be the focus of a UN Preparatory Committee in 2016–17, could provide a universal framework to establish marine protected areas on the high seas. Combined with other “package” elements envisioned to be included, a new marine biodiversity agreement would lay the legal foundation to achieve and assess the SDG14 targets and indicators across the board – and effective change for the high seas at long last.