Integrating Oceans Governance into the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development


In an effort to convene experts and stakeholders to address cross-cutting challenges of global oceans governance, The Hague Institute convened a conference on March 31 and April 1, 2016, with a public expert panel on 31 March. Throughout the conference, the topic of sustainable development was extensively discussed.

2015 marked the end of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs have been criticized for being mainly a social agenda, thereby neglecting environmental concerns. While one of the MDGs focused on environmental sustainability, a maritime dimension was largely lacking. By contrast, the post-2015 development agenda, adopted by the United Nations in September 2015, puts environmental issues front and center—including the world’s oceans.

Against this important turn towards the oceans in international development policy, one of the conference’s panel will be dedicated to The Blue Economy and Sustainable Development post-2015. It will focus in particular on the pursuit of Goal No. 14 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal No. 14 concerns the conservation and sustainable use the oceans, seas and marine resources. Specific targets include the reduction of marine pollution, managing and protecting marine ecosystems, eliminating harmful fishing subsidies, increasing scientific knowledge and the implementation of international law, in particular through the framework of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Countries need the right institutions in place to successfully pursue SDG No. 14. This makes SDG No. 16 (targets to build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels) equally important in improving global oceans governance and achieving “blue growth”. This means promoting the rule of law, improving national and global governance, and reducing violence and corruption in all forms.

As the Global Ocean Commission’s 2014 report entitled From Decline to Recovery – A Rescue Package for the Global Ocean observed, the world’s marine and coastal resources have a market value of US$3 trillion, which is 5 per cent of global GDP. According to World Bank estimates, approximately 350 million jobs, mostly in developing countries, are dependent on the oceans for fishing, aquaculture, coastal and marine tourism, and research. Hence, preserving people’s livelihoods and attaining economic growth while protecting and conserving the marine environment needs to be understood as a matter of concern for local, regional and global governance.

Bringing about the turn towards the oceans in global development policy, however, will not be easy. A failure to provide effective oceans governance has critically endangered the health of oceans. Since a significant part of the world’s economy is dependent on the oceans, it is of crucial importance to manage them safely and sustainably.

Unfortunately, thus far economic gain has come with high environmental costs. As national fisheries exhaust their own Economic Exclusive Zones (EEZ), they move to the high seas, where a lack of regulation and monitoring has lead to an overcapacity in large fishing boasts. The Global Ocean Commission report observes that the current size of the global of fishing fleet on the high seas is 2.5 times too large to catch fish at a sustainable rate. This has led to exceedingly depleting fish populations towards extinction. Also in coastal areas, the environmental burden weighs heavily. According to the World Bank, due to “expanding coastal population centers, 35% of global mangrove, 20% of coral reefs, and 30% of sea grass beds have been destroyed.”

How can suggestions to improve global oceans governance help stem the tide? Mostly in the inability of nation states to resolve problems related to matters beyond their national jurisdiction, requiring nation states to work more closely together—while reaching out to non-state stakeholders—to bring about sustainable practices for the vast area of the high seas on which no single country can lay claim.

The European Commission’s Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries acknowledges that “the existing international Ocean Governance Framework is often not effective for the reason that agreed rules and policies are not ratified, complied with or implemented or due to an overlap or a lack of coordination between existing institutions and processes.” An example of this is the lack of ratifications to bring into effect the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing adopted in 2009. However, it is not only important to effectively enforce the international laws that are in place. It is also essential that the users of the maritime and coastal resources cooperate to conserve these resources in the name of mutual benefit and optimal efficiency.

In order to make progress in Oceans Governance, an integrated approach is necessary to create synergy between goals on the oceans, development, and good governance at large. This means that both challenges of the oceans, marine and maritime resources of SDG No. 14 have to be linked to challenges related to effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels of SDG No.16. In a recent policy study on The Sustainable Development Goals in The Netherlands an integrated approach was put forward that “is aimed at both horizontal integration – linking various themes and sectors – as well as vertical policy integration – linking subnational, national and regional (e.g. EU) and international scales”. This approach will help reduce the possible negative effects of trade-offs by realizing both Goal No. 14 and No. 16 at the same time.

Due to the interconnectedness of our modern-day societies, the integration of the policies between the people and the planet on a global scale is pivotal to both prosperity and justice. Oceans and seas are essential drivers for our economy, let our economy not be its driver of decline.



Further Reading

Completed: Global Governance Reform Initiative

The Global Governance Reform Initiative (GGRI), a collaboration between  The Hague Institute for Global Justice, The Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Observer Research Foundation…