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Source: Small Island Developing States

July 2019: The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) released the summary report from its First Global Planning Meeting on the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-20230). The report summarizes the priority issues expressed by participants, identifies knowledge gaps in how to address the Decade’s societal goals and makes recommendations.

Participants identified research priorities for the Decade’s six societal goals at the meeting. In addition, participants recommended, inter alia: maintaining the Decade’s focus “Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, not just ocean science”; including social sciences and interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary approaches in the early design of the programme and in every societal area; prioritizing ocean literacy; and building capacity for small island developing States (SIDS) and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) through the Decade.

The working group on ‘A Clean Ocean’ said research priorities for a clean ocean should include identifying primary sources of pollution, identifying pathways and fates of pollution, and determining ways to eliminate, reduce or mitigate the effects of pollution. Participants stressed the need to develop regional agreements and initiatives on sources and sinks of wastes across countries and identified research needs on climate change impacts, such as how rising sea levels and acidification will change ocean chemistry. To strengthen the linkages between pollution, ecosystem impacts and human health impacts, participants recommended eight areas of research, including on the impacts of plastic pollution, including nanoplastics, on ecosystems and people. The group made a number of recommendations, including that the Decade, working with UN Oceans, should promote the development of a global contaminants database with data on essential ocean pollution elements; and that there should be an effort to advocate for stronger legislation for plastic producers, such as ensuring 30% recyclable plastic in new products.

The Working Group on ‘A Healthy and Resilient Ocean’ identified a need to define “restoration,” noting there is no common understanding of ecological restoration, ocean health or resilience, and emphasizing that a scientific understanding of the future ocean we want needs “clear definitions of what is possible and acceptable.” Additional knowledge needs to include increased understanding of the mesopelagic zone’s ecosystem structure and function, the interdependence among systems and ocean social-ecological complexity, and identification of essential ocean variables. Participants recommended, inter alia: assessing the effects of policy measures aimed at restoration to improve understanding of ecological trade-offs associated with different policies and sustainable development pathways; creating more interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary interactions to articulate key questions; and overcoming barriers to scientific collaboration, including scientific competition and engagement among scientists and policymakers.

The Working Group on ‘A Predicted Ocean’ emphasized that better scientific understanding of ocean ecosystems is necessary to provide prediction services and pathway-relevant advice, particularly on mid-and-deep water ecological processes and for the Southern Hemisphere and Arctic. Participants said a major goal of the Decade should be “to increase knowledge about the deep ocean sufficiently to address how it is responding to climate change” and resource extraction. They also encouraged understanding better how deep ocean processes are connected to coastal and surface processes, and what lives in the deep ocean.

Additional knowledge needs relate to science to support management of areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) to ensure that agreements are informed by science; increased ocean observations for weather and climate forecasts; development of methods to monitor and evaluate observation and data services; and development of indicators to measure societal outcomes, including measures of habitat loss and fisheries yields. The group recommended, inter alia: increased observations of ocean biology and ecosystem data to be able to evaluate SDG indicators, including the seven SDG 14 (life below water) indicators that do not have sufficient data to monitor progress; partnerships with the blue economy sectors to utilize private sector observing platforms; and mainstreaming the deep ocean into discussions across all societal areas.

The Working Group on ‘A Safe Ocean’ identified research priorities related to the relationship between human health and ocean health; increased understanding of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) for the polar region; impact-based forecasting, which connects hazards to impacts; and development of prediction and warning systems for harmful algal blooms. Participants recommended, inter alia: encouraging and supporting the revision of the international chemical standards framework to address an increasing number of POPs that potentially harm the marine environment; and developing partnerships to increase data sharing and ocean observations to support hazard identification and forecasting.

The Working Group on ‘A Sustainable Harvested Ocean’ identified a need to establish links between ocean health and impacts on resources and blue economy sectors as well as on the impacts of the blue economy on fisheries, such as the impacts from offshore mining, energy generation, deep sea minerals extraction and tourism on fisheries. Participants also recommended prioritizing research on trade-offs between different uses of the ocean, the impacts of climate change impacts on fisheries; the impacts of activities like mineral extraction and fisheries on ecosystem health and sustainability; sustainable harvesting at the ecosystem level, including better understanding inter-relationships between species; and food production and nutrition. To address research priorities and knowledge gaps, the group recommended, inter alia: developing compliance standards for fishing, with maximum sustainable yield as the threshold; developing a global scale literature review on how species distribution will change with climate change and how this change will impact fisheries; and developing an early warning system to minimize and manage risks to food sources.

The Working Group on ‘A Transparent Ocean’ identified the “policy disconnect and inability of nations to deal with ocean-related policy issues because of a lack of clarity” as one of the biggest concerns. Participants noted that few countries have a minister of oceans and observed there is a “systemic failure and a policy failure in addressing ocean issues.” They suggested the Decade could provide countries with a common scientific and technical progamme to communicate and coordinate efforts and recommended coordinating between UN agencies at the regional level to compile ocean data. Additional recommendations focused on, inter alia: developing the Decade Data System; developing mechanisms to evaluate whether the Decade meets societal needs; promoting ocean information as a public good; and supporting and promoting the World Ocean Assessment to provide trusted information and advice.

The meeting also addressed a number of cross-cutting actions, including recommendations on capacity development and technology transfer; partnerships and financing; access to data, information and knowledge; and communication on the Decade.

The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO convened the First Global Planning Meeting on the Decade from 13-15 May 2019, in Copenhagen, Denmark. Since then, two regional meetings have taken place to inform the preparation phase of the Decade: one in Pacific region and a second in the North Pacific and Western Pacific Marginal Seas region. [Meeting Website] [SDG Knowledge Story on First Regional Meeting] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Second Regional Meeting] [UN Decade for Ocean Science]

MIL OSI Asia Pacific News