ESPA at the UN Ocean Conference

Daniela Diz
June 30, 2017


Managing ecosystem services more wisely – to alleviate poverty and promote human wellbeing – is becoming part of the fabric of sustainable development, reports Dr Daniela Diz, Research Fellow in International Environmental Law, University of Strathclyde, from the UN Ocean Conference. ESPA is making its own distinct contribution to policy debates.

The UN Ocean Conference, which took place from 5 to 9 June 2017 at the UN Headquarters in NY, was a big celebration of the value of ocean ecosystems and initiatives to protect them.  Thousands of delegates gathered at the UN headquarters in a full schedule of concurrent plenary discussions, partnership dialogues and side events, to boost the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 on the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

Throughout the week, the UN corridors were infused with positivity and hope despite all the challenges facing the ocean’s health and respective marine ecosystem services. Some also referred to the conference as “a big reunion” of marine colleagues from across the globe. Celebrities were also present (in person and remotely) discussing the need to conserve and use our oceans and their resources sustainably, for present and future generations.

This exciting week culminated with the adoption of a Call for Action on the Conference’s last day. The Call for Action is a slim document, yet rich with concepts that clarify the targets under SDG 14. The Call to Action includes, for instance, reference to terms and instruments not previously incorporated into SDG 14. It lists several ecosystem services that the ocean provides, and expressly recognises the oceans as an important source of biodiversity and ecosystem services for the planet as a whole.

Furthermore, the  declaration highlights the ocean’s central role in other SDGs, including its contribution to sustainable development, poverty eradication, food security and nutrition and decent work and livelihoods, and commits governments to restore the health and productivity of marine ecosystems. Specifically, it calls on all stakeholders to “approach the implementation of Goal 14 in an integrated and coordinated way and promote policies and actions that take into account the critical interlinkages among the targets of Goal 14, [and] the potential synergies between Goal 14 and the other Goals”.  


ESPA’s showcase at the Oceans Conference

As the week progressed, it became clear that ESPA projects have a lot to contribute to achieving SDG 14 and making the most of these interlinkages among the different SDGs, thanks to the high quality science ESPA is producing on the functions and flows of ecosystem services and their role in human wellbeing. In an Oceans Conference side event, ESPA showcased preliminary lessons learned from its recent Ecosystem Services for Sustainable Fisheries project. The project has researched marine ecosystem services, with a view to supporting ongoing international efforts to implement an ecosystem approach to fisheries management and to mainstream biodiversity conservation into the fisheries sector.

Our side event entitled SDGs and the Blue Economy: Investing in Marine Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation on 7 June 2017 was hosted by the Permanent Mission of Eritrea to the UN in partnership with the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), the University of Strathclyde’s Centre for Environmental Law and Governance (SCELG), the Global Ocean Biodiversity Initiative (GOBI), Marine Scotland, and the UK Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas). The event was moderated by Mr. Amanuel Giorgio from the Permanent Mission of Eritrea, and featured three speakers: Dr. Essam Yassin Mohammed (IIED), Prof. David Johnson (GOBI) and myself.

This side event demonstrated the complex nature of poverty alleviation, especially in light of a changing climate, and how the ecosystem services framework can help identify appropriate conservation and management measures, as well as beneficiaries and the most vulnerable in society, and inform decision-making processes and trade-offs in the context of an ecosystem approach, and how the multiple dimensions of poverty relevant to multiple SDGs have been addressed by ESPA fisheries-related projects.  It also shed light on how the ecosystem services framework can bridge biodiversity law and human rights

Image (above): ESPA panelists from left to right - Daniela Diz, Amanuel Giorgio and David Johnson. Photo courtesy Mike Muzurakis.


How it all comes together: ESPA’s future contribution to sustainable ocean management

The work presented at the side event will be part of a forthcoming ESPA synthesis report and policy brief on Ecosystem Services and the Sustainable Management of Fisheries. These forthcoming publications aim to support implementation of the SDGs, and they reflect several action points in the Call for Action, including:

·       raising awareness of the natural and cultural significance of the ocean, its role and its importance to sustainable development (Call for Action, para 13/d);   

·       contributing with inter-disciplinary research and increased knowledge, including traditional knowledge, of the ocean to better understand the relationship between climate and the health and the productivity of the oceans for enhanced decision-making (para 13/f);

·       providing lessons learned and research findings on the use of certain area-based management tools and the application of the precautionary and ecosystem approaches (para 13/j);

·       showcasing exemplars of effective adaptation and mitigation measures that support ocean and coastal resilience in the face of climate change and ocean acidification effects; (para 13/k) and

·       providing lessons learned and key findings from ESPA projects concerning sustainable fisheries management, the use of the precautionary and ecosystem approaches to fisheries, and improving the socioeconomic conditions of small scale fishers (para 13/l, o).

ESPA’s contribution also aims at fostering the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Decision XIII/3 on strategic actions to enhance the implementation of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and the achievement of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. These include mainstreaming and integrating biodiversity conservation within and across sectors. More specifically, the strategic actions will address the integration of biodiversity and ecosystem services into the fisheries sector, including as part of the ecosystem approach (CBD Decision XIII/3; 59-76), and the mainstreaming of Aichi Biodiversity Targets into the implementation of the SDGs (para 14 of the CBD Decision).

With such a close alignment of goals, the ESPA programme is committed to continuing its contribution to the systemic implementation of SDG 14 including through its research for healthy, productive and resilient oceans and respective ecosystem services and governance systems, which enable sustainable and resilient livelihoods and the alleviation of poverty in its multiple dimensions.


Daniela presented on the main findings, messages and preliminary lessons learned from ESPA research related to fisheries and the implementation of SDG 14  - read more about the projects here:

·        Assessing health, livelihoods, ecosystem services and poverty alleviation in populous deltas (DELTAS);

·        Sustainable poverty alleviation from coastal ecosystem services: Investigating elasticities, feedbacks and tradeoffs (SPACES);

·        Coastal Ecosystem Services in East Africa (CESEA);

·        Global Learning Opportunities for Regional Indian ocean Adaptation (GLORIA);

·        Attaining Sustainable Services from Ecosystems through Trade-off Scenario (ASSETS);

·        Building Capacity for Sustainable Governance in South Asian Fisheries; and

·        Marine Benefits.



Featured image courtesy of 'goodwines', via flickr