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United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development

Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU)

IPU Statement
Hon. Ms. Paddy Torsney
Permanent Observer of the
IPU to the United Nations
United Nations Ocean Conference
New York, 5-9 June 2017
Distinguished delegates,
This is the last day of an impressive week-long ocean conference. Many interventions
recounted the problem before us, so I will focus on the way forward and the actions that
national parliaments, alone and through the IPU, have pledged to support the
implementation of SDG 14 and all related commitments.
For too many people, the ocean is remote, seemingly impervious to human interference,
and limitless. But in fact nothing could be farther from the truth. The ocean is the largest
ecosystem and in many ways the most important one. It is a source of livelihoods for
hundreds of millions of people, through fishing, shipping, mining and tourism, and it
provides a huge service to our planet and to people by absorbing nearly a third of carbon
emissions and by contributing hugely to the food chain and to biodiversity.
And yet, everywhere we look, the ocean is at risk, if not dying. Why? Well, it comes down
to a combination of economic necessity, greed, and a cavalier attitude toward the
environment in general.
This conference has helped raise awareness of the ocean, and the need to act as part of
the Sustainable Development Goals. In particular, it has brought the issue closer to the
hearts and minds of parliamentarians all over the world. At the end of the day,
parliamentarians are first in line to adopt the laws, approve regulatory changes, and make
budgetary allocations that are required to advance SDG 14 and now the Call for Action,
the main outcome of this conference.
Together with the President of the General Assembly, last February IPU organized a
major parliamentary hearing here at the UN which was attended by nearly 200 members
of parliament. Entitled A world of Blue, preserving the oceans, safeguarding the planet
and ensuring human well-being in the context of the 2030 Agenda, the hearing concluded
with a set of recommendations addressed to governments, parliaments and other
stakeholders, many of which, I am glad to say, are reflected in the Call for Action.
A number of recommendations are very specific, suggesting that parliamentarians
appreciate the scale and urgency of the problem and not settle on half measures. So let
me give you some highlights from the long list of actions recommended in the hearing
report, which was circulated last week as document A/71/898:
- Ban single use plastic bags and polyethylene foam ;
- Make large polluters pay for damage they cause and invest the revenue in ocean
- Factor the environmental cost of shipping into future trade negotiations;
- Impose fishing moratoria and quotas to help regenerate dwindling fish stocks;
- Assess more carefully the environmental and economic risks of aquaculture and
industrial fishing vs. the benefits of small scale, artisanal fishing;
- Make better use of traditional knowledge, and don’t simply rely on high tech,
costly solutions.
Perhaps the most important underlying message of our parliamentary hearing is that
making consumption and production patterns more sustainable will not suffice in the face
of a growing global population and a finite ocean environment.
As the conclusion of the report noted, reversing the decline of the ocean “will require a
more critical perspective on a way of life, particularly in developed countries, that has
created unsustainable rates of consumption and pollution. The crisis of the ocean’s health
represents an opportunity for a shift in value systems and behavior that is more aligned
with sustainability and consideration for others, beginning with the most vulnerable.”
Another message from the hearing had to do with the blue economy – a common
expression which we would have loved to see in the Call for Action. There is no question
that this economy has its rightful place next to the so-called green economy: they are two
sides of the same coin. If we subsume the blue economy under the green economy we
will not do justice to the many specific issues that affect the ocean and all of the people
who depend on it.
As the Call for Action rightly points out, national ownership grounded in national
development plans and strategies, will be key to implementing of the SDGs, including of
course Goal 14. Having placed the SDGs at the center of its operational strategy for years
to come, IPU is investing considerable resources to help parliaments and parliamentarians
mainstream the SDGs, contribute to their national plans, and ensure accountability for
We are very pleased therefore that members of parliament have been identified in the Call
for Action as a key constituency in this whole enterprise. Let us seize the momentum of
this conference to begin to reverse the tide and return the ocean its natural state.
Thank you.