United NationsDepartment of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development

New Zealand

Oceans and seas is a very important issue for New Zealand and one which we want to see
well-reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), ideally as a standalone goal.
Oceans are essential for sustainable development. Many of the reasons why are flagged in
the Technical Support Team’s useful brief:
• Oceans cover three quarters of the Earth’s surface and produce much of the oxygen we
• Over three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods.
• Oceans are also the world’s largest source of water and animal protein.
• Oceans absorb one third of the carbon dioxide emitted by humans.
• Oceans are the arteries for 90% of the world’s trade.
The rapid decline in global fish stocks, sea level rise, ocean acidification, increasing demand
for space, land-based impacts, and loss of marine biodiversity are threatening these
essential services and along with them the health, livelihoods, homes and food security of
billions of people. It is critical, therefore, that oceans are given priority attention as we
develop the sustainable development goals.
There is a tendency for oceans to be seen as an environmental issue or one that only has
relevance for SIDS and coastal states. This significantly diminishes their importance to the
planet. While we recognise the specific challenges and opportunities oceans offer to such
States, including our own, oceans is a global issue requiring global attention.
At Rio+20 we agreed that SDGs “should address and incorporate in a balanced way all three
dimensions of sustainable development”, taking a holistic, integrated approach”.
New Zealand believes that oceans encompass all three dimensions:
Economic dimension
• The economic development benefits of oceans are undeniable. Globally over 350 million
jobs are linked to marine fisheries and aquaculture and other oceans-related sectors
such as shipping and oil and gas industries are also significant employers. Coastal and
marine tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors of global tourism and the global
trading system relies on oceans for the delivery of goods and many services.
• New uses of oceans offer significant economic development potential too. Renewable
energy opportunities and sustainable exploitation of marine genetic resources are
Capitalising on the potential of oceans provides an important development pathway for
millions of people. But it is crucial that States can benefit from the true economic value of
their oceans resources.
Social dimension
• Oceans make a vital contribution to global food security with fish providing the world’s
largest single source of protein. For many developing countries the oceans are the only
affordable and easy way to acquire animal protein. Fish is also essential for healthy
nutrition providing communities with essential amino acids, fats and micronutrients.
• In recognition of the important role of oceans, the General Assembly decided last year to
make the role of fisheries in food security the focus of this year’s Informal Consultative
Process on Oceans and Law of the Sea. This initiative, of which New Zealand is a strong
supporter, will usefully complement deliberations on the SDGs and the post-2015
development agenda.
• The Technical Support Team’s brief usefully noted that the majority of rain that falls on
land originates in the oceans, giving us water for drinking, hygiene and sanitation,
agriculture and industrial development. This important role is one of the reasons why
oceans are of critical importance for all, including non-coastal States.
• Oceans are an integral part of many indigenous cultures, including in New Zealand. The
Maori proverb “Toitu te marae a Tane, toitu te marae a Tangaroa, toitu te iwi”, meaning “If
the world of Tane (all living things on land) endures, if the marae of Tangaroa (the lakes,
rivers and sea) endures, the people endure” has reasonance here as we consider the
role of oceans for sustainable development.
Environmental dimension
• The oceans are an essential component of the Earth’s ecosystem and fundamental to
sustaining human life worldwide. As well as providing most of the earth’s water, oceans
provide a vast array of ecosystem services. They are a regulator of the global climate
and play a key role in carbon sequestration.
• Marine plants including phytoplankton and seaweeds produce 50% of the oxygen on
Earth. That means every other breath you take is dependent on oceans, regardless of
how close to the sea you live – another reason why oceans is a global issue.
• Oceans and their associated coastal ecosystems, such as coral reefs and mangrove
systems, provide a major food source, filter pollutants, provide a buffer against the
impacts of extreme weather events, and provide flood control and coastal protection from
tsunamis and storm surges.
These points clearly illustrate the importance of oceans to economic, social and
environmental development. They also illustrate why healthy, productive, and resilient
oceans are relevant for all countries regardless of whether they have a coast.
But what takes oceans from just being important to being a priority issue that warrants
inclusion in the SDGs?
Oceans are under considerable strain. As noted earlier, essential services and the ocean’s
food supply are threatened by the continued and rapid decline of marine biodiversity caused
primarily by overfishing, IUU fishing, pollution including from land-based sources, and climate
change. Ocean acidification threatens the survival of some marine organisms, including
corals, which are essential for biodiversity, fish stocks, tourism and coastal protection. It also
threatens a range of other species including molluscs, bryzoans and seaweeds, with
significant implications for our oceans’ biodiversity.
Rising sea levels created by climate change will make life impossible in some SIDS and lowlying
regions. Intensive use of oceans and runoff from land-based pollution, particularly in
coastal areas, increases risks to human health, for example, from waterborne infectious
diseases and chemical pollutants. Like many marine industries, while the tourism sector
provides significant employment and economic growth, its continued viability is inextricably
linked to the health of the oceans and the species they support. Coral reef tourism is a
perfect example of a tourism sector that is significantly threatened by continual decline in
ocean health. In addition to these strains, the capacity for many developing States to address
these issues and to capitalise from the potential of their oceans resources is limited.
We have not been blind to these problems: in The Future We Want we acknowledged the
human impact on oceans and the importance of building the capacity of developing countries
to be able to benefit from the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans. But we have
reached a critical juncture where concerted collective action is necessary.
When we consider these commitments, some may ask why we need to address the oceans
in the SDG process. In a crowded field of competing issues, what is the value-added of
having an oceans SDG. It is this question that I wish to speak to today.
The overarching answer links to the truly critical nature of oceans to the health of our planet
and our livelihoods. When considered in this light it is hard to imagine how member States
could “map” the next 15 years of development priorities and exclude oceans and seas.
However putting aside that larger picture, there are also three other, relatively simple,
reasons why for New Zealand considers having an oceans SDG would add value to existing
1. We could integrate existing commitments. While we address human activities in the
oceans on a sectoral basis the impacts are not sectoral in nature. The call for a
more integrated approach to oceans has been reiterated numerous times over the
last two days. The first step is surely to bring all of these challenges and
commitments into one place where we can see how they interact and intersect. An
oceans SDG would do that.
2. Inclusion of oceans in the SDGs would catalyse much needed action to implement
existing commitments. The time has well-passed for many of these commitments
and yet change eludes us. The SDG process can build that momentum. It can also
galvanise greater support to developing countries, particularly SIDS, to implement
these commitments through capacity building and technology transfer.
3. Lastly, but certainly not least, the inclusion of oceans in the SDG will enable us to
measure our progress towards achieving these objectives. Some data is available
but we recognise that more will be needed. Measurability will be a challenge across
all potential SDGs. It could also be an opportunity; there are impacts on the oceans
that would benefit from greater monitoring but we lack the means or impetus to do
The co-chairs have stressed the need not just to identify potential goals but also possible
targets/actions that would contribute to their achievement in the next 15 years. There are
many existing targets relevant to oceans agreed in other processes but not achieved for
some reason. One option is to build on those. The TST paper highlighted some key areas:
• Ensure conservation and sustainable use of the oceans and seas and of their resources.
Key targets in this area could be targets on restoring fish stocks; combating IUU fishing;
and eliminating fisheries subsidies;
• Reduce the incidence and impacts of marine pollution, with a key target being meeting
the existing 2025 target on marine debris;
• Prevent introduction of alien invasive species and manage their adverse environmental
impacts, and;
• Address issues such as ocean acidification.
New Zealand, as a strong supporter of an ambituous outcome for oceans, stands ready to
work with others during the next phase of the SDG process on an oceans goal that builds on
the outcomes in The Future We Want.
There is really only one ocean: something that happens in one part of the world affects
oceans elsewhere. We all therefore have a stake in ensuring that the world’s oceans deliver
on their potential for sustainable development. New Zealand considers that oceans should
be regarded as a priority issue and would be best addressed through a standalone goal.