Amid Paris pact uncertainty, global goals set course for protecting nature

Local fishermen, Timor-Leste

Local fishermen launch their boat at Valu Beach, in Nino Konis Santana National Park, Timor-Leste. (© World Wildlife Fund, Inc. / Matthew Abbott)

Editor’s note: Today’s post is the third in our Sea the Future series offering expert insight into the latest oceans news. The topic: the Sustainable Development Goals, which are the focus of the global U.N. Ocean Conference that begins tomorrow.

The U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) serve as a guide for the international community to protect nature and improve human well-being. As countries gather in New York this week to focus on the health of the world’s oceans, the need for international cooperation and action is more pressing than ever.

At the U.N. Ocean Conference, leaders will grapple with some of the most challenging issues facing our oceans — from pollution to climate change to development.

The conference is part of a global commitment to enact Goal 14, “Life Below Water,” one of 17 Sustainable Development Goals that aim to end poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change by 2030. As humanity pushes the limits of Earth’s ability to sustain us, these critical goals represent the first-ever attempt by the global community to map a clear and holistic pathway for sustainable development — and to hold nations accountable for their progress.

In 2012, 193 countries came together in Rio de Janeiro and agreed to these universal goals, which specify social, economic and environmental targets for governments to meet. Examples include creating sustainable cities, spurring clean and affordable energy and providing quality education. Within the 17 goals, negotiators identified 160 specific targets for how to meet them — a global to-do list for a healthier and more prosperous future. Underlying nearly all of these goals is one essential ingredient: nature.

“The Sustainable Development Goals provide an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate that nature underpins our societies, economies and prosperity on planet Earth,” said CI scientist David Hole. “People need nature to thrive, and sustainably using nature is essential to achieve truly sustainable development for all by 2030.”

While Goal 14 is often framed as an environmental goal, it is connected to a host of other goals essential for human development and economic growth, Hole said. By working with countries like Indonesia to protect coral reefs, for example, CI also supports the fisheries that people rely on for food and livelihoods — a direct connection to Goal 2, “Zero Hunger,” and Goal 1, “No Poverty.” Protecting oceans is also critical for Goal 13, “Climate Action,” since healthy oceans absorb heat and carbon dioxide while helping coastal communities adapt to stronger storms and higher seas.

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“What makes the Sustainable Development Goals so crucial is that they address sustainable development holistically by explicitly linking climate change and all other facets of society, the economy and the environment,” Hole said. “For example, preventing tropical deforestation while permitting forest regrowth in areas that limit competition with food production can help countries achieve additional targets that depend on nature.”

While governments around the world recognize the need for swift, coordinated action on the Sustainable Development Goals, many countries lack the guidance and capacity to deliver on their U.N. commitments. To fill this need, CI advises governments worldwide, providing technical support and tools to help them craft plans and monitor progress.

In Fiji, for instance, CI works closely with local landowners and indigenous peoples to conserve forests in the Sovi Basin, where over 70 percent of the country’s population lives. These forests protect watersheds that provide clean water to tens of thousands of people, helping meet SDG Goal 6, “Clean Water and Sanitation.”

“CI is directly helping countries work towards achieving the SDGs through leveraging the services that nature provides us,” said Hole. “We are grasping this opportunity with both hands providing the science that illuminates nature’s role in sustainable development, the boots-in-the-mud demonstrations that prove conservation is a fundamental part of the solution and the policies that enable sustainable development to move forward.”

Leah Bevin Duran is a development writer at Conservation International.

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