“It’s just a matter of rolling up our sleeves”

Published 22 March 2017 in:

Isabella Lövin. Photo Kristian Pohl

Never have our oceans been as stressed as they are today. And yet, the world has long chosen not to recognise or acknowledge the seriousness of the situation, or perhaps it has seen the problems as isolated issues. This is why the UN Ocean Conference in June is so important.

Marine issues are urgent, to put it mildly; overfishing, litter, acidification and plastic threaten both the environment and humanity. These issues are not isolated either – fish is one of the most globally traded food commodities, while litter and toxins are transported around the planet by ocean currents. Half the sea is international waters, and billions of people are dependent on oceans for their income and nutrition, not least in developing countries. Every second breath we take is generated by the oceans. Quite simply, humanity is dependent on the oceans for its survival.

Yet the sea has never had its own forum in the UN system; fishing issues have their own organisation, pollution and poverty have theirs, and the law of the sea has its own division.

“But when discussing the ocean’s problems, everything is connected. This conference was necessary a long time ago. We have focused on the issues separately in a silo approach, and this has not solved the problems,” says Minister for International Development Cooperation and Climate Isabella Lövin.

And now a number of agreements are in place, as is the 2030 Agenda, and Sustainable Development Goal 14 is clear. What remains now is to implement these agreements, and this is where the Ocean Conference comes into the picture.

“We now have to take this further and look at how to implement this,” says Ms Lövin. Technically speaking, we have every chance of monitoring illegal fishing, for example. Dealing with acidification, plastic debris – it’s just a matter of rolling up our sleeves and getting to work. It’s now about setting aside resources for this, which requires international political will.

And time is of the essence.

“If you look at the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, it is Goal 14 that is most headed in the wrong direction. We must have sustainable fisheries by 2020, we must reduce plastic pollution, we must reduce acidification, and so on. Unfortunately, however, the trend is towards more illegal fishing, more pollution, more plastic in the sea. That is why it is so incredibly important to mobilise and exert pressure, to bring together organisations, countries, civil society organisations and the private sector. If everything just took care of itself, we would not need this conference.”

But there appears to be hope. There was considerable interest at the preparatory meeting in February, and Ms Lövin says the hesitation previously expressed by certain countries has now faded and the response to the Ocean Conference as “increasingly positive”.

And this is fortunate. Because if we are not successful in reversing this trend, we can expect major food security problems (since fish is the most important source of protein for billions of people) and jellyfish invasions (excessive fishing results in the most resilient species taking over), and animals – and ultimately people – getting sick, because the sea is filling up with more and more plastic.

“We have now even found plastic in plankton,” says Ms Lövin, and continues:

“That’s why this conference is such an important opportunity, and I am very pleased that Sweden is taking the lead on such an important issue. Particularly now, as powerful forces are questioning multilateralism; this a good issue to rally around and show that we have the strength that we can – and must – work together. Although each individual country can protect its own small coastal area, it is still affected by its neighbours.”

Sweden has three priorities ahead of the Ocean Conference: marine litter, the impact of climate change on the oceans and the sustainable blue economy. Sweden particularly wants to highlight the challenges facing the poorest and most vulnerable countries, regions and populations. Clean and flourishing oceans are a prerequisite for eradicating poverty, hunger and inequalities, as well as halting the loss of biodiversity. One condition is that we succeed in achieving the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Three ministries are working together on the conference. “This also shows the scope of the issue. It’s also a strength that those working in the various ministries can benefit from all the skills we have at the Government Offices. And that strength is necessary,” says Ms Lövin, who also emphasises the role of missions abroad. “Missions abroad play an important role in the Ocean Conference by creating engagement and encouraging countries to make voluntary commitments on how they will achieve the Oceans Goal. Even the fact that the conference is being co-hosted by Fiji and Sweden provides strength,” she says.

“The fact that we are one rich country and one developing nation, which is an island state, offers a breadth to our various approaches. It shows we have a common agenda and are connected by the same oceans.”


The UN Ocean Conference will be held in New York on 5–9 June 2017.

The conference will lead to:

  • A joint Call for Action
  • A summary of the conference’s partnership dialogues
  • A summary of voluntary commitments

Three ministries are working together on the conference.

  • The Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation (transport, shipping and fishing issues)
  • The Ministry of the Environment (environmental issues)
  • The Ministry for Foreign Affairs (international dimensions and development assistance)

Goal 14 of the 2030 Agenda deals with:

  • reducing marine pollution,
  • highlighting and reducing acidification,
  • regulating illegal fishing,
  • protecting at least 10 per cent of marine environments and coastal environments,
  • developing marine technologies and research,
  • supporting small-scale sustainable fishing, and
  • implementing international law as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).