By Guest-Author, Marine Biologist Beth Francis.
Tomorrow, September 25th 2015, is a big day. It’s the day on which 193 leaders from across the globe will meet at the United Nations in New York City, to officially adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This Agenda introduces 17 global goals for sustainable development, known as the Sustainable Development Goals or the Global Goals, and these 17 goals aim to build upon the eight Millennium Development Goals of the year 2000, to help end extreme poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change over the next 15 years. September 26th will be the start of a week-long effort to get these Goals seen by all 7 Billion people on this planet.
I for one am thrilled to see that some of issues closest to my heart are addressed by the UN in these global goals. While I can’t believe that we live in a world where the need for gender equality still has to be written down as a target to be achieved over the next 15 years, the success of the Millennium Development Goals, reported by the UN in July, gives me confidence that by setting these goals and targets, real steps will be taken to achieve them. I hope that we will see similar successes to the 45% decline in maternal mortality since the last time goals like this were set.
As a firm believer in the important links between humanitarian and environmental causes, I was pleased to see that alongside the poverty and equality concerns, “Life Below Water” was highlighted as one of the main global issues we are currently facing and that the UN has set out ten targets to improve the ways in which we use (and abuse) the oceans. But are these enough? The announcement of these Global Goals comes just days after a report by WWF concluded that the populations of marine fish, mammals, birds and reptiles have declined by half in the last 45 years.
Upon reading these targets, I was desperately hoping for a clear way in which we are going to act globally to save the world’s oceans which face such varied and increasing threats. I wanted to know exactly how the UN plans to, for example, end Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing by 2020, when all actions thus far have fallen short. Since the 1990’s the UN has drawn up several regulations aimed at controlling IUU fishing, such as the International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing, yet IUU fishing is still rampant. Will this target finally lead to enforceable regulations on fishing?
Other targets, such as the aim to protect at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas by 2020, seem to simply echo previous targets. Target 11 of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets laid out by the 2011 meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity already set the aim of 10% of marine and coastal habitats being protected by 2020 (revising a previous target date of 2012), yet as of right now, just 2.12% is protected. Both the current figure and the UN 2020 target fall well below the 30% needed to preserve biodiversity, as recommended by the 2014 World Parks Congress.
The targets set out under this Global Goal, seem to me a strange combination of ambitious and timid, of vague and constrained, yet what I have realised in researching this article is that raising these issues is one of the most powerful things we can do. The simple fact that the UN has identified the need to set these targets and been ambitious in its aims to protect the seas, I believe, is part of a huge step forwards from the old-school attitudes of “plenty more fish in the sea”.
Highlighting the challenges that we face on a world stage really does have the potential to encourage huge global progress, so could this be the week that changes the world? I hope that these goals provide the foundations from which we can hold governments and businesses accountable against all of these global targets, as well as ourselves as individuals, and use this opportunity to work to create a better future.
So, what can you do? TELL EVERYONE! The real power in these development goals is to inform and inspire people across the world to work together and make the world a better place. So read, learn and share. I will leave you with this video from Professor Stephen Hawking who speaks eloquently about quite how important these goals are. As he says “the time to act is now”.