Turning the tides towards a holistic land-water-ocean approach

News May 13, 2020

Virtual high-level dialogue in the time of COVID-19, stressed the importance of source-to-sea management to achieve SDG 14, and called for a green-blue recovery from the global crisis.

In cooperation with the Action Platform for Source-to-Sea Management (S2S Platform), a special high-level dialogue with more than 40 participants was hosted by the Government of the Netherlands virtually on the 22 April. The high-level dialogue highlighted crucial messages and actions that needs to be taken for healthier oceans, climate change, freshwater and biodiversity. The special event brought together high-level participants from across the globe who agree that achieving SDG 14 on oceans requires coordinated action from source to sea, linking together the broader 2030 Agenda.

H.E. Peter Thomson, UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Oceans, called on the ocean community to maintain the momentum even though the UN Ocean Conference has been postponed as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ambassador Thomson stressed the need for building a green-blue pathway out of the pandemic and highlighted that the S2S Platform plays a crucial role in bringing together stakeholders and partners to agree on more tangible actions. Since 2014, the S2S Platform and its partner network have called for a coordinated approach across land, freshwater and marine landscapes to support the achievement of the SDGs.

As we envision a recovery from the pandemic, the call was made for science-based approaches that recognize the linkages between terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems. Achieving SDG 14 depends upon action from a range of sectors that may be located far from where impacts are occurring, however fragmented governance impedes efforts to address the heavy burden land-based and upstream activities are putting on the ocean. The importance of managing e.g. water-, sediment- and pollutant-flows from land to sea for system-wide benefits, recognizing the critical role that ecosystems, such as wetlands, play for resilience, water quality and biodiversity was emphasized. Nature-based solutions coupled with grey infrastructure is one example of an area where theoretical discussions need to be linked to practical applications.

Engagement with financing and investment actors were raised as critical areas to accelerate implementation of more coordinated action. The source-to-sea approach and the broader 2030 Agenda call for coordinated management that links actors across sectors and boundaries. Sectorally focused funding risk posing another layer of fragmentation. It is important financing instruments are available to incentivize and respond to needs for investment in source-to-sea action. The need for continuing to learn from successful examples in addressing source-to-sea priorities was emphasized, and to direct efforts towards accelerating implementation. As an example, UNEP presented the Regional Seas Programme as one avenue to anchor the source-to-sea approach and harness greater commitment to its implementation at regional to national levels.

This high-level dialogue was a stepping-stone in the efforts to harness build stronger cross-sectoral commitment for SDG 14 and to make a strong source-to-sea contribution to the upcoming Ocean Conference. While the postponement of the UN Ocean Conference is unfortunate in many ways, it also provides an opportunity to engage a broader constituency in its preparation and ensure a strong commitment for multi-sectoral coordination in achieving SDG 14. The high-level dialogue resulted in the position paper “Starting at the Source to Save the Sea – Look Upstream to Achieve SDG 14”, which will be published in May 2020, including a call for action for catalyzing source-to-sea action to ensure sustainable management in connected land, water and ocean systems. The S2S Platform will continue to drive multi-stakeholder engagement and bring forward solutions to accelerate source-to-sea implementation.

Stay tuned for more opportunities to engage with the S2S Platform in the upcoming Virtual Ocean Dialogues, hosted 1-5 June 2020 by Friends of Ocean Action.