Contributing to defining the 2022 UN Ocean Conference Interactive Dialogues

By Senia Febrica

The United Nations Ocean Conference ‘Scaling up ocean action based on science and innovation for the implementation of Goal 14: stocktaking, partnerships and solutions’ is scheduled from 27th June to 1st July 2022, in Lisbon, Portugal. Stakeholders were invited to contribute inputs to the concept papers of eight interactive dialogues of the Conference, with latest COVID-related data and analysis in the status and trends, challenges and opportunities, possible areas for new partnerships and recommendations on advancing implementation of SDG 14. The One Ocean Hub has provided inputs to three out of eight interactive dialogues themes:

The Summary Report of the Global Online Stakeholder Consultation had just been published, and this blogpost reflects on the extent to which the Hub’ contributions have been included the report, with a view to identifying key preparations for the UN Ocean Conference on scaling up ocean action through fair partnerships and research co-design.

Addressing marine pollution

The Hub’s contributions for addressing marine pollution focused on the need to:

  • Support international research cooperation on ocean plastics that responds to locally documented environmental injustices, with particular attention to negative impacts on indigenous peoples, small-scale fishers, women and children. Concerns about the negative impacts of marine pollution including the effects on ‘small-scale fisheries and women’ were mentioned in the Summary Report (UN 2022:12).
  • Support financially and otherwise the respectful integration of local and indigenous knowledge, and women and youth’s views, in research and decision-making on ocean plastics. ‘The importance of civil society’s participation in partnerships, including the involvement of women, youth, community-based and local organizations’, was highlighted in the Summary Report (UN 2022:13)
  • Support, including through direct funding, scientific research on the impacts of ocean plastics on deep-sea biodiversity and aimed at developing, and encourage the transfer of technology, to better understand and reduce the environmental impacts of plastics on the marine environment (CBD decisions XIII/10 and XIV/10), and on children. The Summary Report noted the need to include ‘sharing best practices and exchange of technical assistance and equipment’ to advance on the implementation of SDG 14 (UN 2022:13)

Making fisheries sustainable

The Hub’s inputs to make fisheries sustainable highlighted the importance to:

  • Stress that during the pandemic, small-scale fishers (SSF) have been left out of policy processes, harassed by law enforcement agents, and not allowed to fish at a time when many families were struggling the most with access to food and income-generating activities. This has increased challenges for SSF to engage in environmental impact assessments and consultations with a view to ensuring protection of their human and customary rights, and securing access to resources and markets. The Summary Report acknowledged that ‘the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions substantially disrupted fisher activities and seafood affordability due to the forced closure of local fish markets’ (UN 2022: 21).
  • Improve SSF’s own capacities and national legal frameworks by better understanding the role of international human rights law to address procedural and substantive injustice affecting SSF, including SSF women and children. The connection between gender and sustainable fishing was highlighted in the Summary Report as it pointed out that ‘in relation to sustainable fishing many stakeholders reminded its connection to gender equality, including the challenges women face in their attempts to engage in the fishery sector and supply chains’ (UN 2022: 21).
  • Address the diverse capacity-building and legal empowerment needs of different stakeholder groups in fisheries (SSF associations, SSF women and youth, town councils). The Hub recommended that governments and businesses to protect SSFs’ legitimate tenure rights to both inland and marine fishing grounds, and their tangible and intangible cultural heritage. Hub inputs were highlighted throughout the Summary Report section on possible areas for new partnerships on sustainable fisheries. It cited ‘the need for capacity-building, including training and infrastructure’ (UN 2022: 22). The Report further noted that ‘legal empowerment was also mentioned by many stakeholders, and they advocated for stronger involvement of women and youth associations to ensure their rights in the fishery supply chains. Stakeholders pointed out that small-scale fishers represent a considerable constituency in the fishery sector but still tend to be excluded from management decision-making at all levels. Some inputs highlighted insecure frameworks on tenure rights and the lack of transparency in fisheries management as relevant obstacles’ (UN 2022: 22).
  • Co-design capacity-building and legal-empowerment programmes for different stakeholder groups to tackle barriers to the protection of SSF human rights and their contribution to sustainable fisheries, climate change adaptation and ecosystem restoration. The need for co-designing solutions was noted in the Summary Report in the following terms: ‘The involvement of artisanal fishers in research and knowledge-related activities was underlined as an important measure to foster knowledge exchange and inform policy making on the path towards sustainability’ (UN 2022: 22).

Increasing scientific knowledge and developing research capacity

In terms of increasing scientific knowledge and developing research capacity, the Hub’s contributions underscore the need to:

  • Recognise that economic fallout from the pandemic brought reduction in research and international development funds, while creating new opportunities to develop online capacity-building sessions and tools and low-cost research kit (see here and here). This point is incorporated in the Summary Report as follows: ‘the COVID-19 pandemic forced the science community to change its methodologies for research activities, including by limiting data acquisition practices and other field operations. Moreover, the pandemic prompted a reduction in funds allocated to research’ (UN 2022: 27). The Summary Report further cited Hub’ inputs in underscoring that ‘Nevertheless, stakeholders emphasized that remote research…has allowed to unfold online capacity-building sessions and low-cost research kits’ (UN 2022: 27).
  • Support transdisciplinary research to develop human-centred solutions and bring together experts from law, arts, social and marine natural sciences, and stakeholders (including indigenous peoples, women and youth) in the co-production of knowledge and technologies. The Summary Reports noted more generally the need to strengthen ‘multi-stakeholder partnerships, and partnerships with representatives of coastal communities’ (UN 2022: 27).
  • Integrate indigenous and local knowledge and the views of women and youth to co-produce new knowledge, tools and technologies. Rather than focusing on co-development from an early stage, the Summary Report ‘underlined the need for more inclusive processes through involving coastal communities, researchers and fishers in marine technology implementation and transfer of knowledge’ (UN 2022: 28).
  • Improve understanding among governments and industries of the value of their data and data sharing. The Summary Report ‘underlined the need to have high-quality, reliable and publicly available datasets’ (UN 2022: 28).
  • Raise awareness amongst different stakeholders (e.g. researchers, decision-makers, donors) of the contributions of different disciplines to increase scientific knowledge and build capacity. The Summary Report made a more limited reference that ‘integration of data from different scientific disciplines to be essential’ (UN 2022: 28).
  • Support, including financially, new partnership to develop accessible learning resources on critical subjects (e.g. deep-sea ecosystem services and human rights, offshore invertebrate sampling techniques) and decision-support tools coupling biodiversity models with human pressures (e.g. climate change and ocean plastics, socio-economic models). The Summary Report acknowledged the ‘urgent need to dedicate financial resources’ and ‘for sectors to continuously invest in research efforts’ to improve scientific knowledge and capacity building’ (UN 2022: 28).


In preparing for the UN Ocean Conference, it seems that more attention to ocean knowledge co-production, through fair partnerships and research co-design, should be further understood in its benefits, good practices and needs (including funding and other enabling conditions).

  1. New practices and lessons learnt should be captured in relation to respectful  collaboration with indigenous peoples and small-scale fishers, women and children and the evolution of modelling and other tools for integrating different knowledge systems.
  • New practices and lessons learnt in addressing explicitly fairness in research collaboration and technology transfer, such as the Hub’s Code of Practice, which was co-developed by researchers from four regions with a view to capture learning from negative experiences of past research collaborations, should also be shared and discussed.
  • Given the growing importance of ocean research for human rights, including the rights of small-scale fishers, indigenous peoples, women, children, as well as everybody’s human right to health and to science, new approaches to integrating ocean research co-development and legal empowerment should also be shared and discussed for their value added to inclusive and integrated ocean knowledge production to support SDG14.

Photo: Elisa Morgera