The UN Ocean Conference – An Open Letter to the PGA

The first UN Ocean Conference was held June 5-9, 2017 in New York City, cohosted by Fiji and Sweden. The week-long conference, where some 6,000 people participated, was the first time that the UN brought everyone together to discuss the challenges facing the world's oceans. The conference focused on SDG 14 ("Life Below Water") and concluded with the adoption by consensus of a 14-point Call for Action where the participating Heads of State and Government and senior representatives “affirm our strong commitment to conserve and sustainably use our oceans, seas and marine resources tor sustainable development.” 

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By Elisabeth Anna Resch, President & Founder of UNA Georgetown Law

Dear President of the UN General Assembly, Your Excellency Peter Thomson,

Despite knowing you will most probably not get to read this, I wanted to thank you for your efforts in putting together the first-ever Ocean Conference at the United Nations that concluded with a Call to Action and more than 1,300 recorded voluntary commitments. I had the opportunity to attend as delegate on behalf of UNA-USA. 

Little might you know, that you were not only the driving force behind this conference as a whole, but also behind my personal motivation to get engaged and make sure the voice of youth and students is represented. A few months ago, in January, I attended the ECOSOC Youth Forum and one breakout session was dedicated to sustainable oceans. Relatively few forum attendees chose to participate in this session – as it had to compete with other discussions regarding women’s empowerment and poverty eradication. Nevertheless, you as well as the Permanent Representative of Fiji to the UN, His Excellency Luke Daunivalu, took the time to stay for the entire duration of the session to interactively discuss this so important issue with the few young people from around the world gathered in the room. You made me realize that it does not matter if you live on an island or a landlocked country, on the beach or next to a tiny river: saving our ocean is a matter that concerns all of us and action can and should be taken by everyone.

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After returning from the youth forum, my team of UNA Georgetown Law and I supported the organization of the Annual Sustainable Ocean Summit at Georgetown University, after which a few of us decided to also actively participate discussing ocean sustainability at the UN level. Not quite knowing what to expect given the lack of precedential conferences of this kind, I was impressed by the large number of participants providing proof that bringing this issue to the highest international level, was long overdue. But the large size and enormous variety of side events surprised me even more and made one thing very clear: Ocean Sustainability is one of the most interconnected issues out there influencing and influenced by responsible consumption and production, health and sanitation, biodiversity, clean and renewable energy, a prosperous economy, sustainable food sources, rights of indigenous peoples, the tourism and gastronomy industry, migration, climate change and carbon sinks….  - this list could go on and on.  

Last week I also got to share conference highlights and my impressions with members of UN Associations from all across the country as panelist at the UNA-USA Leadership Summit in Washington D.C. and hope to have passed some of the motivation on encouraging even more civil society representatives to get involved in the discussion in the future, but most importantly take action on the grassroots level.  

Thank you for your dedication, and endless hours of efforts bringing together world leaders and civil society to commit to first steps to #SaveOurOcean! You can count on our support.  

Yours sincerely,

Elisabeth Anna Resch

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