The United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development


What it is

The United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (“Ocean Decade”) is a framework to create a sustainable and well managed global ocean by 2030. In response to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), the Ocean Decade will deliver the science to support a number of the SDG initiatives, but in particular SDG14: Life Below Water. 

The UN mandated the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC) to develop an Implementation Plan for the Ocean Decade in 2017, which included inviting the global ocean community to set out transformational plans to deliver on “the ocean we need for the future we want"1. The Ocean Decade, therefore, provides a platform to create or improve international relationships. These relationships allow scientific research, knowledge and innovation to be transferred and to support states that are dependent on the ocean but do not necessarily have the resources or capacity to undertake research that supports ocean management. The UN has declared the Ocean Decade as a “once in a lifetime opportunity for nations to work together to generate the global ocean science needed to support the sustainable development of our shared ocean."1 In particular, the underlying goals are:

  • To provide ocean science, data and information to inform policy for a well-functioning ocean in support of all sustainable development goals of the Agenda 2030 
  • To generate scientific knowledge and underpinning infrastructure and partnerships

The implementation plan includes discussions with Member States, specialised agencies, funds, programmes and bodies of the United Nations, as well as other intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations and relevant stakeholders. Since then the IOC has supported a number of planning meetings and events including global planning meetings, regional planning meetings2 and specialists' workshops.

The final endorsement of an implementation plan was due to be undertaken at the 53rd Session of the IOC Executive Council. However due to Covid-19 this Session, along with others that should have taken place, has been postponed and special provisions put in place to enable Member States to discuss its endorsement. 

Given the importance of the Ocean Decade and the huge international collaborations that will take place, it is vital for the UK to have a coherent and united voice in how it responds. This is where the IWG (and the MSCC) is so important.

What the IWG is doing


Governance and Framework of the UN Decade of Ocean Science

The IWG, endorsed by the MSCC, has formed the UK National Decade Committee (NDC). This is a crucial role in reporting Ocean Decade activities to the higher level UN system (see left, from v2 draft Implementation plan). A framework as to how activities (e.g. science, capacity development, ocean literacy, communications) will be reported to the NDC is in the process of being established. This website will be updated once the framework has been agreed. 

The IWG has already been heavily involved in the Decade activities, for example:

  • Having members who were involved in drafting the MSCC response to the Ocean Decade zero draft implementation plan
  • Using the annual IWG meetings to discuss who is leading from UK government, what UK contributions should be and how to link to the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration
  • Proposing a framework of how the UK will interact with the IOC, which was later endorsed by the MSCC meaning the IWG could form the National Decade Committee
  • Organising the UK participation at the UN Ocean Decade North Atlantic Regional Workshop (Jan 2020, Halifax, Nova Soctia) - the UK was the third largest delegation and showed a collective voice for the UK and ambition to work together to strengthen the UK role within the Ocean Decade

The IWG Chair, Lowri Griffiths, presented at the Royal Society UN Decade of Ocean Science workshop in October 2020, to highlight the role of the IWG and to discuss the evidence needs for policy making.

The UK representation at the UN Ocean Decade North Atlantic Regional Workshop, with the team organised through the IWG