SDG 14 Life below water

SDG 14 aims to “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”1 and covers a wide range of human interactions with the oceans. In July 2017, the UN confirmed its strong commitment to implement SDG 14 by adopting a universal call to action.2 

Oceans, like many other areas covered by the SDGs, have benefits and impacts that go well beyond national borders and coastal regions.3 Covering 71% of the earth’s surface, oceans are the largest component of the earth’s climate and support all life on earth.4 Everyone on earth will ultimately be affected by significant changes in the oceans, from growing or shrinking fish stocks to impacts on rainfall far inland. Global and regional cooperation to implement SDG14 are as crucial as national-level implementation.

SDG 14 has 10 targets and 10 indicators. Seven targets are linked directly to reaching the SDG and include:

  • reducing marine pollution (SDG 14.1)
  • protecting marine and coastal ecosystems (SDG 14.2)
  • addressing the impacts of ocean acidification (SDG 14.3)
  • regulating ocean harvesting and ending overfishing (SDG 14.4)
  • conserving at least 10% of coastal and marine areas (SDG 14.5)
  • prohibiting certain types of fishing subsidies (SDG 14.6)
  • increasing the benefits to small island developing states and least developed countries (SDG 14.7).

The remaining three, described below, are ‘means of development’ targets, aimed at enabling all countries to have the resources to meet the goals.5

SDG 14 was one of the goals reviewed in the 2017 High Level Political Forum.

Context, regionalization, localization

The impact of human interaction with the oceans has not always been regarded with this level of global importance. The earlier Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) had only one relevant target, 7.B (reduce biodiversity loss), which incorporated two indicators that tracked human interactions with marine resources: 7.4 (measuring the proportion of fish stocks within safe biological limits) and 7.6 (measuring the proportion of marine (and terrestrial) areas protected in the country).6 Although data was systematically collected for MDG 7.6, MDG 7.4 was not monitored at the country level and focused solely on marine fisheries. These two indicators form the basis of the only pre-existing data for this goal, and therefore are the only Tier 1 SDG indicators. These indicators are 14.4.1, which builds on MDG 7.4,7 and 14.5.1, which continues the work of MDG 7.6. It builds complexity into the existing data and links it with the Convention on Biological Diversity.8

During the development of the SDG 14 targets and indicators, the UN decided to ensure policy relevance even if the data was not yet available.9 A significant amount of work on indicator development still needs to be done. As at the end of December 2017, seven of the 10 indicators were classified as Tier 3, one at Tier 2, and only two at Tier 1.10

14.1.1UNEP, IOC/UNESCOIIIMethodological work expected to be completed by 2018
14.2.1UNEP, IOC/UNESCOIIIMethodological work expected to be completed by 2018
14.3.1IOCIIIMethodological work expected to be completed by 2018
14.4.1FAOINo systematic country data available. Regional breakdown by continent is impossible as fish live in the sea. However, it is possible to break it down to oceans or by FAO statistical regions.
14.5.1UNEP-WCMC, BLI, IUCNICurrent data are available for all countries in the world, and these are updated on an ongoing basis.
14.6.1FAOIIIMethodological work expected to be completed by 2017; no updates
14.7.1FAOIIINo date yet set for completion
14.a.1IOCIIMetadata for this indicator is not yet available, but has been requested from the custodian agency
14.b.1FAOIIIMethodological work expected to be completed by 2017; no updates
14.c.1OLA/DOALOSIIIMethodological work expected to be completed by 2018

Chart created by ODM May, 2018. CC BY SA 4.0. Data source: IAEG-SDGs. December 2017. Tier Classification for Global SDG Indicators. Accessed May 16, 2018.


As with the other SDGs, countries are encouraged to use the most relevant indicators for their individual national contexts. For example, not all the LMCs have coastline: Lao PDR is landlocked. The Laos government has shifted the focus away from marine resources to freshwater ecosystems and inland capture fisheries11, keeping targets such as 14.2, 14.4, and 14.7 relevant to the country. Other countries, like Cambodia, have not yet completed the process of nationalizing the SDG 14 indicators.

A systematic approach to linking this SDG with other SDGs will also be key to implementation, especially with SDGs 1 (No poverty), 2 (Zero hunger), 8 (Decent work and economic growth), and 13 (Climate action).12 For instance, large marine ecosystems globally (including the three relevant to the LMCs, the Bay of Bengal, the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea) absorb 30% of carbon dioxide emissions globally, helping with regulating the impacts of climate change.13 However, increasing carbon dioxide emissions have increased the pressure on oceans to do this work of limiting climate change, resulting in higher ocean temperatures and ocean acidification. Addressing ocean acidification (14.3) is therefore necessary to implement SDG 13 (Climate action). Given the scope of this work, the importance of regional cooperation to implement this SDG cannot be understated.


Maritime boundaries of Southeast Asia, 200 nautical miles. Some areas in the South China Sea are under dispute, and are colored in red. Map created by ODM, view in Map Explorer.

Although the majority of SDG 14 indicators are new, international and regional cooperation on oceans and marine issues is not. This could also help to support SDG 14 implementation. Multilateral environmental agreements, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands are potentially relevant.14 Explicit connection to the UNCLOS and its Exclusive Economic Zones, which consist of up to 200 nautical miles in which coastal states have preeminent economic rights,15 has been included as part of indicator 14.2.1. There are also many expected linkages to the regional seas conventions and action plans. Members of the Coordinating Body on the Seas of East Asia (COBSEA), which include Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam16, indicated that they were developing a strategic plan that will guide COBSEA activities in assisting its member countries with implementing and tracking achievement related to SDG 14.17 In addition, the 2008 COBSEA Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter will be reviewed and updated, and a new initiative to reduce marine litter (SDG 14.1) will be developed.18 Updated documents are not yet available.

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia (UNESCAP), to which all LMCs belong, has been active with regard to SDG 14, as many of its members include small island developing states and least developed countries. Recognizing the importance of SDG 14 as well as the level of work required to implement this goal, ESCAP adopted Resolution 72/9 on regional cooperation to develop the means of implementation for SDG 14.19An assessment of the capacity of the Asia-Pacific region to implement this goal is being undertaken, and a progress report will be provided in mid-May 2018.20 ESCAP reaffirmed this resolution in 2017.21

SDG 14 also holds particular importance for ASEAN. The need to protect the sub-region’s rich marine biodiversity potentially conflicts with the important role fisheries plays in member state economies: ASEAN countries in 2016 exported almost US$12 billion worth of fishery products.22 Marine pollution is also a major concern, as the top global producers of marine plastic pollution include five countries in ASEAN, including Vietnam and Thailand.23 Social, environmental, and economic sustainability are all at stake, and ASEAN has drawn broad parallels between the 2030 Agenda and the ASEAN Blueprints 2025. The ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint 2025 recognizes that protection of the environment and natural resources supports economic growth and vice versa, while the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community Blueprint 2025 includes explicit mention of the protection and pollution of marine and coastal waters.24 ASEAN marine-related cooperation began as early as 2002.25 Near the end of 2017, ASEAN member states agreed to make recommendations to reduce marine debris (SDG 14.1). This ranges from policy shifts and developing and implementing regional projects, to conducting a regional baseline study on the status of marine debris and pollution in the ASEAN region.26

Visualization created by ODM. Source: Jambeck, J. 2015. Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Data exported for the Mekong region only, Laos is does not have any coast line therefore is not included..

Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (SDG 14.6) have major impacts on sustainable fish stocks, biodiversity, and economies. Developing a system to combat these has been on the agenda for the Southeast Asia Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC), as have SDG targets 14.2, 14.3, 14.4, 14.a, and 14.b.27 All five LMCs are members of this organization, which acts as a coordinator among member countries to ensure the sustainability of fisheries and aquaculture in Southeast Asia.28

Means of implementation

Significant work needs to be done to develop the means of implementation for this SDG. The UN Oceans conference in 2017 focused on the financial means of implementing the SDGs, as well as the ocean economy, or ‘blue economy’, more generally. This meeting resulted in over 1400 voluntary commitments to implementing the goal, including 541 commitments to providing financing.[REF]Vierros, Marjo and Roberto Buonomo. 2017. In-depth analysis of Ocean Conference Voluntary Commitments to support and monitor their implementation. Accessed May 2, 2018.[/ref] These are all documented in a publicly available registry.29 However, multilateral banks to the ASEAN region, such as the ADB, do not currently have any specific funding for either SDG 14 or the blue economy, nor did ASEAN’s 2017 report on financing the SDGs make mention of SDG 14.30 The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), which Vietnam and Thailand are members of, is quite active in the blue economy but has not yet made any commitments regarding the SDGs.31 World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recently released a handbook in collaboration with the EU on sustainable blue economy finance principles.32 LMCs will need to be creative in securing public, private, and blended financing to implement their SDG commitments. Here is a list of financing solutions that may be relevant to SDG 14. Accessed May 2, 2018.[/ref]

UNESCAP has continued to emphasize the importance of the non-financial means of implementation. It did this first through Resolution 72/9, then 73/5, highlighting collaboration, cooperation, and partnerships in meeting international obligations (SDG 14.c, Enhance the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources through international law), economic development, and data collection (SDG 14.a). 33 SDG target 14.A, which is focused on increasing scientific knowledge research capacity and technology transfer, will assist all the LMCs in developing a data baseline. SDG Target 14.B, aimed at providing access for small-scale fishers to marine resources and markets, is also of particular interest to the LMCs, which is home to the world’s largest inland fishery.34 The predominantly rural Lower Mekong population depends on small-scale fishing enterprises for their livelihoods and food security, even as the industry continues to shift toward larger-scale commercial activity. This is an aspect of implementation that also affects men and women differently, as the role of women is in the sector is commonly overlooked and underpaid, and the leadership positions in the industry are dominated by men. 35

Follow-up and review, monitoring and evaluation

Data for SDG 14 is quite limited. At present, the only publicly available data available is for SDG indicator 14.5.1 (coverage of protected areas in relation to marine areas). Updates in monitoring for this indicator are likely.36 Data is accessible for Indicator 14.4.1 (proportion of fish stocks) but only at the global level.37 Monitoring at the regional scale will be the most effective for this indicator, given the nature of fish migration, but issues related to technical capacity (14.a) and political sensitivities (14.c) need to be resolved before this data can be collected.38

A more comprehensive baseline of ocean data is necessary, including on fisheries catch and by-catch, destructive fishing practices and fishing vessels.39 Regional cooperation in data collection through organizations like Coordinating Body on the Seas of East Asia (COBSEA) will assist in the effort to properly monitor achievement of SDG 14.

Until further work is done to develop the methodology and capacity for collecting the relevant data, data for the remaining indicators will not be available. Given the timeline of indicator development for this SDG, we are not likely to see data until at least 2020.


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