Ocean protection, responsible management of marine resources and sustainable future economic growth were the themes of the eighth Our Ocean Conference, hosted by Panama from 2-3 March 2023, where international leaders announced 341 new commitments to sustainable ocean development worth more than $USD19.9 billion.

The conference began in 2014 as a U.S. Department of State initiative to draw international attention to the serious threats facing the world’s ocean and to commit to concrete action around the globe to support marine conservation and sustainable development. An initiative only event, the Conference aims to bring together governments, businesses, and people to deliver measurable impacts and cooperation.

The work of the UNSW’s Sustainable Development Reform Hub (SDR Hub) featured throughout the conference, both in official side events and key high-level dialogues.

“This global partnership with the government and private sectors comes at a critical time for the planet and draws on UNSW’s deep expertise in and commitment to sustainability,” Vice-Chancellor and President of UNSW, Professor Attila Brungs said.

“I congratulate Dr Milligan and his team for their work in creating a collaborative governance and accounting framework for our rapidly changing ocean and coasts, to deliver an eco-friendlier future for our world.”

The Global Ocean Accounts Partnership (GOAP), which is coordinated by the SDR Hub, hosted an official panel titled Ocean Accounts: Setting the Foundation for Sustainable Blue Economies. The panel featured government representatives of Palau, United States, Norway, Canada, and Indonesia and was moderated by SDR Hub Director Eliza Northrop. During the panel discussion, United States Under-Secretary of Commerce and Administrator of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Dr Rick Spinrad, announced NOAA’s intention to join the GOAP.

 “The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will join the Global Ocean Accounts Partnership to formalise and strengthen the role that ocean accounts play in national ocean policy development and implementation and advance greater collaboration with our neighbours, Canada and Mexico, and other members globally to support the transition to a sustainable ocean economy,” Dr Spinrad said.  
GOAP is a global partnership between more than 30 countries internationally that are committed to ensuring the diverse values of the ocean are recognised in all decision-making about social and economic development. It brings together governments, international organisations, and research institutions to build a global community of practice for ocean accounting. The UK Government recently announced an additional $10.5 million contribution to continue the work of the GOAP, coordinated by UNSW, until 2025.

SDR joins Ocean Action 2030

The SDR Hub also officially joined the Ocean Action 2030, announced by the President of Palau in a high-level event on the eve of the Our Ocean Conference. The Ocean Action 2030 coalition is a voluntary coalition of 18 technical and financial partners committed to support the delivery of the 100% commitment to sustainable ocean management made by the 17 world leaders of the high-level panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy.

"The Sustainable Development Reform Hub is thrilled to become a member of Ocean Action 2030. As Secretariat to the Global Ocean Accounts Partnership, we are well placed to share knowledge and make the right connections to support countries develop and implement Sustainable Ocean Plans in pursuit of an inclusive and sustainable ocean economy," said Eliza Northrop, Director, Sustainable Development Reform Hub

The SDR Hub also supported high-level discussions between Pacific leaders and development partners on options for securing large-scale investment in the decarbonisation of the maritime transport sector in seven Pacific Island countries. A key outcome of this discussion included the announcement of a new partnership between Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka, on behalf of the Pacific Blue Shipping Partnership, and the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, Secretary John Kerry to support the seven member countries of the Pacific Blue Shipping Partnership establish a green shipping corridor for the Pacific under the framework of the United States Green Shipping Corridors Initiation Project.

The SDR Hub is co-led by Dr Ben Milligan, Eliza Northrop, and Dr Phil James, based at the UNSW Faculty of Law & Justice. The Hub is an international network coordinated by UNSW, seeking to co-develop a cluster of enduring change-making collaborations with external stakeholders.

“On a global level, the SDR Hub create safe spaces for change-makers from government, business and wider society, to plan pragmatic action for a sustainable low-carbon future informed by knowledge and insights from across the world. There is an acute need in society to connect knowledge and people to make small steps toward big changes. Universities can play a more active role by creating safe spaces for change-makers, from government, business, and wider society, to plan pragmatic action for a sustainable low-carbon future informed by knowledge and insights from around the world,” said Dr Milligan.

UNSW partners with UK government to transform ocean accounting

GOAP’s deep engagement with the Our Ocean Conference was enabled by the ongoing support, and close partnership, with the UK Government. The UK Government recently announced an additional AUD $10.5 million contribution to continue the work of GOAP until 2025.

The UK’s funding comes from the £500 million Blue Planet Fund, which is established to tackle climate change, restore ocean health and reduce poverty in developing countries. This funding will enable GOAP to deliver ocean accounts pilots in 12 countries across Asia-Pacific, Pacific, Africa and the Americas, coupled with knowledge products, technical papers, and significant engagement activities, with the eventual view to embedding ocean accounting practices as standard globally, so that the state of marine resources, and how these change over time in response to policies and activities, is known and can be managed.

In 2023 GOAP will lead national projects to integrate measurement of the ocean environment into economic decision-making across more than 20 countries and coordinate efforts to develop international standards for measurement of progress towards sustainable ocean development.

UNSW is the secretariat for the GOAP supporting members including government, private sector, and research-intensive institutions to undertake ocean accounting pilots. The project is supported by the UNSW Institute for Global Development (IGD) and UNSW Global Water Institute (GWI), both of which have played key roles in delivery of work.