What are the Sustainable Development Goals or ‘SDGs’?

In 2015, all Member States of the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in the form of 17 Sustainable Development Goals. They are a call to action “for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future,” in shared global partnership.

The SDGs Wedding Cake Model. Azote for Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University (CC BY 4.0)

Fair Seas was recently invited by President Michael D. Higgins to Áras an Uachtaráin to celebrate organisations working in support of United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 “Life Below Water”. But what are the SDGs, why are they worth celebrating and what can you do to support their aims? 

SDG 14, Life Below Water

This a specific call to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.” As  President Michael D Higgins reminded attendees in his speech

“the health of the ocean is intrinsically linked to the health of the planet and all its life forms.” 

Therefore, a thriving marine environment and the opportunity for humanity to sustainably utilise its resources are linked to many of the17 goals. Globally, a healthy, biodiverse ocean can increase rates of employment (SDG 8 “decent work and economic growth”) and support women’s empowerment (SDG 5 “gender equality”), while lifting people from poverty (SDG 1 “no poverty”) and alleviating malnutrition (SDG 2 “zero hunger”). The health of the ocean also relies on the success of SDG 6 (“clean water and sanitation” to prevent sewage flowing into the seas), SDG 4 (“quality education” to ensure future generations will learn about the importance of our shared ocean and how to protect it) and SDG 9 (“industry, innovation and infrastructure” to necessitate the facilities for reducing pollution).  


Fair Seas as an SDG Champion

Fair Seas was selected by the Irish Government as one of the 2023-24 SDG Champions, a programme established to “raise public awareness of the SDGs and to demonstrate that everyone in society can make a contribution to the 2030 Agenda.” Fair Seas’ ambition to see at least 30% of Ireland’s ocean territory protected with Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) by 2030 is directly in line with SDG 14. MPA legislation is urgently needed in Ireland to increase our protected areas from the current level of 9%, well below the European average. Fair Seas advocates for legislation that will ensure both effective management of these areas, and genuine stakeholder engagement and public participation. 

As part of SDGs 7 (“affordable and clean energy”) and 13 (“climate action”), we recognise the importance of offshore renewable energy in tackling climate change, supporting an ecosystems-based approach which prioritises the restoration of nature to developing infrastructure which reduces reliance on fossil fuels. To ensure this is not at the expense of biodiversity, this must be progressed in the right way and in the right areas. 

Fair Seas also recognises the importance of sustainable fishing for coastal communities in Ireland, for food security and employment. A healthy marine ecosystem benefits everyone. 

While the 17 SDGs can seem daunting in their ambition, it’s important to recognise how interlinked they are, and what steps we can take to support the sustainable and peaceful future they seek to ensure. As Michael D Higgins said, “we have a moral responsibility to safeguard the oceans for future generations, and ensure resilient, thriving seas”.

A group of new SDG champions posed for a photo with Minister Eamon Ryan at the centre of the group.

How can Ireland achieve SDG 14?

Some of the SDG’s targets are already contained within EU legislation. For example, the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) aimed to end overfishing by 2020, while the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) aimed to reach Good Environmental Status (GES) of marine waters by 2020. GES is achieved when all the 11 Descriptors of GES have been achieved, such as maintaining biodiversity, achieving healthy commercial fish populations, and minimising nutrient input, contaminants, or noise pollution. The Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP) Directive requires EU Member States to establish MSP plans using an ecosystem-based approach.

Together, these and other pieces of EU legislation would put Europe on a good path towards achieving SDG 14. Sadly, poor implementation of EU legislation has led many of the directives to fail in achieving their targets. Overfishing still takes place in 2022 (although some progress has been made), Ireland hasn’t even come close to achieving its 2020 target of 10% marine protection, never mind the Government’s bigger 30% target by 2030, with only 2.1% of Irish waters currently designated as a protected area, and Good Environmental Status has not been achieved.

Proper implementation of existing environmental legislation would ensure the achievement of SDG 14. In order to accomplish this, we must breach the silos between sectors and government departments and tackle the SDGs together, in an integrated manner, in this highly interconnected world.

At Fair Seas, we are working towards SDG 14 by calling for 30% fully or highly protected areas to be created with strong stakeholder participation.

If we are to reach the aim of protecting 30% of Ireland’s vast marine area by 2030, we need strong legislation published and scrutinised as soon as possible. However, the MPA bill is already delayed by over a year, and if this Government ends before the MPA Bill is  enacted, it could be delayed even further or fall completely – a risk we cannot afford to take.

You can make a difference by using our easy tool to write to your Ministers to demand immediate publication of MPA legislation and sharing the link to your networks.  

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