Nations urged to adopt global vision to save oceans from climate-accelerated collapse

On Tuesday 18 December at the United Nations General Assembly, the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the only conservation organization with official observer status at the UN, called for the rapid development of a network of marine protected areas to help the oceans cope with climate change.

Even deep-water marine communities are under threat from climate change.

Twenty five years on from the launch of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the state of the world’s oceans has considerably deteriorated. Overfishing has left most global fish stocks perilously close to commercial collapse whilst global warming is putting increasing pressure on fragile ecosystems, such as mangroves, coral reefs and seagrasses, upon which so many people’s livelihoods depend.

The need for nations to agree on urgent action has never been more acute,” says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Head of the IUCN Global Marine Programme. “Measures introduced over the next few years will determine what the future will hold in terms of food security, species survival and the ocean’s ability to withstand climate change, and those measures have to include a robust network of marine protected areas, in national and international waters.

IUCN is recommending a rapid acceleration in the establishment of marine protected areas to help the oceans become more resilient in the face of climate change. Currently only one percent of the oceans enjoy some level of protection, a long way short of the 10% target the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity set itself to achieve by 2010.

It is inconceivable that oceans, which provide livelihoods to so many people, do not have a better level of protection from destructive behaviour,” says Dr Harlan Cohen, IUCN’s representative at the UN General Assembly. “The combination of sustained over-exploitation and the highly disruptive impacts of climate change could have extremely grave consequences unless actions are taken. Now.

IUCN is also being clear on the fact that increasing the number of marine protected areas, while essential, will not be enough in itself to restore the health of the world’s oceans and is therefore recommending a series of measures.

Among those, IUCN recommends that states work collaboratively to reduce fishing capacity and to counter illegal, unregulated and unreported and other unsustainable fishing activities. Proposals to mitigate or reduce carbon dioxide build-up in the atmosphere by transferring it to the ocean must be strictly examined in line with the aims of the Convention and of the London Convention and the London Protocol to ensure that these proposed activities do not harm the marine environment.

In addition, IUCN urges all states, individually and jointly, as appropriate, to put into practice decisive steps to assess and understand the impacts of human activities on the oceans in order to safeguard their health and resilience as well as the oceans’ ability to supply vital goods and ecosystem services to humankind.

Notes to editors

Further reading and links:

Full IUCN statement to the UN General Assembly:
go to Document

IUCN news release on iron fertilisation in the oceans:
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IUCN statement on RFMO performance:
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IUCN media brief on the state of the oceans:
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IUCN website on marine issues:
go to Web Page

For more information in English or to set up interviews, please contact:

Harlan Cohen, PhD, Advisor on Ocean Governance and International Institutions, IUCN USA & Caribbean Multilateral Office. Tel: +1 202 387 4826; Email: [email protected]

Kristina Gjerde, IUCN High Seas Policy Advisor, Poland. Tel: +48 22 754 1803, +48 22 737 2300; Cell phone +48 50 117 20 48; Email: [email protected]

Carl Gustaf Lundin, Head IUCN Global Marine Programme, Switzerland. Tel: +41 22 999 0204; Cell phone + 41 78 477 14 00; Email: [email protected]

Sarah Halls, Media Relations Officer, IUCN, Switzerland. Tel: +41 22 999 0127; Email: [email protected]

James Oliver, Project Officer, IUCN Marine Programme, Switzerland. Tel: +41 22 999 02 17; Email: [email protected]


Background information

Marine Policies

High seas are defined as oceans beyond national jurisdiction (beyond 200 nautical miles).

Facts about Marine Biodiversity

Oceans cover about 70% of the planet’s surface and hold an abundance of biodiversity with marine and coastal environments, being home to 97% of all species on earth. Oceans, marine ecosystems and their biodiversity are vital for life on earth. They play a key role in global nutrient recycling and climate regulation and provide humans with a wide range of resources and services.

Globally, life in our seas produces one third of the oxygen we breathe and human consumption of fish makes up 16% of our animal protein supply and is particularly important as a protein source for populations in developing countries. In 2002, the global fish catch reached about 90 million tonnes and aquaculture contributed with another 40 million tonnes. Three quarters of this production were used for human consumption, the rest for animal feed and thus, to a large extent, ultimately for human consumption.

The World Conservation Union (IUCN)

Created in 1948, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) brings together 83 States, 111 government agencies, 800 plus NGOs, and some 10,000 scientists and experts from 148 countries in a unique worldwide partnership. The Union’s mission is to influence, encourage and assist societies throughout the world to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable.

The Union is the world's largest environmental knowledge network and has helped over 75 countries to prepare and implement national conservation and biodiversity strategies. The Union is a multicultural, multilingual organization with 1,000 staff located in 62 countries. Its headquarters are in Gland, Switzerland.

More information can be found at

Work area: 
Climate Change
Global Policy
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