Ocean conservation and sustainable use

Healthy oceans and marine ecosystem services underpin the ocean economy, and provide critical support functions upon which human health and well-being depend. Multiple benefits are derived from marine ecosystems at local, regional and global scales, ranging from coastal and habitat protection to climate mitigation and food provisioning.

The OECD is working to support governments scale-up action to conserve and sustainably use our ocean and marine resources, which are under severe pressure from human activities, notably over-exploitation of fish and other marine resources, habitat destruction, invasive alien species, pollution and climate change.

Governments have a key role to play in putting in place an effective and coherent policy mix to ensure the achievement of SDG 14, to conserve and sustainably use our ocean, seas, and marine resources, and the relevant 2011-2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets. Relevant policy instruments include regulatory, economic, and information and voluntary approaches. However, the pace of policy action is not keeping up with the pressures on the ocean.

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Marine protected areas

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are one of the policy instruments available to help ensure the conservation and sustainable use of marine ecosystems. They can address pressures such as over-fishing, habitat destruction, and the adverse impacts of noise pollution, and can help protect rare and threatened species. MPAs can also help ensure the sustainable provision of multiple other ecosystem services fundamental to human well-being, including for fisheries, coastal protection (buffering against storms and erosion), tourism and recreation.

OECD recommendations

  • Develop a clear understanding of the state and pressures on particular marine and coastal ecosystems
  • Clearly define goals and objectives of the marine protected area
  • Estimate the expected costs and benefits, and site MPAs more strategically
  • Develop a management plan and rigorous monitoring, reporting and compliance mechanisms
  • Devise MPA financing strategies and put in place effective policy mixes to address the full suite of pressures on the ecosystem.


Mainstreaming biodiversity through effective sectoral policies

Mainstreaming marine conservation and sustainable use across all sectors of the ocean economy is vital to ensuring its sustainability. Marine ecosystems considerations need to be integrated into key policies and plans, such as national development strategies, marine spatial planning and fisheries plans. Governments must implement effective policies to encourage sustainable development of the ocean economy, and monitor and evaluate efforts to mainstream biodiversity. Improving the public and private sectors’ understanding of the benefits provided by marine ecosystems, and their economic values, can facilitate biodiversity mainstreaming.

Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework

To support development of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, the OECD is now undertaking work on biodiversity targets and indicators and their measurability implications at the global and national level, relevant to both SDG 14 and SDG 15.

The analysis is examining how the post-2020 biodiversity framework could be designed to be more specific and measurable, along the pressure-state-response target and indicator framework, and includes how to better monitor progress towards biodiversity mainstreaming.


Read more about OECD work on the Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework

Tracking economic instruments and finance for biodiversity

Recent OECD work has examined biodiversity-relevant economic instruments that governments have in place to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and terrestrial biodiversity. These instruments biodiversity-relevant taxes, fees and charges, subsidies, and tradable permit schemes. The information is derived from the OECD Policy Instruments for the Environment (PINE) database, to which more than 100 countries currently contribute. New work is now underway to tag the biodiversity-relevant policy instruments in order to distinguish which are relevant to ocean conservation and sustainable use, versus terrestrial biodiversity. This will enable to track which instruments are relevant to SDG 14 (Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources) and which are relevant to SDG 15 (Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss).

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Evaluating the effectiveness of marine and terrestrial biodiversity policies

Scaling up policy instruments for ocean conservation and sustainable use is crucial in order to achieve SDG 14 and related goals. Further effort is also needed to evaluate the effectiveness of existing policy instruments, and to identify how they can be improved. Findings from this OECD Environment Working Paper suggest that very few rigorous impact evaluation studies have been undertaken in the area of marine conservation and sustainable use policies.

OECD recommendations

  • Develop a strategic approach to scaling up impact evaluation studies, including on policies relevant to ocean conservation and sustainable use.  This could include considerations of geographic representability, ensuring a good balance between different types of policy instruments, and prioritising larger programmes and initiatives.

Overcoming obstacles to effective biodiversity policy reform

Political economy issues such as competitiveness concerns, distributional implications and vested interests can act as a brake on ambitious and effective policy reform. While much literature exists on political economy issues relevant to climate and energy, less is available on marine and terrestrial biodiversity policies. The OECD report The Political Economy of Biodiversity Policy Reform contributes to addressing this gap, and identifies key messages for overcoming obstacles to biodiversity-relevant policy reform. The OECD is currently undertaking further work to develop guidance to identify and assess subsidies harmful to marine and terrestrial biodiversity at the national level.

OECD recommendations

  • Seize opportunities to advance biodiversity related reforms: from crisis to public concern
  • Build alliances between economic and environmental interests
  • Devise targeted measures to address potential impacts on competitiveness and income distribution
  • Use a robust evidence base to build support for reform and provide resistance to pressure from vested interests
  • Encourage stakeholder engagement to build broad and durable support for reform
  • Consolidate gains to ensure that reforms are sustained over time.