World Ocean’s Day

7 June 2020

Sustainable Development Goals, the Ocean Space and Youth Development

by Prof Anil Sooklal and Mr Jaimal Anand

The month of June is significant for South Africa and the international community. The 16 June 1976 student uprisings in Soweto became the catalyst which resulted in the final push that toppled the Apartheid government. 5 June is World Environment Day which brings international focus worldwide on our actions and responsibilities for the protection of the environment. 8 June is World Oceans Day that recognises the Ocean as a provider of our human needs and sustenance.


The role of the youth throughout history has been central in bringing about social change. During the current challenging period that humanity is experiencing, it is increasingly apparent that the key to our future wellbeing rests with the youth. It is now important to fuse the ideas of a sustainable environment, a shared ocean space with youth development to ignite what will be a dynamic combination that will unleash development, cooperation, prosperity and peace.

The realities that the world will confront post COVID are yet to be conceptualised. The world we are going to encounter post the pandemic will be quite different from our current reality. Our actions now must relate to a radical review and overhaul of global systems at an unprecedented scale. We must therefore draw on our shared histories, where traditionally the youth have been a catalyst for change and reformation.

It is important to place our global development strategies into perspective with an accelerated focus on its full implementation. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which was conceptualised at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 2012, and adopted on the occasion of the 70th Anniversary of the UN in 2015. The SDG’s were envisaged to produce a set of universal goals that meet the urgent environmental, political and economic challenges facing our planet. The faultlines exposed by the COVID Pandemic, demonstrates that our need is urgent and we must ensure the vigorous implementation of our commitments.

The idea of a World Oceans Day was proposed in 1992 and formally recognised by the UN in 2008. It is a celebration of our shared ocean space, with emphasis on our dependence on the Ocean for much of our basic sustenance and needs.  The theme for this year is ‘Innovation for a Sustainable Ocean,’ which brings to the fore SDG 14, life below water, creating the opportunity to link with SDG’s 1-10 which ranges from education, to gender, to eradicating the indignity of poverty and hunger that has come to negatively impact on the global community in general, and woman and youth in particular. This is most evident among the regions of the global South, particularly Africa.

The Youth, Oceans and Sustainable Development

The youth can be a positive force for development when provided with the enabling environment to grow and the opportunity to prosper. Young people should be provided with the necessary education and skills acquire the education and skills in order to contribute meaningfully to a productive economy thereby generating sustainable livelihoods. Among the greatest challenges facing our planet today are inadequate human capital investments and high unemployment rates among the youth.

According to the United Nations there were 1.2 billion youth aged 15-24 years globally in 2015, representing one out of every six people worldwide. This number is significant in that by 2030, the year in which we are expected to conduct a final SDG analysis, the youth would either be the beneficiaries of successful SDG implementation or the victims of our failures. The same UN report projected that by 2030 the number of youth would have grown by 7 per cent, adding hundreds of millions of youth to the world population to a staggering 1.3 billion youth between 15 and 24 years old.

This will be most evident in Africa and Asia who are experiencing interesting changes in terms of their demographic layout. In percentage terms Asia has seen a steady drop in the growth rate of young people aged 15-24. In terms of numbers, Asia is expected to drop from 718 million in 2015 to 711 million in 2030 and 619 million in 2060. In terms of sheer numbers, Asia will have more youth than any other region until around 2080 when Africa is projected to peak its population growth rate.

In Africa, the percentage of young people is growing rapidly.  In 2015 the UN counted 226 million youth aged 15-24, representing 19 per cent of the global youth population.  By 2030, it is projected that the number of youth in Africa will have increased by 42 per cent. Africa’s youth population will grow throughout the 21st century, more than doubling from its current levels by 2055.

Based on the aforementioned realities, it is necessary to expedite the development of the Ocean and seas as a frontier for inclusive human development and sustainability by ensuring the full implementation of all SDG’s. In particular SDG Goal 14 requires the preservation and substance of our ‘blue spaces’ which include ecosystems, protecting food security, mainly by preventing overfishing, eradicating marine pollution, and conserving marine and coastal areas that are the basis of food security and livelihoods for billions. Goal 14 further focuses our attention on the ocean’s impact on human life, by increasing economic access for the world’s poorest communities through the use of marine resources, incubating small-scale fishers, providing access to the global value chains, logistics chains and markets.

SDG 2, zero hunger is directly linked to the above, and plays a fundamental role in providing human nutrition and food security. It is further connected with SDG 8 focussing on decent work and economic growth. The tourism sector in particular becomes crucial in creating livelihoods and opportunities for inclusive growth and development for millions of people worldwide. Also, related to this is SDG 4 focusing on quality education. The field of ocean management and marine sciences will continue to require new skills and competencies which will create opportunities for youth development in particular.

The 21st Century IORA and the Youth Collaboration for success

South Africa is a founding member of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), and has been diligent in supporting the growth and development of the Association since inception in 1997. The basis of the organisation emerged out of former President Nelson Mandela’s State Visit to India in 1995 and his vision has guided our collective energies that continues to propel the IORA in the 21st century.

On 25 January 1995, during the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation Lecture, in New Delhi, President Nelson Mandela stated;
“The “natural urge of the facts of history and geography” that Nehru spoke of, should broaden itself to include exploring the concept of an Indian Ocean Rim of socio-economic co-operation and other peaceful endeavours; of a special relationship that should help improve the lot of the developing nations in multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, Commonwealth and Non-Aligned Movement.”
The IORA, in many respect brings Africa and Asia closer geographically, in terms of our shared histories and development goals. In the spirit of cooperation, IORA’s member states and dialogue partners extend our and cooperation and partnerships which spans the Arabian Sea, the Mediterranean sea, the Indian, Pacific and the Atlantic oceans.

The Indian Ocean is the third largest ocean through which most of the world’s major sea-lanes pass and it maintains the lion’s share of the world’s merchant vessels and two thirds of the world’s crude oil shipments. The Indian Ocean is critical to the global logistics network, the region has a population of approximately 3 billion people, almost half the world’s population creating a market that is potentially worth trillions of dollars.

The Association has identified the following priorities; Maritime Safety and Security, Fisheries Management, Academic, Science and Technology Cooperation, Trade and Investment Facilitation, Disaster Risk Management, Tourism and Cultural Exchanges- with two cross-cutting focus areas of cooperation ie. The Blue Economy; and Women’s Economic Empowerment.  

These priorities reflect the socio economic opportunities and challenges within the region. The priorities have been carefully and collectively formulated to respond to the multidimensional challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. In many ways the focus areas identified summarise and reflect the UN SDG’s.

Renewed cooperation and the way forward

The United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) will commence in 2021. This compliments the African decade of the seas and oceans 2015 - 2025.  We believe that the cooperation in Indian Ocean through IORA is well poised to become a potential model for this crucial decade. In an era of disruptions, perpetual risks to human livelihoods and sustainable development amidst real threats posed by climate change, conflict, transnational crime, extremism and disease, we are called upon to strengthen our joint efforts and cooperation in conventional science and technology as well as research, innovation and ideas.

The youth are well placed to act as catalysts in expediting the opportunities that the ocean space provides to humanity. The concept of a shared space, and One Ocean will increasingly gain momentum as a means to ensure collective human development. Despite the challenges and risks of maritime security, the IORA has pronounced the Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace and holds firm to the view that our futures will remain dependant on cooperation and partnerships rather than territorial hegemony and campaigns.

It is imperative that what we leave behind, for generations to come, a world at peace with itself and prosperous wherein human potential can be fully developed and realised. When we link the World Environment Day, the World Oceans Day with South Africa’s Youth Month and the UN SDG’s 2030, we have the dynamics necessary for shaping a post COVID society that is inclusive and serves as a catalyst for positive change to the benefit of all of humanity.

Prof Anil Sooklal, Deputy Director-General Branch Asia and Middle East and Mr Jaimal Anand, Research and Analysis Branch Asia and Middle East at the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation