Brief History of UN-Oceans

In 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development ("the Earth Summit") adopted Agenda 21 - an international programme of action for global sustainable development for the 21st century. Chapter 17 of Agenda 21 specifically deals with the protection of the oceans and the protection and rational use and development of their living resources. To present a coordinated and comprehensive view of UN agency activities in support of Chapter 17, the UN agencies dealing with oceans and coastal issues formed the Sub-committee on Oceans and Coastal Areas of the Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC SOCA) in 1993.

Following a review of coordination mechanisms of the ACC in November 2001, the ACC concluded that all existing subsidiary bodies should cease to exist by the end of 2001 and that future inter-agency support requirements would best be handled through ad hoc, time-bound, task-oriented arrangements using a lead agency approach. Subsequent consultations between the UN Programs and Agencies participating in the coordination of oceans and coasts indicated strong interest in developing a new inter-agency coordinating mechanism consistent with the new arrangements being developed in the United Nations system.

In September 2003, the United Nations High-Level Committee on Programmes approved the creation of an Oceans and Coastal Areas Network (subsequently named "UN-Oceans") to build on SOCA, covering a wide range of issues and composed of the relevant programmes, entities and specialized agencies of the UN system and the secretariats of the relevant international conventions, including the International Seabed Authority and the Convention on Biological Diversity. Following recommendations from the United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea and taking into account the decisions of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in this regard, the 57th Session of the General Assembly invited the Secretary-General to establish an effective, transparent and regular inter-agency coordination mechanism on oceans and coastal issues within the United Nations system. UN-Oceans has met on an annual basis since 2005.

In 2011, the General Assembly, in paragraph 239 of resolution 66/231 on oceans and the law of the sea, invited the United Nations Joint Inspection Unit to review UN-Oceans and to submit a report thereon to the General Assembly for its consideration, and requested UN-Oceans to submit to the Assembly draft terms of reference for its work, to be considered by the Assembly at its sixty-seventh session with a view to reviewing the mandate of UN-Oceans and enhancing transparency and reporting of its activities to Member States. The Joint Inspection Unit undertook a review of UN-Oceans in 2012 and transmitted its report to the General Assembly on 28 September 2012. At its sixty-seventh session, the General Assembly, in paragraph 267 of resolution 67/78 on oceans and the law of the sea, noted the review of UN-Oceans by the Joint Inspection Unit, decided that the draft terms of reference for its work submitted by UN-Oceans would be considered by the Assembly at its sixty-eighth session with a view to reviewing the mandate of UN-Oceans and approving the terms of reference, taking into account the need to strengthen the central role of the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea and the need to enhance transparency and reporting of the activities of UN-Oceans to Member States, and requested UN-Oceans to draft revised draft terms of reference for its work for consideration and approval by the Assembly at its sixty-eighth session.

In 2013, the General Assembly, in paragraph 279 of resolution 68/70, recognized the work undertaken so far by UN-Oceans, approved the revised terms of reference for the work of UN-Oceans, with a revised mandate, as annexed to the resolution, and decided to review these terms of reference at its seventy-second session in light of the work of UN-Oceans.

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Scope and Objectives including Terms of Reference

UN-Oceans is an inter-agency mechanism that seeks to enhance the coordination, coherence and effectiveness of competent organizations of the United Nations system and the International Seabed Authority, within existing resources, in conformity with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the respective competences of each of its participating organizations and the mandates and priorities approved by their respective governing bodies.

UN-Oceans is mandated to:

  • Strengthen and promote coordination and coherence of United Nations system activities related to ocean and coastal areas;
  • Regularly share ongoing and planned activities of participating organizations within the framework of relevant United Nations and other mandates with a view to identifying possible areas for collaboration and synergy; 
  • Facilitate, as appropriate, inputs by its participating organizations to the annual reports of the Secretary-General on oceans and the law of the sea and on sustainable fisheries to be submitted to the Secretariat; and
  • Facilitate inter-agency information exchange, including sharing of experiences, best practices, tools and methodologies and lessons learned in ocean-related matters.

Terms of Reference (resolution 68/70, Annex) (link to PDF)

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Participation in UN-Oceans

Participation in UN-Oceans is open to United Nations system organizations with competence in activities related to ocean and coastal areas and the International Seabed Authority.

Organizational Chart of the United Nations System

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Departments and Offices of the UN Secretariat

The Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea of the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs serves as the secretariat for the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (the “Convention”) and the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement. The Division provides secretariat services to the Meetings of States Parties to the Convention and its Working Groups; the Informal Consultations of States Parties to the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement; and the periodic Review Conference on the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement. The Division also provides substantive servicing and technical assistance to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. It assists the Secretary-General of the United Nations in the performance of the Secretary-General’s functions under the Convention including as depositary of charts and lists of geographical coordinates concerning maritime zones, including lines of delimitation, and gives due publicity thereto.

The Division also derives its mandate from the General Assembly and provides to it substantive servicing relating to oceans and law of the sea, including as secretariat of the informal consultations on annual General Assembly resolutions on oceans and the law of the sea and sustainable fisheries. It also services the meetings of subsidiary and other bodies established by the General Assembly, such as the United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea; the Regular Process for Global Reporting and Assessment of the State of the Marine Environment, including Socioeconomic Aspects; and the Intergovernmental Conference on an international legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. In order to facilitate the deliberations of the General Assembly on oceans and law of the sea matters, the Division prepares annual reports of the Secretary-General on oceans and the law of the sea and on sustainable fisheries, as well as special reports and studies on ocean-related topics.

In addition, the Division provides a wide range of services to States and intergovernmental organizations, including the provision of information, advice and assistance with a view to promoting better understanding of the Convention and the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement, their wider acceptance, uniform and consistent application and effective implementation. It particularly provides technical assistance and capacity-building to developing countries in the field of ocean affairs and the law of the sea, advisory services, through trainings, fellowships, and financial support through administration of trust funds. Capacity building activities undertaken by the Division include the Hamilton Shirley Amerasinghe Memorial Fellowship on the Law of the Sea; the UN-Nippon Foundation Fellowship and Alumni Programme; and under the “UN-Nippon Foundation Sustainable Ocean Programme”, the Critical Needs Fellowship and the Thematic Fellowship.

In recognition of the contribution by the Convention to the sustainable development of the oceans and seas, the Division also supports States’ implementation of the ocean Sustainable Development Goal 14 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including as custodian entity of the indicator for Goal 14c.1 on implementation of international law for the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans and their resources. The Division also provides assistance to follow-up conferences to support the implementation of SDG14 (2017 UN Ocean Conference; 2020 UN Ocean Conference) for which the United Nations Legal Counsel has been appointed Special Advisor to the Presidents on oceans and legal matters.

With the view to contributing to strengthening cooperation and coordination on oceans and law of the sea matters, the Division further aids the United Nations Legal Counsel in the performance of UN-Oceans focal point’ functions.

Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA) - The Division for Sustainable Development (DSD) of UN-DESA provides leadership in promoting and coordinating implementation of the sustainable development agenda of the United Nations. The work of the Division translates into five core functions:

  • Support to UN intergovernmental processes on sustainable development: The Division serves as the primary UN office responsible for supporting intergovernmental processes in the area of sustainable development. These include the General Assembly and ECOSOC, the former Commission on Sustainable Development and the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development as well as several processes launched at Rio+20. In particular, the Division is tasked with supporting Member States' deliberations on the establishment of a high level political forum for sustainable development. It also supports negotiations on the UN development agenda beyond 2015. In addition, the Division supports related regional processes and follows Member States' implementation of commitments on sustainable development since the 1992 Earth Summit. The Division organized and supported the Rio+20 Conference and the 2014 Third International Conference of Small Island Developing States.
  • Analysis and policy development: The Division's work provides an analytical and scientific basis for intergovernmental deliberations on sustainable development. It undertakes assessments of long-term sustainable development challenges, both new and intensifying ones. It works on a number of priority areas such as sustainable development goals, technology facilitation, financing for sustainable development, green economy, sustainable transport, sustainable cities, oceans, climate change in the context of sustainable development and the nexus among energy, food and water.
  • Capacity development at the country level: Capacity development is targeted towards translating decisions of UN intergovernmental bodies related to sustainable development into actual policies and actions at the country level. The Division, with support from its three overseas offices and in collaboration with other UN entities and UN country teams, therefore focuses on building capacity for integrated planning and policy design, linking to the national planning process key sectoral areas such as transport, agriculture, energy, water and sanitation, sustainable cities, waste management and disaster reduction, as appropriate. These activities in turn allow the Division to inform intergovernmental bodies on the relevance and impact of normative and analytical efforts at the country level.
  • Inter-agency coordination: The Division works to mobilize the UN system and other relevant organizations to support sustainable development strategies. The Division provides Secretariats for key inter-agency mechanisms, namely UN-Water and UN-Energy, and contributes actively to the inter-agency mechanism UN-Oceans. It also chairs the informal mechanism called the Inter-Agency Consultative Group on SIDS.
  • Knowledge management, communication and outreach: Sustainable development goes together with allowing people to broadly engage in development policy making. The Division therefore aims to support the effective participation of Major Groups (as defined in Agenda 21) in the UN political processes and its analytical and capacity development work. It also helps build the capacity, knowledge and skills base of Major Groups. It supports, facilitates and monitors voluntary Partnerships for Sustainable Development and monitors the more than 750 voluntary commitments registered at Rio+20. It also promotes online and face-to-face knowledge and skills acquisition by stakeholders through its SD-Learning programme Finally, it serves to provide wide access to information and knowledge for sustainable development, through its online Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform and social media. In addition, the Division houses the SIDS Unit mandated to undertake the five core functions enumerated above in support of the further implementation of the Mauritius Strategy of Implementation of the Barbados Programme of Action for Small Island Developing States. 

UN Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS) - The United Nations Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and the Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS) was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2001 through its resolution 56/227 with functions recommended by the Secretary-General in paragraph 17 of his report A/56/645. In this same resolution the General Assembly requested Member States, all United Nations system organizations, and other relevant multilateral organizations to extend full support and cooperation to the Office of the High Representative. The key functions of the Office of the High Representative in accordance with the Secretary-General’s report A/56/645 are as follows: (a) To assist the Secretary-General in ensuring the full mobilization and coordination of all parts of the United Nations system, with a view to facilitating the coordinated implementation of and coherence in the follow-up and monitoring of the Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries at the country, regional and global levels; (b) To provide coordinated support to the Economic and Social Council as well as the General Assembly in assessing progress and in conducting the annual review of the implementation of the Programme of Action; (c) To support, as appropriate, the coordinated follow-up of the implementation of the Global Framework This Global Framework has now been replaced by the Almaty Declaration and Programme of Action, 2003 for Transit Transport Cooperation between Landlocked and Transit Developing Countries and the Donor Community and the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States; (d) To undertake appropriate advocacy work in favour of the least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States in partnership with the relevant parts of the United Nations as well as with the civil society, media, academia and foundations; (e) To assist in mobilizing international support and resources for the implementation of the Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries and other programmes and initiatives for landlocked developing countries and small island developing States; (f) To provide appropriate support to group consultations of Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States.

Office for Disarmament Affairs (ODA) - The current mandates of the Office for Disarmament Affairs (ODA) relating to oceans and coastal issues derive from the office's wider responsibilities in advising the Secretary-General, assisting Member States, and engaging with civil society on the disarmament and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, chemical, and biological) and the control of conventional arms (described in ST/SGB/2008/8). Many multilateral instruments have established legal norms pertaining to these activities that extend to the oceans and coastal areas, including: the Sea-Bed Treaty; the Partial Test Ban Treaty; the Antarctic Treaty; Security Council Resolution 1540 (against the proliferation or terrorist acquisition of weapons of mass destruction); the Arms Trade Treaty (illicit trafficking in conventional arms); the Programme of Action against the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons; four treaties establishing regional nuclear-weapon-free zones; among other such instruments. ODA prepares two regular ocean-related reports for the Secretary-General to submit to the General Assembly: "Further measures in the field of disarmament for the prevention of an arms race on the seabed and the ocean floor and in the subsoil thereof" (A/68/96) and "Strengthening of security and cooperation in the Mediterranean Region" (A/68/132). The Office assists the General Assembly's Ad Hoc Committee on the Indian Ocean (Resolution 66/22). ODA's work for the First Committee also includes monitoring and reporting on deliberations concerning the annual resolution on "Prohibition of the dumping of radioactive wastes" (Resolution 66/52). ODA also assists States Parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty during their periodic meetings and review conferences, which include the consideration of issues relating to the safety and security of ocean shipments of radioactive wastes and other nuclear materials.

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) - The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established in 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly and is mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to provide international protection and, together with governments, to find solutions for refugees. Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. It strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country. It has a specific responsibility to supervise the implementation of international treaties for the protection of refugees, including the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. It also has a mandate to prevent and reduce statelessness around the world and to protect the rights of stateless people. UNHCR has also responded to the problem of internal displacement in many situations, and through the 'cluster approach' UNHCR has the lead role in overseeing responses to the protection and shelter needs of internally displaced persons as well as coordination and management of camps. 
In almost all regions, "persons of concern" to UNHCR take to the seas in search of safety and protection. All too frequently, they risk their lives attempting dangerous sea journeys with often tragic consequences. UNHCR works to support state, regional and interagency action that improves search and rescue mechanisms; prevents abuse, exploitation and violence against asylum-seekers, refugees and stateless persons travelling by sea; and promotes protection-sensitive responses to irregular sea movements so they do not impact adversely on the right to seek asylum by those who need it. UNHCR’s work in this area is guided by a two-year Global Initiative on Protection at Sea.

UN Programmes and Funds

World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations since 1951, first established in 1950, having originated from the International Meteorological Organization (IMO) founded in 1873. It serves as the UN’s system authoritative voice on the state and behavior of the Earth’s atmosphere, its interactions with the oceans, the climate it produces and the resulting distribution of water resources. WMO provides world leadership, expertise and international cooperation in weather, climate, marine meteorology, hydrology and water resources and related environmental issues, supporting safety of life and property at sea, integrated coastal management and the minimization of societal impacts from natural hazards through the provision of meteorological-ocean services, and thereby contributes to the safety and wellbeing of people throughout the world and to the economic benefits of all nations.

Through the Joint WMO-IOC Technical Commission for Oceanography and Marine Meteorology (JCOMM), supported by the Marine Meteorology and Oceanography Programme, WMO coordinates and manages the implementation of an operational ocean observing system in support of the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS)  and the Global Climate Observing system (GCOS)  in support of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The WMO-UNESCO/IOC-ICSU World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) facilitates analysis Earth system change to establish the basis for predictions of global and regional climatic variations and of changes in the frequency and severity of extreme events. WMO also provides the global infrastructure that develops and delivers products and services, which are critical for the development of international, regional and national natural disaster risk management and response strategies. For more information see the brochure: 'Ocean, Climate and Weather: the Role of the World Meteorological Organisation'.

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UN Research and Training Institutes

United Nations University - The mission of the United Nations University Fisheries Training Programme is to strengthen institutional capacity to support the sustainable use of living aquatic resources in developing countries through international educational cooperation. The focus is on assisting partner countries meeting their own development goals through working with institutions/agencies/organizations, which are of particular importance in implementing the policies. While considering the importance of cultural diversity and gender equality, the activities of the programme have a special focus on Africa and Small Island Development States (SIDS). 


Each year, the UNU-FTP offers a 6-month post-graduate training course in Iceland for practicing professionals. To date 264 fisheries professionals from 47 countries have completed the 6-month programme. In addition to the 6-month programme, the UNU-FTP develops short courses that are carried out in cooperation with institutions in partner countries, often utilizing the expertise of former fellows. Final projects in the 6-month programme may be used as case studies. Since the first short course was held in 2004, the UNU-FTP has held 34 courses in 14 countries. About 1000 people have been trained in such courses.


The UNU-FTP also offers scholarships to former fellows who have completed the 6-month training course and wish to continue their post-graduate education at an Icelandic university. In total, the UNU-FTP has sponsored 23 former fellows for graduate studies in Iceland: 10 for master's studies, 13 for doctoral studies. 

The UNU-FTP is also involved in coordinating conferences and sponsoring participation of former fellows in conferences and workshops relating to issues of international capacity enhancement in fisheries.

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UN Subsidiary Bodies

Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) - The mandate of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) covers all crimes provided for in Security Council resolution 1373 (2001) and the international counter-terrorism instruments. Crimes committed at sea include illicit acts against the safety of navigation, hostage-taking, bombings, financing of terrorism, illegal arms trafficking and smuggling. Since 1985, almost 200 terrorist incidents are thought to have taken place at sea. Terrorist attacks in the maritime environment involve illicit acts and crimes, such as terrorist bombings, hostages taking, which are defined in the international counter-terrorism instruments.

Combatting crimes committed at sea requires the development of international cooperation. Resolution 1373 (2001) and the international counter-terrorism instruments offer added value and assistance for Member States in their efforts to combat crimes committed at sea, which are covered by the provisions of the International Convention against Hostage-taking (New York, 1979), the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (Rome, 1988), its Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Fixed Platforms located on the Continental Shelf (Rome, 1988) and its Protocol of 2005 to the Protocol for the Suppression of Illicit Acts against the Safety of Fixed Platforms located on the Continental Shelf; the International Convention or the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings (1997) and the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (1999). The 2002 SOLAS International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS Code) also contains detailed security-related requirements for Governments, port authorities and shipping companies in a mandatory section (Part A), together with a series of guidelines about how to meet these requirements, in a second, non-mandatory section (Part B). CTED works closely with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to monitor the implementation of the provision of the maritime security conventions, including the (ISPS) Code. CTED strongly encourages Member States to become a party to all these international counter-terrorism instruments because the ratification of these conventions and protocols gives signatory governments the power to prosecute, or extradite, perpetrators of crimes committed at sea. The mandate of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) covers all crimes provided for in Security Council resolution 1373 (2001) and the international counter-terrorism instruments. Crimes committed at sea include illicit acts against the safety of navigation, hostage-taking, bombings, financing of terrorism, illegal arms trafficking and smuggling. Since 1985, almost 200 terrorist incidents are thought to have taken place at sea. Terrorist attacks in the maritime environment involve illicit acts and crimes, such as terrorist bombings, hostages taking, which are defined in the international counter-terrorism instruments.

Member States are also required by Resolution 1373 (2001) and the international counter-terrorism instruments to implement border control and law enforcement measures. CTED primarily monitors and assesses the implementation of such measures in the area of maritime security through country visits. It also facilitates the delivery of technical assistance to Member States on issues related to maritime security.

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UN Regional Commissions

Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) - Through its Pacific office in Fiji, the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) has a mandate for regional coordination of the implementation of the Rio+20 Outcome, including work on the contribution of oceans to sustainable development. As an Asia-Pacific regional response to paragraph 174 of the Rio+20 Outcome document, the ESCAP Commission passed resolution 69/17 'Sustainable management, conservation and use of ocean resources for the development of Asia-Pacific small island developing State' which requests ESCAP to "undertake analysis in order to develop the evidence base for determining how the sustainable use of oceans and seas and their resources can contribute to poverty eradication and sustained economic growth in Asia-Pacific small island developing States". ESCAP has also taken a lead analytical and advocacy role in the promotion of the 'Green economy in a blue world' approach, which emphasises the importance of ocean resources and ecosystem services as part of green economy policies for small island developing States to build resilience to the likely impacts of climate change.

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UN Specialized Agencies

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) - FAO is a UN specialized agency with 194 Member Nations, two associate members and one member organization, the European Union. Achieving food security for all is at the heart of FAO's efforts - to make sure people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives. FAO's mandate is to improve nutrition, increase agricultural productivity, raise the standard of living in rural populations and contribute to global economic growth.
FAO's activities include four main areas:

  • Putting information within reach
  • Sharing policy expertise
  • Providing a meeting place for nations
  • Bringing knowledge to the field

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 1972 World Heritage Convention - The 1972 World Heritage Convention unites 193 nations behind a shared commitment to preserve the world’s outstanding heritage for the benefit of present and future generations. UNESCO’s World Heritage Marine Programme was created by the World Heritage Committee in 2005 to help secure effective conservation for marine sites on this list. Its mission is to establish effective conservation of existing and potential marine areas of Outstanding Universal Value to make sure they will be maintained and thrive for generations to come. As of August 2017, the World Heritage Marine Programme encompasses 49 sites in 37 countries amounting to approximately 5 percent by surface area of all the world’s marine protected areas. 

World Heritage recognition comes with responsibilities. Once a site achieves World Heritage status, its conservation is continuously monitored, and countries are held accountable for their action (or non-action) to protect the special place for humanity. This oversight is carried out by UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre in collaboration with its advisory bodies and is the only such mechanism in the world. The annual conservation reporting submitted by the Member States, the advice from the World Heritage Centre and advisory bodies, and the requests from the World Heritage Centre provides an unparalleled level of accountability. The 1972 World Heritage Convention has played a crucial role in several important advances in ocean conservation over the past 10 years and it has a tremendous potential to accelerate the implementation of the SDGs.

UNESCO is substantially speeding up the delivery of SDG14 by facilitating more effective conservation of World Heritage marine sites, and protecting all the services they provide to humankind, from food security to flood control, jobs and a way of life.

Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (IOC-UNESCO) - UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) promotes international cooperation and coordinates programmes in marine research, services, observation systems, data and information management, hazard mitigation, and capacity development in order to understand and effectively manage the resources of the ocean and coastal areas. By applying this knowledge, the Commission aims to improve the governance, management, institutional capacity, and decision-making processes of its 147 Member States with respect to marine resources and climate variability and to foster sustainable development of the marine environment, in particular in developing countries.

IOC coordinates ocean observation and monitoring through the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) which aims to develop a unified network providing information and data exchange on the physical, chemical, and biological aspects of the ocean. Governments, industry, scientists, and the public use this information to act on marine issues. IOC's work in ocean observation and science contributes to building the knowledge base of the science of climate change as well as the impact of acidification from increasing CO2 levels in the ocean. Through its International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange programme (IODE), IOC maintains the Ocean Biogeographic Information system (OBIS), a global marine biodiversity knowledge base which provides an integral view on the past and current diversity, abundance and distribution of marine life in the ocean. Working at the regional level, the IOC promotes the development of marine ecosystem-based management tools to empower marine managers to implement best policies. IOC leads a global effort to establish ocean-based tsunami warning systems as part of an overall multi-hazard disaster reduction strategy. In this context, it coordinates and fosters the establishment of regional intergovernmental coordinating tsunami warning and mitigation systems in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, in the Caribbean Sea and in the North East Atlantic, Mediterranean and connected seas. Through its capacity development activities implemented mainly through three (regional) sub-commissions, IOC promotes the equitable participation of all Member States as well as gender balance, in its activities.

World Bank - The World Bank Group’s mission is to fight poverty and improve the living standards of people in the developing world. It is a development Bank which provides loans, policy advice, technical assistance and knowledge sharing services to low and middle income countries to reduce poverty. Reducing poverty through sustainable development is a global strategic priority for the survival of our planet. For the World Bank this means dealing with the comprehensive nature of development. This approach is reflected in the implementation of projects and programs in partnership with the public and private sectors, and civil society. Participation, empowerment, strengthened institutions, environmental protection and conservation, and focus on the rural poor are all foundations for sustained and inclusive economic growth.

International Maritime Organization (IMO) - The IMO is the UN Specialized Agency responsible for improving maritime safety and preventing pollution from ships. The most important convention regulating and preventing marine pollution by ships is the IMO International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, which covers accidental and operational oil pollution as well as pollution by chemicals, goods in packaged form, sewage, garbage and air pollution. The International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation (OPRC) provides a global framework for international co-operation in combating major incidents or threats of marine pollution. A protocol to this convention (HNS Protocol) covers marine pollution by hazardous and noxious substances. IMO also has Secretariat responsibilities for the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter (LDC), generally known as the London Convention.

World Meteorological Organization (WMO) - The IMO is a specialized agency of the United Nations since 1951, first established in 1950, having originated from the International Meteorological Organization (IMO) founded in 1873. It serves as the UN’s system authoritative voice on the state and behavior of the Earth’s atmosphere, its interactions with the oceans, the climate it produces and the resulting distribution of water resources. WMO provides world leadership, expertise and international cooperation in weather, climate, marine meteorology, hydrology and water resources and related environmental issues, supporting safety of life and property at sea, integrated coastal management and the minimization of societal impacts from natural hazards through the provision of meteorological-ocean services, and thereby contributes to the safety and wellbeing of people throughout the world and to the economic benefits of all nations.

Through the Joint WMO-IOC Technical Commission for Oceanography and Marine Meteorology (JCOMM), supported by the Marine Meteorology and Oceanography Programme, WMO coordinates and manages the implementation of an operational ocean observing system in support of the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS)  and the Global Climate Observing system (GCOS)  in support of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The WMO-UNESCO/IOC-ICSU World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) facilitates analysis Earth system change to establish the basis for predictions of global and regional climatic variations and of changes in the frequency and severity of extreme events. WMO also provides the global infrastructure that develops and delivers products and services, which are critical for the development of international, regional and national natural disaster risk management and response strategies. For more information see the brochure: 'Ocean, Climate and Weather: the Role of the World Meteorological Organisation'.

International Labour Organization (ILO) - ILO is devoted to advancing opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity. Its main aims are to promote rights at work, encourage decent employment opportunities, enhance social protection and strengthen dialogue in handling work-related issues.

United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) - UNIDO mobilizes knowledge, skills, information and technology to promote productive employment, a competitive economy and a sound environment. It enhances cooperation at global, regional, national and sectoral levels focusing on three inter-related thematic priorities: Poverty Reduction through Productive Activities, Trade Capacity-Building, Energy and Environment.

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Related Organizations

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) - The IAEA Marine Environment Laboratory (IAEA-MEL) in Monaco was established in 1961 as part of the IAEA's Department of Research and Isotopes and is the only marine laboratory within the UN system. The promotion of nuclear and isotopic techniques and the improved understanding of marine radioactivity are central to the Laboratory's work carried out in the framework of the IAEA's Programme H - Marine Environment, Water Resources and Industry. Marine environmental protection is the fundamental objective of IAEA-MEL’s modus operandi and its international function results in its involvement at the forefront of major world issues across a broad environmental spectrum.

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Related Conventions Secretariats

Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) - Conceived as a practical tool for translating the principles of UNCED Agenda 21 into reality, the CBD recognizes that biological diversity is about more than plants, animals and micro organisms and their ecosystems – it is about people and our need for food security, medicines, fresh air and water, shelter, and a clean and healthy environment in which to live. In view of their common concern for the conservation and sustainable use of marine and coastal biodiversity, the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity agreed on a program of action for implementing the Convention. The programme, called "Jakarta Mandate on Marine and Coastal Biological Diversity" was adopted in 1995. Through its programme of work the Convention focuses on integrated marine and coastal area management, the sustainable use of living resources, marine and coastal protected areas, mariculture and alien species.

Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) - The Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) provides a global platform for the conservation and sustainable use of migratory animals and their habitats including marine species. CMS brings together governments in the common endeavour to preserve a functioning network of ocean habitats of whales, dolphins, sharks, seals, dugongs, manatees, turtles and seabirds. Like other migratory species they depend on ecological connectivity because they use different habitats for different phases of their life cycles. CMS recognizes the critical role that migratory species perform in maintaining the quality, integrity, resilience and functioning of important habitats also in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

International Seabed Authority (ISA) - The International Seabed Authority is an autonomous international organization established under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 1994 Agreement relating to the Implementation of Part XI of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The Authority is the organization through which States Parties to the Convention shall, in accordance with the regime for the seabed and ocean floor and subsoil thereof beyond the limits of national jurisdiction> (the Area) established in Part XI and the Agreement, organize and control activities in the Area, particularly with a view to administering the resources of the Area.

UN Climate Change - The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat is the United Nations entity tasked with supporting the global response to the threat of climate change. The UNFCCC is the parent treaty of the 2015 Paris Agreement.  The Paris Agreement recognizes the role of the ocean in the climate system, the urgent need for an effective and progressive response to the urgent threat of climate change based on the best available science, and the need to ensure the integrity of all ecosystems, including ocean ecosystems. The UNFCCC secretariat supports Parties in their work under the Convention and Paris Agreement to consider all opportunities to reduce fossil fuel emissions to net zero to limit further ocean temperature rise and acidification, and build and support ocean- and coastal-zone related resilience. The secretariat works closely with our colleagues across the UN including to promote inter-agency cooperation and coordination on the ocean and climate change.

World Heritage Convention (UNESCO) - The 1972 World Heritage Convention unites 193 nations behind a shared commitment to preserve the world’s outstanding heritage for the benefit of present and future generations. The UNESCO World Heritage List features over 1,000 sites, including about 50 marine sites distributed across 37 countries – recognized for their unique marine biodiversity, singular ecosystem, unique geological processes or incomparable beauty. The World Heritage Centre’s Marine Programme helps to secure effective conservation of these marine sites through monitoring and evaluations, assessing climate change impacts and investing in building resilience at the site level, sharing of conservation solutions, and assisting sites with the set-up of marine monitoring mechanisms.

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Programme of Work

UN-Oceans must regularly prepare a work programme allowing it to effectively coordinate the response of its participating organizations to the mandates approved by their governing bodies.


UN-Oceans prepares a biennial work programme allowing it to effectively coordinate the response of its participating organizations to the mandates approved by their governing bodies.  The work programme is presented by the UN-Oceans Focal Point to the United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea (see attached).

In support of its mandate and work, UN-Oceans may set up time-bound ad hoc assignments to facilitate coordination on specific issues, open to all participating organizations of UN-Oceans.

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Focal point

The General Assembly decided, in its resolution 68/70 of 9 December 2013, that the United Nations Legal Counsel/Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea would be the focal point of UN-Oceans.

In that capacity, the United Nations Legal Counsel/Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea:

  • Convenes the meetings of UN-Oceans and organizes those meetings, including by preparing and disseminating meeting minutes, reports and background documents;
  • Facilitates communication among UN-Oceans participants;
  • Maintains and updates information about UN-Oceans activities, makes this information available to UN-Oceans participants and United Nations Member States and makes it publicly available through the UN-Oceans website; and
  • Represents UN-Oceans at relevant meetings, including those under the General Assembly and those of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination and its High-level Committee on Programmes.

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Updated on: 19 March 2021