The United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021 – 2030)

On 5 December 2017, the United Nations declared that a Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development would be held from 2021 to 2030. The IOC was tasked by the UN General Assembly to design and deliver the Decade by coordinating and engaging with stakeholders. The Decade will provide a common framework to ensure that ocean science can fully support countries to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Decade will provide a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to create a new foundation, across the science-policy interface, to strengthen the management of our oceans and coasts for the benefit of humanity. It will also contribute to the UN processes protecting the ocean and its resources, such as the Aichi Biodiversity targets, the SAMOA Pathway, the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

The IOC has published their goals and vision of the Decade, the lastest full implementation plan and the summary implementation plan.


The Decade is a transformative vision to deliver the ‘science needed for the future we want’ painted by the following outcomes:

  1. A clean ocean where sources of pollution are identified and reduced or removed.
  2. A healthy and resilient ocean where marine ecosystems are understood, protected, restored and managed.
  3. A productive ocean supporting sustainable food supply and a sustainable ocean economy.
  4. A predicted ocean where society understands and can respond to changing ocean conditions.
  5. A safe ocean where life and livelihoods are protected from ocean-related hazards.
  6. An accessible ocean with open and equitable access to data, information and technology and innovation.
  7. An inspiring and engaging ocean where society understands and values the ocean in relation to human wellbeing and sustainable development.

The Decade vision and outcomes will require the engagement of many different stakeholders to create new ideas, solutions, partnerships and applications, these include: scientists, governments, academics, policy makers, business, industry and civil society. The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO was tasked by the UN General Assembly to work with all interested stakeholders to design a Decade of ocean science. The full implementation plan encompassess the science needs, managaging data and knowledge and developing capacity and ocean literacy. A draft for how Ocean Literacy will play a part of the Decade has been submitted.

Ocean Decade Challenges

Ocean Decade Challenges, click to view full PDF



The Ocean Decade Challenges represent the most immediate and pressing priorities for the Decade at the global, regional, national and local scales. While they may evolve with emerging issues, they largely shape the overall contribution of the Decade and will unite Decade partners. Below the Ocean Decade Challenges sit the Ocean Decade Objectives. These objectives include: 

  • Identification of ocean knowledge required for sustainable development
  • Generation of data, information and knowledge for a comprehensive understanding of the ocean
  • Use of knowledge and understanding to deploy solutions for sustainable development

In order to fufil the Objectives and Challenges, there will be a number of Ocean Decade Actions. These are represented by initiatives that will be implemented by Decade stakeholders.


UK Involvement

The IOC Assembly enables the UK to steer and contribute to the goals of the Decade. To this end, at the 30th IOC Assembly in 2019, the UK made a number of interventions regarding the Decade including voicing its committment to the Decade (e.g. providing financial support during the preparation phase, hosting the Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Seabed2030 Global Data Centre and continuning research under the Harmful Algal Bloom programme) and encouraging continued work regarding the endorsment process. Through a number of capacity building links, the UK supports the IOC's regional office in the Carribean via the Commonwealth Marine Economies Programme, the re-invigoration of the regional committee for the Indian Ocean, and other projects via Official Development Assistance (ODA) funding, such as those provided via the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

The Marine Science Co-ordination Committee (MSCC) International Working Group (IWG) will take on the role as the UK National Decade Committee. As the role of an NDC is to help facilitate and coordinate UK Decade activities, amongst other things, the majority of the Decade updates will be on the MSCC IWG website, be it scientific projects, capacity development, data management or ocean literacy. The MSCC IWG has already been involved in the Decade, such as by coordinating the delegation at the UN Decade North Atlantic Regional Workshop, using annual meetings to discuss UK contributions and how UK government will interact, and helping respond to the initial Decade zero draft implementation plan on behalf of the MSCC.



Credit: Abigail Marshall (Left & Centre), Leighton Rolley (Right)