04. October 2017 Strong sustainability in coastal areas: a conceptual interpretation of SDG 14


Scientists explore the implications for coastal areas within the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

With the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted in 2015, the United Nations have reaffirmed their aspirations for inclusive and universal sustainable development. Now, the task is on the UN member states to implement the 2030 Agenda and translate its 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) with 169 specific targets into action. But as well-defined as the 2030 Agenda seems, there are many contradictions between single goals and many open questions when it comes to taking action and making decisions. Generally, the 2030 Agenda adopts the so-called "three-pillar-model", but it does not specify how to balance the three dimensions of sustainable development: the economic, the social, and the environmental dimension. Since most SDGs refer to social and economic goals, there is danger that the environmental dimension will be downplayed in the process of implementation.


In this article, we address ethical and conceptual questions of sustainable development. We explore the implications for a specific case - coastal areas and the implementation of SDG 14 – by discourse analysis. The "ocean goal" SDG 14 aims for "conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas, and marine resources". Coastal areas provide many benefits to humans and are essential for social and economic development of many coastal and island states. Coasts are increasingly under pressure from human impacts as ecosystem degradation and pollution as well as from climate change and its effects. SDG 14 addresses many of the problems occurring in coastal areas and explicitly considers coastal areas in two of its targets (14.2 and 14.5).

These two sub-targets presuppose and promote, as we argue, a "strong sustainability" concept by addressing protection, conservation, and management of coastal ecosystems and its resources and services. This argument from presupposition is at the heart of the article. We further outline a normative framework of strong sustainability in order to avoid depletion of natural capital of coastal areas and promote restoration of coastal zones. However, realising the coastal targets set out under SDG 14 through policies and actions on the basis of strong sustainability brings about challenges and pitfalls. For example, target 14.5 prescribes the conservation of "at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas". This wording does not specify how to implement these conservation areas, i.e. which habitats or species require conservation, where should these areas be located and which is the effective conservation status.

Furthermore, SDG 14 does not stand on its own. It is embedded in an "indivisible" agenda and linked to many if not all other goals of the 2030 Agenda. Conserving and sustainably using coastal areas thus also requires due regard of potential trade-offs with other goals, coherent and integrated governance, and a discussion on the need to adopt a "strong sustainability" concept in the implementation of further goals and targets, if not the 2030 Agenda as a whole. The strong sustainability framework we derived and developed in this article should thus be seen as a due starting point for a comprehensive nature conservation theory to support the successful implementation of SDG 14 and of other environmentally oriented SDGs under the 2030 Agenda.

Original Article:
Neumann B, Ott K, Kenchington R (2017) Strong sustainability in coastal areas: a conceptual interpretation of SDG 14. Sustain Science: 1-17. doi: 10.1007/s11625-017-0472-y. PDF available from: http://rdcu.be/vEU6


Dr. Barbara Neumann, Department of Geography, Kiel University. Email: neumann@geographie.uni-kiel.de

Prof. Dr. Konrad Ott, Philosophical Seminar, Kiel University. Email: ott@philsem.uni-kiel.de