#NYCxSDG: NYC welcomes the World Ocean Festival to our Coastal City

by Deanna Bitetti, Deputy Commissioner and Aarthi Gunasekaran, Policy Advisor | Mayor’s Office for International Affairs


New York City is a premier coastal city. With a population of 8.5 million residents and a coastline of 520 miles, we recognize the clear and inescapable link between climate change and our oceans and that protecting the health of our planet through effective management of our natural resources, including our oceans, is critical.

That is why as global leaders convene at the United Nations in June for the Ocean Conference, New York City is proud to be host city to the inaugural World Ocean Festival which will be a galvanizing moment for people to come together and catalyze specific steps we can take as a community to preserve our oceans and engage our citizens, in particular our young people.

The NYC Mayor’s Office for International Affairs is especially excited to welcome heads of state, delegates, scientists, marine biologists, fishermen, and many others to NYC for one of the first high-level conferences to focus on a specific UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) and the World Ocean Festival. As the primary liaison between the diplomatic community and the City of New York, the Office functions as the City’s global platform from which it promotes its goals for a more just and equitable society and exchanges best practices with the international community. One way our office accomplishes this is through our Global Vision | Urban Action program, an initiative designed to highlight the synergies between the SDGs and New York City's local sustainability and development programs that are discussed in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s OneNYC: The Plan for a Strong and Just City. The program provides opportunities for New York City and cities around the world to share strategies that have been effective in taking forward these global goals.

At the World Ocean Festival announcement, President of the UN General Assembly, Ambassador Peter Thomson, showcased the Office for International Affairs’ A City with Global Goals booklet that maps the synergies between the UN Sustainable Development Goals and OneNYC. From L to R: Ambassador Peter Thomson, President, UN General Assembly; Penny Abeywardena, Commissioner, Mayor’s Office for International Affairs; Natalia Vega-Berry, Founder/CEO, Global Brain

At the World Ocean Festival announcement, President of the UN General Assembly, Ambassador Peter Thomson, showcased the Office for International Affairs’ A City with Global Goals booklet that maps the synergies between the UN Sustainable Development Goals and OneNYC. From L to R: Ambassador Peter Thomson, President, UN General Assembly; Penny Abeywardena, Commissioner, Mayor’s Office for International Affairs; Natalia Vega-Berry, Founder/CEO, Global Brain

This is critical as cities are growing faster than ever. According to the United Nations, more than half the world’s population lives in cities and by 2030, it is projected that 6 out of 10 people will live in urban centers. We understand the importance of City leadership in creating a more sustainable planet, and under Mayor Bill de Blasio and through the work of the Climate Policy & Programs unit in the Mayor’s Office, we are working to create a more just, resilient and sustainable city – and that includes supporting and preserving healthy oceans, a key objective of SDG 14.   

We also understand that engaging and activating youth is critical for sustainable development. With the goal of empowering New York City youth to see themselves as global citizens, the NYC Mayor’s Office for International Affairs launched NYC Junior Ambassadors, an innovative program that educates NYC 7th graders about the role of the United Nations in world affairs. The current cohort of students includes almost 600 students from across the five boroughs who are learning about issues ranging from climate change to the global refugee crisis.

After taking part in a curated tour of the UN campus as part of the program, one NYC Junior Ambassador from the Bronx spoke to us about why learning about the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and in particular SDG 14 and Life Below Water, was important to her. She emphasized that “water is an essential element to our life sources and we need to preserve it before we contaminate it.” Other NYC Junior Ambassadors are also taking action on climate change – such as writing letters to the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee in support of the Paris Agreement. These truly are the next generation of future leaders.

Local leadership has never been more important – particularly in the fight to combat climate change. The World Ocean Festival offers a moment for communities and a diverse set of stakeholders to come together and build momentum for protecting our marine and coastal ecosystems, and the Ocean Conference provides a critical opportunity to further the implementation of SDG 14.  

As proud host city to the largest diplomatic community in the world – 193 Missions, 114 Consulates and the permanent headquarters of the United Nations – the NYC Mayor’s Office for International Affairs looks forward to working together with our diverse and vibrant international community to #saveourocean.