Goal 14: Life Below Water

Measuring progress in the Nordic countries

Work in progress: This page is under active development.

Adopted in 2015 by all United Nations (UN) members, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a global agenda for making the world a better place by 2030. They are described by the UN as a ‘shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet‘, and goals are to be achieved by all countries, in global partnership, by 2030.

This data tracker uses the latest official data to look at how the Nordic countries are progressing towards achieving the 17 SDGs, with this page looking closer at Sustainable Development Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

Data for the other goals can be access via this link.

Each target is presented by first looking at global trends, before zooming in on the Nordic countries and assessing their performance. The assessment is based on work by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in analysing the progress made toward the SDGs in all OECD countries.

Target 14.1

By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution


14.1.1(a) Index of coastal eutrophication; and (b) plastic debris density

Global trends

Coastal eutrophication occurs when coastal waters become enriched with nutrients, causing excessive growth of plants, algae and phytoplankton. Eutrophication is primarily a result of land-based nutrient flows from agricultural processes (fertilizer runoff, livestock waste) and domestic wastewater discharge (sewage).

Globally, coastal eutrophication is measured through analysis of chlorophyll-a concentrations. Coastal waters with excessive nutrient enrichment may have high concentrations of chlorophyll-a and excess amounts of algae. The indicator looks at the degree of deviation of cholorophyll-a in coastal waters compared to a 2000-2004 baseline.

Satellite data shows that overall, coastal eutrophication has been on an increasing trend since 2016. Compared to the 2000-2004 baseline, North America and Europe were the regions most impacted by chlorophyll-a deviations, while Oceania and East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa were impacted the lowest.

Plastics make up the vast majority (85%) of marine litter, and the UN estimates that around 11 million tonnes of plastic are entering the ocean yearly. The amount is expected to triple by 2040 unless urgent action is taken. The plastic litter density measures the amount of beach litter per square kilometre, and is derived from citizen-generated data. The chart below shows the developments since 2015. Note, however, that the numbers for 2020 are likely to be impacted by the pandemic given the data is based on citizen reporting.

The Nordics

Data on chlorophyll-a deviations show that impact levels are above the global baseline from 2000-2004 in all the Nordic countries, and significantly higher in Norway and Iceland.

Data on beach litter is sparse for the Nordics, with Iceland having only one data point (2018) and Denmark being the only country with data after 2018. Still, based on available data it is difficult to identify any clear trend on this indicator for the Nordics.

No OECD assessment of progress is presented, as new data on chlorophyll-a (for 2021) has been published after the OECD report.

Target 14.2

By 2020, sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems to avoid significant adverse impacts, including by strengthening their resilience, and take action for their restoration in order to achieve healthy and productive oceans


14.2.1Number of countries using ecosystem-based approaches to managing marine areas

No data is available to assess progress at the global or regional level.

The Nordics

The latest UN data shows that Denmark and Finland have implemented ecosystem-based approaches to their marine areas. Sweden is progressing and is deemed to be at a plan adoption/designation stage. There is no data from the UN SDG Global Database indicating any progress in Iceland and Norway towards this target. Note that this target was set to be achieved by 2020.

The above data was made available after the OECD report was published, hence no OECD assessment is included. However, as this is a binary (yes/no) target, the below table summaries our interpretation of the current status:

Target 14.3

Minimize and address the impacts of ocean acidification, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels


14.3.1Average marine acidity (pH) measured at agreed suite of representative sampling stations

No data is available at the global or regional level.

While the number of observation stations of ocean acidification, there still exists large reporting gaps. However, according to the UN, observation sites in the open ocean show a continuous decline in pH levels over the past 20 to 30 years. Increased acidification is a result of the world's oceans absorbing carbon dioxide emissions, and represent a threat to the global marine ecosystem. Acidification is expected to increase over the coming decades.

Data for Nordic countries are also sparse. For those OECD countries where there are monitoring stations, the data also shows a consistent decline in pH.

Target 14.4

By 2020, effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement science-based management plans, in order to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible, at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield as determined by their biological characteristics


14.4.1Proportion of fish stocks within biologically sustainable levels

Global trends

The global share of fish stocks within biologically sustainable levels stood at 64.6% worldwide in 2019, a decline from 72.8% in 2000 and 66.7% in 2015. The share of sustainable fish stocks were lowest in the Southeast Pacific (33.7%) and the Mediterranean and the Black Sea (36.6%), while the highest levels were found in Eastern Central Pacific, Southwest Pacific, Northeast Pacific and Western Central Pacific (ranging from 79 to 87%). According to the UN, improved regulations and monitoring have been key to improving the sustainability of fish stocks, yet such measures suffer from slow adoption, especially in developing countries.

The Nordics

Insufficient data is available to make an assessment of progress in the Nordic countries.

Target 14.5

By 2020, conserve at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, consistent with national and international law and based on the best available scientific information


14.5.1Coverage of protected areas in relation to marine areas

Global trends

In 2021 just over 8% of total marine areas worldwide were protected. However, the UN estimates that this will rise closer to the 10% target based on recent new designations.

While the target is close to being achieved, it is important to note that there are still important areas that are not protected. Such areas, called key biodiversity areas (KBA), are deemed to contribute significantly to the global persistence of biodiversity. From 2000 to 2021 the share of KBAs that were covered by protected areas increased from 26% to 45%. However, in recent years the increase has slowed.

The Nordics

According to the latest data from 2021, Denmark, Finland and Sweden had expanded their marine protected areas to above the target level of 10% of their exclusive economic zone. The overall trend in OECD countries, including the Nordics, is that the level of protection has risen over the last two decades.

The share of key biodiversity areas (KBA) that are protected varies significantly in the Nordics, with 87% coverage levels in Denmark to 15% in Iceland. As there is no set target on the protection level of KBAs, the OECD has operationalised the target at 93%, corresponding to the level of the best OECD performers in 2015. Currently, while some progress is being made, none of the Nordics is on a path to achieve this level by 2030.

Target 14.6

By 2020, prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and refrain from introducing new such subsidies, recognizing that appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries should be an integral part of the World Trade Organization fisheries subsidies negotiation


14.6.1Degree of implementation of international instruments aiming to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing

Global trends

As of 2022, countries worldwide scored an average of 4 out of 5 in their level of implementation of international instruments to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU). Data shows that progress is being made globally, with the global average standing at 3 out of 5 in 2018. As a further mark of progress, in June 2022 members of the WTO adopted the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies to end prohibited fisheries subsidies.

The Nordics

The latest data from 2022 shows that Norway and Iceland achieve a score of 4 out of 5 in their level of implementation of instruments to combat IUU, while Denmark, Finland and Sweden have reached the target level with a score of 5 out of 5.

Target 14.7

By 2030, increase the economic benefits to Small Island developing States and least developed countries from the sustainable use of marine resources, including through sustainable management of fisheries, aquaculture and tourism


14.7.1Sustainable fisheries as a proportion of GDP in small island developing States, least developed countries and all countries

Global trends

Sustainable fisheries accounted for a total of 0.1% of world GDP in 2019, a level which was unchanged from 2011 (earliest available data). In least developed countries and small island states, which to a larger degree depend on fishing, the share has declined compared to the level in 2011. The decline, according to the UN, reflects increasing pressures on wild stocks, impacting in particular Eastern and South-Eastern Asia.

The Nordics

Target not applicable to the Nordic countries.

Target 14.a

Increase scientific knowledge, develop research capacity and transfer marine technology, taking into account the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Criteria and Guidelines on the Transfer of Marine Technology, in order to improve ocean health and to enhance the contribution of marine biodiversity to the development of developing countries, in particular small island developing States and least developed countries


14.a.1Proportion of total research budget allocated to research in the field of marine technology

Global trends

There is no set target level for this indicator, and data is not available for all countries. The latest UN data for the world average share shows a decline from 1.6% in 2013 to 1.0% in 2017. However, this should be interpreted with caution as the changes in the share allocated to marine technology in terms of total research allocations could depend on many factors.

The Nordics

Data is not sufficiently available for a comparative assessment of the Nordic countries.

Target 14.b

Provide access for small-scale artisanal fishers to marine resources and markets


14.b.1Degree of application of a legal/regulatory/policy/institutional framework which recognises and protects access rights for small‐scale fisheries

Global trends

In 2022 the world average implementation of frameworks that recognises and protects access rights of small-scale fisheries reached a score of 5 out of 5, up from 3 out of 5 in 2018. The increase is due to increased global efforts to support small-scale fisheries, according to the UN. Regional data, however, shows that implementation is uneven with Central and Southern Asia as well as Australia and New Zealand scoring 3 out of 5.

The Nordics

Denmark, Finland and Sweden have all reached the target level of scoring 5 out of 5 in the degree of implementation in 2022. Iceland scores 4 out of 5, the same level as in 2018. No data is available for Norway on this indicator.

Target 14.c

Enhance the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources by implementing international law as reflected in United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which provides the legal framework for the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources, as recalled in paragraph 158 of "The future we want"


14.c.1Number of countries making progress in ratifying, accepting and implementing through legal, policy and institutional frameworks, ocean-related instruments that implement international law, as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, for the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans and their resources

Available data is insufficient for analysis of global or regional trends.

The Nordics

Data is only available for Denmark and Iceland, showing that both have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and it's two implementing agreements. Iceland also achieves a full score (100 of 100) on implementation, with Denmark scoring 90 out of 100.

About the data

The data presented on global, regional, and national trends are from the UN SDG Global Database and the OECD unless otherwise stated.

The assessment of the Nordic countries is based on the findings from a recent OECD report, published in April 2022. The OECD uses a three-tier classification for each target:

  • Target is achieved or on track to being achieved
  • Progress has been made, but is insufficient to meet the target
  • No progress or moving away from the SDG target

Note that the OECD methodology uses the current status of a target and calculates a likely trend towards 2030 based on recent progress. Thus, a country that is close to a target, but trending away from it, will be classified as having "No progress or moving away from the SDG target". Conversely, a country that is currently further away from the target, but trending towards it (and has a high likelihood of reaching it before 2030), will be classified as "Target is achieved or on track to being achieved".


  • Pilot release 20 September 2022

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