Paris, 16-17 November 2023
The French Academy of Sciences Overseas and the Belgian Royal Academy of Sciences Overseas sponsored a two day colloquium in Paris 16-17 November on “Ocean Governance: management of marine resources, food security and sustainable development”. The event was organised by IEF member Virginie Tilot de Grissac, who belongs to both academies, and included 22 presentations from a variety of perspectives by Academicians, leading experts and retired Admirals and Generals, among others. IEF President Arthur Dahl gave the closing keynote. The proceedings will eventually be published.
Starting with the acknowledgement that present ocean governance is highly fragmented between different UN specialized agencies, convention secretariats, and the Law of the Sea, speakers explored the ocean as a common good where water links everything and does not respect any man-made boundaries, and is subject to many often-conflicting uses. A variety of marine research approaches were shared, ranging from remote sensing to aquaculture and deep-sea mining.
Arthur Dahl’s closing systems presentation proposed some innovations necessary to enable ocean governance to become more sustainable. Since the planetary ocean is a single integrated system, we must overcome the fragmentation in present ocean governance. Good science on the state and trends in the ocean and relevant human activities and impacts across all scientific disciplines must be the foundation for decision-making. Ocean data collection, modelling and scientific advice should be strengthened, where artificial intelligence can now assist with data management, documenting changes and trends, and identifying tipping-points.
A new legal framework must give priority to the common good of the whole system over national sovereignty and Exclusive Economic Zones, fill the vacuum in high seas governance, and cover non-state actors. The law on EEZs needs revision to adapt to changes in coastlines with sea level rise, and to ensure that SIDS that lose their entire national territory can retain rights to EEZ resources.
Clear responsibility needs to be established for land-based sources of marine pollution, in accordance with the polluter-pays principle, with enforcement mechanisms. All waste disposal and dumping in the oceans should be regulated based on environmental assessments.
Coordination and regulation of human uses of the oceans should cover: fisheries and aquaculture, shipping and transport, military uses, mining and resource extraction, renewable energy (wind, thermal, waves, tidal), biodiversity conservation and restoration, and control of invasive species and diseases. Non-monetary values of the oceans, including aesthetic appreciation, cultural and Indigenous connections, and the oceans as metaphors, should be prioritised.
UN Ocean Conferences in support of governance should be held every five years: 2017, 2022, 2027, etc., with the power to recommend. The 2022 Conference highlighted the collective failure to achieve ocean-related targets, and weak ocean governance at various geographic scales.
Global ocean governance with legislative, executive and judicial functions can be implemented either as part of general reforms to the United Nations system, or failing this, as separate environmental governance or ocean governance institutions. A recent proposal for a Global Environment Agency by IEF members Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen and Arthur Dahl was a source for the following UN High Level Advisory Board recommendation on global environmental governance:
“The central importance of the environment to all aspects of our lives and collective well-being must be accompanied by an elevation of the environment within our global governance system. This requires strengthening UNEP and the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) with mandates and resources comparable to the UN’s development, peace and security, and human rights institutions. Specifically, UNEP should be empowered to act as a more effective global environment agency, able to track our interrelated impacts on the environment, consolidate and measure our commitments, condition our global financial investments, and drive a transformative agenda for people and planet across multilateralism.” (High Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism (HLAB), 2023, A Breakthrough for People and Planet, p.26)
A Global Environment Agency would include an independent global scientific advisory council, with scientists from all relevant disciplines: natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, to provide objective basis for action. UNEP would evolve institutionally into a Global Environment Agency within a polycentric system with authority to set global rules, norms, and values for collective security. The UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) would have an expanded legislative function to adopt binding planetary legislation for governments and non-state actors. An International Environment Court would be created to interpret the law and settle disputes.
This will also require a fundamental transformation of the economic system that favours short-term monetary profits and GDP towards human and environmental well-being. The challenge for science is to find scientifically-based indicators of ocean well-being and the ocean boundaries that must be respected, just as we consider planetary boundaries. Such indicators would make it possible to measure the effectiveness of ocean governance.
Last updated 19 November 2023