On March 26, 2012, The Global Ocean Forum, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO), the Permanent Mission of Fiji to the United Nations, and the Permanent Mission of Seychelles to the United Nations, held a side event at the 3rd Intersessional Meeting of United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development at the UN Headquarters in New York City. The event, “Oceans at Rio+20: Highlighting Oceans Issues in the Rio+20 Outcome Document: Moving the Agenda at and Beyond Rio” was attended by 98 representatives from governments, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, and academia. The event focused on addressing the perspectives of States, UN agencies, and civil society on achieving a viable ocean outcome from the Rio+20 negotiation process and also provided a briefing on major ocean events to be held at the Rio+20 Conference.
Dr. Biliana Cicin-Sain, President of the Global Ocean Forum, opened the event by noting that while the oceans and coasts did not figure prominently in the early discussions related to Rio+20, the mobilization by countries and NGOs that recognize the importance of oceans and coasts in achieving sustainable development resulted in the inclusion of ocean-related references in the Rio+20 Zero Draft submissions in over 2/3 of countries and by all political groups. The emphasis placed on oceans and coasts and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in these documents resulted in strong paragraphs in the January version of the Rio+20 negotiation text. Dr. Cicin-Sain applauded the elevation of ocean issues in the draft text, but noted that actionable and specific programs and solutions will have to be included in the final outcome if ocean related goals are to be realized. She did note, however, the need to further integrate text on integrated ecosystem-based governance, capacity development, and the need for enhanced financing support for coastal developing countries and SIDS. She urged governments to uphold the Rio principles laid out at UNCED and the WSSD and urged governments to not let the Rio opportunity slip away.
Dr. Wendy Watson-Wright, Executive Secretary, IOC-UNESCO, noted that the key challenge in Rio+20 is to find a way to reverse the global trend of unsustainable development and degradation of resources. The oceans have a vast potential to contribute to sustainable development, but this requires a vision and understanding of the ocean’s capacity. Crucial in this process is the development of partnerships between governments, NGOs, and IGOs. IOC-UNESCO worked closely with UN agency partners, including the IMO, FAO, and UNDP, in the development of the Rio+20 submission document “A Blueprint for Ocean and Coastal Sustainability,” which presents a vision and opportunities for the ocean in realizing sustainable development goals.
Ambassador Elizabeth Thompson, Executive Coordinator, Rio+20 Conference, highlighted that Rio+ 20 will have significant implications for SIDS. She emphasized that the negotiation process is ongoing, and the ocean community will need to sustain efforts in order to achieve a solid outcome. Ambassador Thompson noted that, for many people, the quality of the oceans is directly related to their quality of life. Past government-led efforts, including recent efforts by the government of Monaco, have helped to galvanize attention on oceans issues. What is needed now is to look at the tangible solutions that have been identified for the myriad of ocean-related challenges. She emphasized that the current Compendium of Commitments contains no commitments on oceans. If this draft document is to represent the implementation of platforms, initiatives, and programs coming out of Rio+20, it is crucial that issues related to the blue economy and ocean issues are included, along with specific, measurable targets to ensure that these commitments are realized. She highlighted some of the issues facing SIDS, including the need for coastal mapping, to address the challenges related to climate change, and the need to improve on disaster-related risk management and capacity. She also discussed the importance of fisheries, and the need to ensure the sustainable management of fish stocks.
Ambassador Joseph Goddard, Permanent Representative of Barbados to the UN, and Co-Chair of the States’ Friends of the Ocean at Rio+20, recognized that States’ Rio+20 Friends of the Ocean has provided a valuable tool in an informal setting to discuss the shared vision for the role of oceans in global sustainability. It was the Pacific SIDS that first presented the idea of the “blue economy,” in which the benefits from the utilization of ocean resources must go to the people. He recognized that some of the key ocean and coastal ecosystems, including coral reefs and mangroves may soon reach threshold limits. In the Caribbean, these ecosystems provide critical resources that provide nutrition, contribute to poverty reduction, and provide jobs in the fisheries and tourism sectors. Relative to economic size, the countries in the Caribbean region are the most tourism-dependent in the world, most of which is related to the appeal of the oceans and coasts. Ambassador Goddard also discussed the current state of ocean issues in the Rio+20 negotiation process. He reported that the potential for strong ocean outcomes is in the current text, including references to equitable sharing of resources, improved fishing practices, and addressing climate change. He also noted that the ocean issues have not been as contentious as some had feared, but rather there has been good consensus in the recent negotiations. While these are positive signs, there must be continued pressure to ensure that oceans figure prominently as the new rules are developed. The international community should start to identify possible issue areas that can be aligned with shared ocean priorities, relying on expertise on ocean issues in the process.
Ambassador Gary Quinlan, Permanent Representative of Australia to the UN, and Co-Chair, States’ Friends of the Ocean at Rio+20, further discussed the negotiations process. He stated that, up to this point, the effort to mobilize thinking around oceans issues in the Rio+20 process was successful, as was reflected in the prominence of the oceans in the Zero Draft input and negotiating text. He noted that this has provided a basis for negotiation, and that there are some issue areas where prospective agreement may be achieved, as well as regional support for certain issue areas that may constitute core ocean elements. He agreed with the comments of Ambassador Thompson that there is a need for relevant commitment sections in the agreements emanating from Rio. In addition, he called for governments to first implement the commitments of the past Rio Conferences before turning to new commitments.
Ambassador Ronald Jumeau, Permanent Representative of Seychelles to the UN, discussed the importance of the oceans to the sustainable development of SIDS. While these countries represent some of the smallest countries in terms of land area, their ocean territories are vast, and thus oceans are of central importance. He reiterated the concerns of Ambassador Moses, Chair of the Alliance of Small Island Developing States (AOSIS), who noted that oceans, coasts, and SIDS had been ignored in the first two sections of the January draft negotiation text. Ambassador Jumeau stressed that, though oceans are of special concern to SIDS, it must be emphasized that the oceans are critically important to a number of countries in the global community, not just the SIDS. While there are only 35 countries in AOSIS, 85 nations are involved in the fish trade every year. If we are to make progress in realizing commitments and improving the utilization of coastal and oceans resources, the international community must sensitize people to understand that large numbers of people are affected by the utilization of ocean resources. He noted that the SIDS and the G-77 and China are speaking with some of the same language in some of the major issues of concern in the Rio+20 negotiation process, including in the areas of equity, technology transfer, fisheries, and ocean acidification. The international community has recognized some of the challenges related to threats facing coral reefs, sea level rise, coastal erosion, land-based sources of marine pollution, and the need for capacity building. He further noted that the blue economy must be included in the definition of the green economy. The blue economy is of critical importance to many developing countries, as oceans provide nutrition, tourism, and jobs. Ambassador Jumeau also described the challenge of piracy in the Indian Ocean and its impact on coastal communities. He concluded his discussion by emphasizing that, while oceans and resources are important to the international community as a whole, SIDS risk losing economic viability without safe, secure, and productive ocean environments. Many SIDS have nothing to fall back on but their oceans, and if the blue economy is not fully integrated into the Rio+20 outcome, SIDS will have failed.
Mrs. Maria Teresa Mesquita Pessôa,
Minister Plenipotentiary in the Permanent Mission of Brazil to the United Nations, emphasized that negotiations have not yet begun in the Rio+20 process. At present, everything is still on the table. Ms. Pessoa noted that it was part of the mandate of Rio+20 to analyze progress and gaps in implementation, and many significant ocean-related gaps were identified in the process. She expressed optimism that there is some positive language in the current draft text that addresses some of these gaps. Of particular importance was the need to address the utilization of marine resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ). As a representative from Brazil, Ms. Pessoa also provided an update of the Rio+20 Conference, in which there will be a series of 9 thematic dialogues involving civil society held between the 3rd PrepCom and the Conference on June 16-18, 2012, one of which will be dedicated to oceans. These dialogues will provide an ideal opportunity for the ocean community to voice their needs outside of the formal negotiation process. The government of Brazil is collaborating with Ambassador Thompson and Ambassador Brice Lalonde, the Rio+20 Executive Coordinators, to organize these dialogues. It is the goal of the Rio+20 organizers that each dialogue will result in a set of three recommendations that will be taken to the Rio+20 high-level ministerial round table, and will be developed in a document for the Secretary General for follow-up after the conference.
Mr. Vladimir Jares, Principal Legal Officer, UN Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, spoke on the integration of past sustainable development conferences and the Law of the Sea. He noted that all of the major sustainable development conferences have highlighted the role of oceans and its resources for sustainable development. This year (2012) marks the 30th Anniversary of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which will be celebrated by a number of activities, and provides an opportunity to reflect on the achievements and challenges. In the context of the Rio+20 process and the Law of the Sea, he urged participants to look again at previously agreed-to commitments, many of which have not been achieved. UNCLOS can be used as a key document that should guide sustainable development discussion related to the oceans and its resources, as it sets forth the means for protection of the marine environment for present and future generations and cooperation for the conservation and sustainable use of marine living resources, including in areas beyond national jurisdiction. He noted that UNCLOS provides a toolbox that states may wish to utilize in future discussions. Finally, Mr. Jares noted that the convergence of Rio+20 and the 30th Anniversary of the Law of the Sea provides a unique opportunity to elevate ocean issues to the highest level of the UN.
Dr. Andrew Hudson, Coordinator, UN-Oceans, and Head, Water and Ocean Governance Programme, UNDP, provided his observations on the oceans in the Rio+20 outcome document. He noted that one of the recurrent themes in the zero draft submissions was the need to reduce or eliminate the market failures that underlie the challenges facing oceans and coasts. He noted that, while some ecosystems, such as coral reefs, are addressed in the current negotiation text, other crucial ecosystems, including mangroves, have been left out. Some of these ecosystems are of particular importance for their carbon sequestration capacities, and could open the door to a blue carbon financing mechanism if the international community works to develop robust carbon inventory methodologies. He recognized that the outcome of Rio+20 should not only identify challenges, but also highlight areas of progress and opportunity, including the development of agreements in the shipping sector to address invasive species and reduce carbon emissions. He noted that there are potential opportunities for capacity building in ocean management, including through the scaling up of legal and policy tools in the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities, and in waste management. Dr. Hudson highlighted the threat of ocean acidification, which could have drastic ecological impacts and threaten some of the most important ecosystems in the world and the services they provide. He emphasized that the international community must specifically identify emissions as the main cause of acidification, and that this driver should be a catalyst to invigorate discussions of a new climate deal. Regarding fisheries, Dr. Hudson noted that the billions of dollars in harmful fishing subsidies should be redirected to investment in sustainable management of fish stocks, and a scaling up of rights-based approaches to fisheries management. Finally, the need to support increased financing of ocean-related projects was highlighted, including taking advantage of the current emphasis being placed on oceans through the newly-formed Global Partnership for Oceans, organized by the World Bank.
Mr. Joe Appiott, Policy Researcher, Global Ocean Forum, and Ms. Brittany Baschuk, Associate, International Policy, The Pew Environment Group, presented on behalf of the NGO Ocean Cluster. Ms. Baschuk discussed the development of the NGO Ocean Cluster, which is now made up of over 30 non-governmental organizations. The first task of the ocean cluster was to compile a set of amendments to the negotiation text, which was integrated into the formal input of the NGO Major Group (available here). She highlighted the significant support for an agreement on the high seas and ABNJ in the current negotiation text, which addresses a critical gap in ocean governance. She also discussed the need for improved and strengthened text that fully addresses the challenges facing the sustainable management of fisheries, including: illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing, harmful subsidies, the elimination of destructive practices, and the need to establish maximum sustainable yield of fish stocks as a minimum standard. Mr. Appiott discussed the need for more explicit recognition of the crucial link between oceans and climate change in the outcome document, including the urgent need to address sea level rise and the increased threat of extreme weather events. He highlighted the need for stronger text on integrated, ecosystem-based ocean governance as essential to strengthening the three pillars of sustainable development. He also noted the need for governments to meet their existing capacity building and financing commitments related to the oceans and coasts and improve on the coordination and delivery of these funds. He also noted the important role of civil society in Rio+20 and urged the Rio+20 Bureau to continue to work to integrate the perspectives of NGOs into the process.
Dr. Scott Doney, Senior Scientist, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, discussed ocean acidification in the context of Rio+20, and the role of science in the process. Growing scientific evidence demonstrates that certain marine organisms are highly sensitive to the chemical changes associated with rising carbon dioxide concentrations in the ocean (known as ocean acidification), including mollusks, crustaceans, and corals, all of which are crucial to ocean resources as they provide the base of food webs. Acidification will adversely impact fisheries, and will affect the food supply, jobs, and tourism sectors. Rio+20 could play a vital role in the implementation of monitoring and adaptation strategies to address acidification. He highlighted the need for increased efforts on coastal monitoring, enhanced collection and compilation of data sources to understand the scope of the problem and possible solutions, and the development of best practices and adaptation strategies for building resilient coastal ecosystems and coastal-dependent livelihoods.
Dr. Cicin-Sain closed the panel portion of the event by highlighting plans for a major high-level oceans event, Advancing Oceans and Coasts at Rio+20 and Beyond, to be held on June 16 (flyer available here). This event, along with the thematic dialogue on ocean organized by the Brazilian government will be critical to delivering a final push on oceans at the Rio+20 Conference. She noted that the high-level ocean event will highlight major initiatives, particularly those that involve multiple countries, partners, and stakeholders, that can be tracked over time to spur development in the post-Rio+20 world. In addition, she described how the event would contribute to the development of a shared vision for the implementation of an oceans package emerging in the outcome. The Global Ocean Forum has reached out to a number of partners in government and civil society to participate in these events and discussion, and now invites further participation, collaboration, and high-level support.
In the open comment period, discussions focused on the need to better understand not only human-induced changes in the ocean, but also natural changes and how these processes affect one another. Participants also stressed the need to address the growing concerns associated with plastics in the ocean and their significant ecological impacts; building coastal resiliencies; and piracy.