Panel members discussing at the Marine Regions Forum.

Ingrid-Gabriela Hoven (BMZ), Angelique Pouponneau, Jens Frølich Holte, Árni Mathiesen and Maria Damanaki at the closing panel.
Photo: IISD/ENB / Mike Muzurakis

Regional governance for a healthy ocean

SDG 14 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development seeks to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.” However, experts agree that the upcoming 2020 deadline for meeting four of the SDG 14 targets will likely be missed. At the Marine Regions Forum early in October, they discussed approaches and solutions for a radical shift in oceans governance.

Acidification and pollution, unprecedented biodiversity loss driven by overfishing and habitat destruction – the fact that the ocean is in crisis has once again been highlighted by two recently issued reports by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). At the same time, a growing world population is becoming increasingly reliant on the ocean for food and livelihoods. What has to be done to achieve a healthy ocean, and what could the role of regional governance be in this context? Around 200 international participants discussed these issues at the three-day Marine Regions Forum in Berlin/Germany early in October 2019.

Smart aquaculture is part of the solution

Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), demonstrated just how important the oceans are for human life. Half of the oxygen in our atmosphere is generated by micro-plankton. In other words, every second breath we take is created by oceans. However, humanity has already changed 66 per cent of the marine environment; by 2050, marine fisheries harvest will have fallen by 30 per cent compared to 2017. Andersen calls for action to be taken in five areas: climate change, fisheries, pollution, coastal marine ecosystems and governance.

In order to make fisheries more sustainable (90 per cent of stocks were already fully exploited, overexploited or depleted), above all, existing subsidies should be stopped, and finances thus released should be reallocated to supporting aquaculture and small coastal fisheries. Regarding pollution, in addition to the (justifiably) strongly discussed topic of “plastic”, land-based impact on oceans, for example from nutrients emitted by agriculture, should also be borne in mind. The restoration of coastal marine ecosystems should have top priority as well. That mangroves could lower flood risk was a well-known fact. However, it was less well-known that mangroves absorbed five times more carbon than the rainforest.

Every ton of CO2 counts!

Antje Boetius, Director of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven/Germany, reminded the participants of the interconnectedness of oceans and the climate. The impacts of CO2 would still be affecting the oceans for hundreds of thousands of years, while sea ice was fundamental for securing our climate, although here, there had been enormous losses in the past years. “The 1.5 degree goal is a fantastic utopia,” Boetius declared regarding the target set by the Paris Climate Agreement on limiting global warming. However, asking for quantitative goals was not enough; monitoring and sanctions addressing non-compliance with the targets set were just as important.

The scientist took a clear stand on how to carry out deep-sea mining in an environmentally friendly manner – an issue on which Germany’s Environment Minister Svenja Schulze had called for internationally binding rules – : „There is no ecological way!“ she said.

Turning knowledge and findings into action

The participants in the discussion agreed that ocean governance is far too fragmented today. Regional organisations could close the gap between global agreements and local actions. To raise attention for the need to take action, scientific findings first have to be recognised on the ground – by politicians and policy makers and also by 'ordinary people in the villages‘, stressed Bernard Esau, Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources of Namibia. „So let us not talk about acidification, but bluntly say that the oceans are turning to soda water. Instead of explaining that fish are migrating, it is important to expose how food security and the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people are in danger“, said the Minister.

Bottom-up approaches needed

„Everyone must feel affected,“ were also the words of the Assistant Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization, Árni Mathiesen in regard to the significance oceans have for food security in times of land degradation and desertification. Angélique Pouponneau, Chief Executive Officer of the Seychelles’ Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust put forward two examples. Small-scale fishers in coastal zones had recognised the problem and were participating in pilot voluntary restoration measures; moreover, data on fish stocks were being recorded together with a local NGO. The data was then made available to local fishers who themselves decide on how to take them into account in their daily work. „We need more of these bottom-up managing approaches”, said the representative of the Seychelles.

Give ecosystems a price!

Without the private sector it is not possible to restore marine ecosystems was the conviction of Maria Damanaki, Global Managing Director Oceans at the Nature Conservancy. But the private sector would only come on board if it had an incentive to invest. Blue Carbon Credits are one way of achieving this – through such payments for ecosystem services, businesses, in exchange for investing in the protection or restoration of mangroves, for example, receive certified carbon credits to manage their own emissions. These Carbon Credits could, for example, be embedded by the governments in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

Brief synthesis

In the closing plenary, Alexander Müller, Managing Director of TMG – Think Tank for Sustainability and Sébastien Treyer, Executive Director of the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI), presented the draft conclusions of some 20 plenary and dialogue sessions:

  • Regional organisations are important, as they can help come closer to the field, go beyond national jurisdictions, reinforce the legitimacy of stakeholders on the national stage and lead to more ambitious action.

  • Regions can fill the implementation gap by providing enough resources, political leadership and mutual learning.

  • Crucial conditions of success are inclusiveness and knowledge.

  • Long-term goals must be broken down into measurable action to make the different stakeholders accountable.

  • Regional leadership and mutual learning are needed to speed up the process. Strong leaders in the climate sector have to be brought together with the people who strongly depend on the oceans.

The Marine Regions Forum (MRF) is a contribution to the Partnership for Regional Ocean Governance, a collaborative initiative between the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS), the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI), the TMG – Think Tank for Sustainability and the German Government. It stemmed from commitments made by Germany and the European Union at the UN Ocean Conference in New York/USA in June 2017 and the Our Ocean Conference in Malta at the beginning of October 2017 respectively, announcing their support in establishing a multi-stakeholder platform for regional ocean governance. The key messages of the conferences are to be forwarded to relevant global and regional processes, including the 2020 UN Ocean Conference to take place in Lisbon/Portugal from the 2nd to the 6th of June 2020.


Silvia Richter, editor, Rural 21

More information:

Marine Regions Forum Website

Conference Summary

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