REACTION: The view from The Economist World Ocean Summit



Posted on 19 March 2014  | 
Dr Lida Pet Soede, WWF Coral Triangle Programme Leader, with panda friend.
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By Lida Pet-Soede

The Economist hosted the second World Ocean Summit on 24th - 26th February 2014 at Half Moon Bay, San Francisco, which was geared towards solutions and the role business can play in putting them in practice.

The summit website stated that central to this are two things: governance and sustainability. The organizers further stated that “good governance is difficult to forge—not least in the high seas, where there is little formal jurisdiction. The sustainable use of our seas is equally essential—and intimately linked to better governance. The challenge now is to design a regime which successfully balances economic development with sustainability.” In light of the Coral Triangle’s visionary leadership to consider the blue economy for the sustainable development of marine and coastal resources, I looked much forward to opportunities for new alliances and bring back some ideas for new initiatives around this theme to the Coral Triangle.

The World Ocean Summit 2014 promised delegates the opportunity to shape debate about governance of the ocean, and one of the discussions was kicked off around a new ocean organization.

In an impromptu poll around the room at the start of the summit, the audience overwhelmingly voted in support of a new organization but later during discussions, expert panelists familiar with the existing governance processes and institutions said they were not at all sure this was the solution.

Considering the process for establishing the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI-CFF) secretariat, which in fact has taken only 5 years up to this point for ratification in the near future, it begs for careful consideration when such an endeavour is proposed for the entire world.

A very senior high level list of speakers and panelist debated various aspects of ocean governance and these included a.o. HRH The Prince of Wales, HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco, John Kerry - US Secretary of State, Maria Damanaki - Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries of the European Commission, Achim Steiner - Executive Director of UNEP, Joshua Reichert - Executive Vice President of environmental initiatives by the Pew Charitable trusts and David Miliband and Jose Maria Figueres as co-chairs of the Global Oceans Commission.

There were panels with several high level country representatives such as Jia Guide, China’s Deputy Director General of Department of Treaty and Law - Foreign Affairs, the Belizean Minister of Environment Lisel Alamilla, and Dr Suseno Sukoyono who represented Indonesia.

Indonesia gained a lot of appreciation and congratulations from the audience on their decision to establish the country’s EEZ as a sanctuary for manta rays, and then participated strongly in a discussion on the importance of governance within national jurisdiction.

Throughout the first day, many people mentioned the role and importance of natural capital valuation and went beyond this to suggest that the choices of development in the ocean environment aren’t always either/or but a more comprehensive evaluation of alternatives where very different accommodations should be considered. This fits very well with our approach in the Coral Triangle, where our report comparing different types of aquaculture advises to consider investing in a combination of different aquaculture approaches that optimize the output for needs of food security and livelihoods while minimizing the input and costs to the environment.

It was also an interesting context for the work we are pursuing on blue carbon as a finance mechanism for restoring productive coastal ecosystems that could help tip the financial balance between short term short lived benefits of cutting mangrove and polluting sea grass beds, towards the long-term benefits of these ecosystems as fish nurseries.

I found the contributions from the private sector to be of great interest, hearing how they look upon the ocean as a source of profit and productivity. For example, Martin Stuchley, director of McKinsey and Company gave a very interesting presentation on how one can value goods and services linked to the ocean. He claimed that if oceans were managed more sustainably, we could recover yields of $100 billion annually. He also believes there is a place for regeneration zones on the high seas and that this would cost $34 billion/yr to maintain, which translates to $2/yr per person on the planet.

On the second day, the participants split up in working groups that focused on natural capital, high seas, EEZs, aquaculture and fisheries, and which resulted in some recommendations. I look forward to some of these turning into action. Overall, I thought it was interesting that throughout the summit, the participants only used ‘ocean’ instead of ‘oceans’ as there is strong recognition that all oceans are interconnected and therefore that we need to look at it as a whole.

In closing, the presidents of Colombia and Portugal had very encouraging remarks on the road ahead. Both of them noted that only a few years back, oceans were not discussed in high circles, whereas now you could seldom go to a meeting where oceans were not discussed. All agreed that the time to act was now, but that change would be gradual.


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