Jun 30 2014

An update from the BBNJ working group

The catchily titled Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction recently met in New York (June 16-19). This was the second of three meetings convened to discuss the possibility of negotiating a new international agreement on high seas biodiversity. I was live tweeting the event using the #BBNJ hashtag, and IISD has released their briefing on the discussions. IDDRI and IASS will shortly publish a briefing paper on the negotiations, focussing on next steps towards a potential agreement.

In short, the negotiations continued the positive and collaborative spirit established during the last meeting in April, and there is now a clear and vocal majority in favour of negotiating a new agreement. Nonetheless, many questions remain unanswered, and there are a number of key debates that will likely necessitate a lengthy and intense negotiation process.

The EU and the G77 and China continue to argue for an IA to UNCLOS, and they are now joined by African Union, the Caribbean Community, and the Pacific States, while a handful os States remain reluctant to negotiate a new IA, including the US, Russia, Canada, Korea, Japan and Iceland.

The June meeting saw some convergence on a number of issues. There was broad support for maintaining the deadline set at Rio+20 and avoiding a prolongation of the current process. States also agree that UNCLOS provides the authority for such an agreement and that it should form the basis of negotiations and that  negotiations must follow the package deal agreed in 2011. There is also an emerging consensus in favour of focussing on the practical realities of ABS rather than on legal debates regarding resource ownership.

Beyond these limited elements of convergence, a number of debates on substantive issues intensified and demonstrated the likely ‘battle lines’ of future negotiations, including:

  • whether an IA should fill only legal gaps or whether it should have a broader vision;
  • how an IA will respect the mandates of existing organisations;
  • how fisheries will be treated;
  • the role of a new IA in implementing and enforcing EIA and MPAs;
  • the relevance of the distinction between the regional and global approaches to oceans governance; and
  • eventual institutional arrangements

The working group will have one more meeting in January 2015 to formulate its recommendations to the UN General Assembly in August, yet many questions remain about how this process will proceed.

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Jan 20 2014

European Commission to Focus on Marine Renewables

The European Commission today announced an action plan for marine renewables, including the creation of an energy forum and strategic roadmap by 2016, and a European Industrial Initiative by 2020. The Communication on Ocean Energy was launched at a press conference hosted by The European Commissioner for Fisheries & Maritime Affairs, Maria Damanaki and the European Commissioner for Energy, Gunther Oettinger.

The new Ocean Energy Forum will “devise workable solutions” to issues the industry faces, such as the difficult investment climate to the challenges of maintenance in the marine environment. “Improving the affordability, reliability, survivability, operability and stability of ocean energy devices is essential,” says the communication, which focuses on the ‘blue economy’ and the economic opportunities provided by Europe’s seas.

To this end, an impact assessment accompanying the document notes that as many as 40,000 jobs could be created by 2035, with Europe’s marine renewables  industry aspiring to install 100GW of generation capacity by 2050. However the lack of strong grid connections to resource-rich areas, supply chain weaknesses and regulatory impediments are hampering growth. Few commercial-scale devices are currently deployed and the industry must shift from demonstration and prototype to commercialisation.

The proposed Forum could be a crucial aspect of this process. The Forum will bring together industry, politicians and academics with financial institutions to create a support framework for new projects.

Sian George, the CEO of Ocean Energy Europe told EurActiv

Ocean energy projects are seen as quite high risk and attracting large investment is challenging because of ocean energy’s offshore nature… The private sector has been taking the lion’s share of the risk for a number of years and we are really pleased to see the commission taking a strategic position in coordinating future investment and support from member states, the commission and industry

A strategic roadmap would set “clear targets for the industrial development of the sector as well as a timeframe for their achievement” the Commission says.

A second phase (2017-2020) would see the creation of a European Industrial Initiative to mobilise investment through public-private partnerships. Remi Gruet, policy director for the EU-funded Ocean Energy Association, noted the significance of the focus on marine renewables:

The Commission has only done a very few communications about single energy technologies; biomass in 2004 and offshore wind in 2008… The fact that they’re doing it for ocean now reflects a need to invest today in a technology that can deliver parts of the European energy mix tomorrow.

The communication does however note that research is needed to address any environmental risk that marine renewables may pose.

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Aug 20 2013

Marine Governance in an Industrialised Ocean

The seas and coasts have long been strong drivers of economies worldwide, and coastal communities and ports have traditionally been hubs for ideas and innovation due to their outward-looking geography. Yet the potential for industrial activity and innovation in the marine environment has grown exponentially in recent decades due to three main factors.

Firstly, rapid technological progress has opened up new possibilities for the exploration and exploitation of marine areas. Secondly, land and freshwater resources are finite, and this fact has become ever more apparent as population and demand for resources grow. Thirdly, the need to mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions has increased interest in sustainable innovation in the marine environment.

This process of ocean industrialisation is adding a lengthening list of new uses to traditional shipping and fishing activities, with a concomitant increase in the potential for negative environmental impacts. While the industrial revolution on land precipitated the climate change era, the industrial revolution in the oceans has the potential to be part of the solution if managed appropriately.

Though some marine activities, such as the established oil and gas extraction industries, present an inherent challenge to sustainability, a number of new offshore industries have great potential to contribute to the climate mitigation effort and to sustainable development. For example, well-managed aquaculture could provide a much needed source of food to coastal communities while preserving natural ecosystems; carbon capture and storage could remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it offshore; sustainable tourism can lead to improved resource management; and wave and tidal energy technologies can provide clean renewable energy.

Nonetheless, the number and intensity of these activities have the collective potential to generate significant cumulative impacts and place pressure on fragile ecosystems. The need to balance new economic and social opportunities with conservation is encapsulated by the EU’s ‘Blue Growth’ agenda, which focuses on the opportunity to harness the potential of Europe’s oceans for jobs and growth whilst also safeguarding biodiversity and protecting the marine environment.

This new wave of industrial activity in the oceans and the need to balance this with environmental protection necessitates evolution of legal and regulatory structures. Marine governance structures have traditionally focused on single-sector management and environmental protection, whereas now a more holistic approach is called for that can accommodate a range of ocean uses and users.

Within their own waters, states have traditionally managed marine activities on a single-sector basis. This was somewhat functional where uses of the oceans were limited and conflicts were few, and where the oceans were not imperilled by industrialisation. However, this paradigm has severe limitations when marine activities increase, conflicts between users become more common, and the environment is put under pressure.

The rise of systems thinking and the negotiation of the UN Convention on Law of the Sea saw the decline of single-sector management and its replacement by integrated management concepts like Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM). These mechanisms improved upon single-sector management, but have also been the subject of criticism, particularly for failing to balance ecological with social considerations. A large review of MPAs published in 2011 noted the challenges involved in successfully implementing MPAs and the perils of focussing solely on conservation, concluding that they can only address some causes of biodiversity loss. Similarly, ICZM has been criticised as being ineffective, with few successful implementations in place.

As ocean industrialisation has advanced, so too has the need for fresh thinking, both on options for sustainably developing marine resources and on governance structures to regulate and facilitate such developments. In this rapidly evolving context, both MPAs and ICZM have been criticised as being deficient, having a strong environmental focus without the ability to adapt to, and incorporate, new marine industrial developments.

As ocean uses and the conflicts between them intensify, the oceans are likely to become a site for reimagining and recreating social institutions and relations. Increased industrialisation of the oceans is leading to new discourses, and Governments are now in the process of restructuring the rights and rules of the oceans, taking up new regulatory models and innovations in their modernisation of marine governance.

This new period in the evolution of marine governance has seen a move away from focus on single industries, single objectives and particular mechanisms, to a broader objective of applying a coherent governance framework to the entire marine environment in order to realise economic benefits while maintaining social and environmental values. In this new paradigm, policy-makers and managers will be required to responsibly evaluate the trade-offs between these considerations, and between the various uses and users of the marine environment.

This shift in thinking about Marine Governance was well articulated by Gail Oshenko, who issues a compelling call to advance the evolution of approaches to the governance of marine spaces:

We are entering a new era of rapidly expanding ocean use… New technologies are opening new discourses on ocean ethics and governance… Changes in our perceptions, values, and technology regarding the sea are driving the need for new rules and regulations as well as changes in systems of rights to occupy sea space and use ocean resources…

We must engage with these issues, and in particular must reconsider the nature of rights and ownership in the oceans, how we manage marine resources and ocean space, and how we ensure the environmental sustainability of new industrial activities. These are big questions with no simple answers, but engaging with them will be essential to ensuring that marine governance keeps pace with ocean industrialisation.

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