IOC responses to the Covid-19 crisis: Information Meeting

The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission organized a virtual meeting to inform Permanent Delegations to UNESCO of the responses provided by the Commission to identify impacts from the Covid-19 crisis and ensure the continuity of its programmes and services.

The information meeting organized via the Microsoft Teams meeting platform brought together nearly 170 delegates from Permanent Delegations to UNESCO, all interested in hearing about how the Covid-19 crisis has impacted IOC’s activities, and whether any specific initiatives have emerged to meet the challenge.

After an introduction by IOC’s Executive Secretary, Vladimir Ryabinin, the meeting addressed the Covid-19 impacts and IOC responses across three of its main working areas: early warning and services, ocean research, and observing system and data management.

For tsunami early warning systems, Ms Alison Brome (Caribbean Tsunami Information Centre, CTIC, based in Barbados) reassured all governments that IOC’s global coordination of tsunami warnings is being adjusted to the situation and is progressing towards contributing to multi-hazard warnings and disaster response taking into account the Covid-19 context.

Speaking about ocean research, Ms Kirsten Isensee (Ocean Science Section) announced a study to be published in 6-12 months on the impacts of Covid-19 on the funding situation for ocean science, including infrastructure and human resources. Looking ahead, the Third edition of IOC’s flagship Global Ocean Science Report will be able to assess long-term impacts of this pandemic globally on investments in ocean science and the implementation of relevant elements of the UN Sustainable Development Goal 14 on the ocean.

On ocean observations and data management, Mr Albert Fischer (Director of the IOC-sponsored Global Ocean Observing System) highlighted that Covid-19 is likely to create a disruption in ocean observing as personnel are confined around the world, ships are called back to port, and autonomous observing instruments could degrade due to lack of maintenance. IOC is designing a platform to reduce impact through cooperative actions.

Beyond these three areas of impact, Alison Clausen (Marine Policy Section) informed delegates about preparations for the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, set to start in January 2021. Despite the Covid-19 challenge, all Decade processes are advancing, including the review of the draft implementation plan (currently ongoing), final consultations within the UN System, the development of a global communications campaign and a series of virtual webinars and stakeholder engagement events.

The IOC Executive Secretary also presented to delegations proposed arrangements for decision making in relation to the potential postponement of the forthcoming 53rd Session of the IOC Executive Council.

Engaging the Sailing community through IMOCA
The partnership agreement signed with the IMOCA Class on 31st January featured as one of the highlights of the discussion related to ocean observations and data management.

In a short video, five sailors of the IMOCA Class from five different nationalities underlined the sailing world’s support for the scientific work done by UNESCO’s IOC. From the confinement of their homes, they shared positive messages about their commitment to science at sea. In their testimonials, these sailors already well accustomed to the solitude at sea, talked about the ocean they love and how they are contributing to a better understanding of the ocean through measuring human impacts in remote areas of the Southern Seas.

These skippers see first-hand the impact humanity is having on the ocean as they push their limits in the most isolated regions of the planet. This gives some of them a deep motivation to contribute to the work of researchers in the fields of ocean and climate observation.

IMOCA and UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (through JCOMMOPS, which internationally coordinates and monitors the global in situ ocean observing system) are working tirelessly to mobilize scientists and mariners, in the context of near-global containment rules, to ensure that ocean observations and the wealth of knowledge they can bring to policy-makers remain at the top of the political agenda during the next Decade of Ocean Sciences for Sustainable Development (2021-2030).