Strengthening global coordination and science-based solutions for integrated ocean management

Launched on 20th May, the latest of a series of Blue Papers commissioned by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (Ocean Panel) urged “policymakers to further develop international cooperation in marine science and related sciences by building on established structures such as the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission” of UNESCO and use the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) as a vehicle for action and investments.The Blue Paper 14: Integrated Ocean Management confidently noted that “there is a pressing need to strike the balance between production and protection [in the ocean and coastal areas], and that integrated ocean management (IOM) offers the tools to do so,” by providing a holistic (rather than sectoral) understanding of the ocean uses and pressures, allowing governments and ocean stakeholders to collaborate in identifying priority uses for oceanic and coastal sends e-mail))

IOC: Key player in integrated ocean management

UNESCO’s IOC has played a leading role in advancing science-based approaches to support the conceptualization, design and implementation of integrated ocean management at national, regional and global scales since the early 2000s. The 2009 publication “Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) Guide: A step-by-step approach toward ecosystem-based management” was among the first international integrated ocean management guidelines to be published, and soon became an internationally recognized standard for countries wishing to engage in integrated ocean management through the MSP methodology.

Today IOC holds a robust portfolio of past and ongoing activities focused around strengthening MSP as a methodological and policy integrated management tool, and developing ecosystem-based management of Large Marine Ecosystems.

Through the MSPglobal Initiative, co-led with the Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries of the European Commission (DG MARE), the IOC provides the context for active and effective participation of policy makers, private and public stakeholders, scientists and citizens to develop institutional, technical and human capacities on MSP at national and transboundary level. Since its launch in November 2018, MSPglobal has been implementing a demand-driven multilingual training programme in cooperation with other UN agencies, Member States and regional partners, taking into account regional and local socio-cultural contexts and needs. To date, MSPglobal has held a dozen courses with over 450 country officials from all continents, organized four international forums on MSP with about 700 participants, and hosted over 1,000 participants from more than 65 countries over a series of MSP thematic virtual events. IOC and DG MARE have now embarked on the development of international guidance for MSP implementation in cross-border and transboundary areas, to be finalized in 2021.

IOC has also been actively working to promote ecosystem-based management through the Large Marine Ecosystems (LME) governance framework since the 1990s. LMEs are large rich and highly productive areas near the coast, often spreading across political borders, and requiring governance frameworks. Together with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and others, IOC has promoted the LME approach both from a conceptual and scientific point of view, contributing on the ground to the formulation and implementation of projects financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) in various regions.

LME projects contribute to delivering healthier ocean ecosystems and sustained ecosystem services – one of IOC’s main strategic objectives – and have recently been engaged in the preparations of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development by focusing on the need for more science in ocean governance.

“Keeping the ocean running for the health and well-being of people and for sustainability. This is what we’re trying to achieve in the course of the Decade,” reminded IOC’s Executive Secretary Vladimir Ryabinin, speaking at a panel on Linking Large Marine Ecosystems to Local Science and Management for Sustainable Development (20 May 2020) as part of a Global Ocean Series of virtual panels organized by the partner organizations behind the IOC-executed GEF Project IW:LEARN.

Dr Ryabinin emphasized that “we need to move from the current state of the ocean to a managed state of the ocean. Integrated ocean management is the key approach here. And we can implement this through Maritime Spatial Planning, effective Marine Protected Areas and capitalizing on the Large Marine Ecosystems concept.”

Integrated ocean management into the Ocean Decade

The High Level Panel Blue Paper 14 indicated that “the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021–2030) could be a suitable process and platform to accelerate the development and use of ocean science for integrated ocean management,” mobilizing investments and engagement not only to foster new science but also to integrate existing and historical scientific data, and incorporate traditional knowledge into decision-making processes.

The Decade will provide a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to create a new foundation, across the science-policy interface, to strengthen management of the ocean through the development of innovative scientific applications in areas of marine conservation, pollution reduction, sustainable food production, coastal protection and access to information and knowledge, to name a few. The Decade is embracing a participative and transformative process so that scientists, policy makers, managers, and service users can work together to ensure that ocean science delivers greater benefits for both the ocean ecosystem and for society.

Organised around a set of societal outcomes addressing ocean health, resilience and sustainable economic development, the Decade will harness science and technologies through multi-stakeholder partnerships at different scales, hence providing the knowledge base for strengthening integrated ocean management globally.

After a preparatory phase featuring global and regional consultations about priorities for the Decade of Ocean Science, the IOC’s Decade Focal Point and Head of Marine Policy Julian Barbière argues that “The next [Implementation] phase is really about communities moving forward and proposing co-designed actions for the Decade so that we can collectively get those regional, national, local efforts to build on each other and help achieve our global objectives.”

The High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy

Established in September 2018 as a unique global initiative of 14 serving heads of state and government, representing 30% of the world’s coastlines, the Ocean Panel is working with government, business, financial institutions, the science community and civil society to develop a transformative action agenda that recognizes the need for a new relationship between humanity and the ocean and the rapid transition to a sustainable ocean economy. Panel Members include serving world leaders from Australia, Canada, Chile, Fiji, Ghana, Indonesia, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Namibia, Norway, Palau and Portugal.

In the spirit of achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and building momentum toward the UN Decade of Ocean Science, the Ocean Panel convened an Expert Group and commissioned a series of Blue Papers, with release dates between November 2019 and October 2020, meant to provide thematic deep dives on a range of topics and offer a robust, fact base to inform a new, independent ocean report and the Ocean Panel’s final recommendations.