‘Ethics and economics’ demand ocean reform

Restoring the health of the global ocean is both an ethical imperative and an economic opportunity, said leaders of the Global Ocean Commission at its formal launch in London on Tuesday.

Co-chairs José María Figueres and David Miliband spoke of the economic, environmental and governance factors that need addressing, while Commissioner Obiageli Ezekwesili said developing countries were experiencing at first hand the need for better management of the ocean.

In a recorded message from Cape Town, Co-chair Trevor Manuel spoke of the importance of the ocean in terms of climate regulation, trade and tourism.

At the launch event were senior figures from politics, academia, business, UN agencies, civil society, the military and faith groups.

‘Whether on land or at sea, when we lift our sight over the horizon of our daily activities to determine the important challenges we must meet – addressing head-on poverty and inequality as well as climate change and environmental degradation – [these] constitute an ethical imperative as well as an economic opportunity,’ said Mr Figueres, the former Costa Rican President who now leads the Carbon War Room.

As with climate change, he suggested, there are ways forward on the global ocean that are positive both ecologically and economically.

Mr Miliband, the former UK Foreign Secretary and Environment Secretary, said that ocean issues ‘go to the heart of our responsibility, not just as politicians but as citizens’.

‘We have a responsibility to be the truth-tellers about the risks we are running, not just for this generation but for future generations,’ he said.

Manganese nodules from the deep ocean floor were among ocean artefacts kindly loaned by researchers around the UK

‘The lights are flashing red, and we have a duty to make sure that those lights are seen not just by policymakers, not just by business people, but by citizens as well.’

Mr Manuel, South African Finance Minister for 12 years in the immediate post-apartheid period and now Minister in the Presidency, noted the fundamental importance of the ocean in people’s lives.

‘The global ocean is very much part of Africa; it’s part of our economy, it’s part of our society,’ he said.

‘It has shaped our history, it’s shaped our present, and will continue to shape our future – every aspect of what we are, the trade with other countries, the climate that we are dependent on.’

‘We need the ocean; and the Ocean Commission in many ways will be exceedingly important to us going forward.’

This theme was developed by Obiageli Ezekwesili, the former Nigerian Education Minister and co-founder of the anti-corruption organisation Transparency International.

‘The ocean is vital, it’s very important for developing countries,’ she said.

‘The west coast of Africa is essentially one place where you see the issues and the necessity for better management of the ocean and sustainable governance of ocean resources. You see it manifest not just in terms of the esoterics of the science, but in terms of the individual families who depend on the ocean as their source of livelihood.’

Speakers also noted the links between illegal fishing and issues such as human rights and security.

The evening began with a ‘virtual journey’ through ocean issues

The Global Ocean Commission now moves to its first meeting in Cape Town in March. Further meetings will take place during the year, and the Commission will issue its recommendations and report early in 2014, feeding into the UN General Assembly debate on high seas biodiversity due to take place later that year.

Noting the tight schedule and the need for dynamism, Mr Miliband said the Commission will build on the large body of work already in the public domain regarding ocean issues.

‘I have sat on enough commissions, and more importantly received reports from enough commissions, to know that if we “take minutes and spend years”, as they say, and end up with thousands of recommendations, we will have failed in our task.’

This Commission, he pledged, will produce ‘practical proposals that can lead to action’.