It is no exaggeration that all life on Earth, including our own survival, depends on a healthy, vibrant ocean. Containing an almost unfathomable diversity of life, billions of us rely on it for food, clean air, a stable climate, rain and fresh water, transport and energy, recreation and livelihoods.
Our ocean is in decline. Habitat destruction, biodiversity loss, overfishing, pollution, climate change and ocean acidification are pushing the ocean system to the point of collapse. Governance is woefully inadequate, and on the high seas, anarchy rules the waves. Technological advance, combined with a lack of regulation, is widening the gap between rich and poor as those countries that can, exploit dwindling resources while those that can’t experience the consequences of those actions. Regional stability, food security, climate resilience, and our children’s future are all under threat.
Yet we are also inspired by the opportunity that exists for the high seas to play a regenerative role in restoring whole ocean health, and by the potential of a small number of bold proposals to stimulate a cycle of recovery. We believe that ocean degradation can be reversed and the current cycle of decline can be transformed into a cycle of recovery.
The independent Global Ocean Commission was launched in February 2013. It had one particular ambition: to bring the debate about the future of the high seas and the value of this immense area of our planet out from the margins of political debate and much closer to the mainstream. The Commission comprised a mix of public and private sector figures including former Heads of State, government ministers and business people, whose experience spans foreign affairs, finance, defence, education, development and the environment. Though not all were ocean experts, all were united in their commitment to helping reverse ocean degradation and address the failures of high seas governance. Over the last 18 months, supported by respected scientific and economic expertise, the commissioners have undertaken a journey of discovery about both the value and the abuse of the global ocean.
Conceived by The Pew Charitable Trusts, and supported in partnership by Pew, Adessium Foundation, Oceans 5 and the Swire Group Charitable Trust, as a fresh, dynamic and energizing force to put forward bold, pragmatic, cost-effective, and politically feasible proposals, the Commission is independent of all while being hosted by Somerville College at the University of Oxford. McKinsey Global Center for Sustainability provided facts and analytic support.
At the heart of the Commission’s endeavour through its four meetings since February 2013, in Cape Town, New York, Oxford, and Hong Kong, has been rigorous consideration of the latest science and analysis from ocean experts, combined with broad stakeholder engagement. Members of the public were also invited to participate via a worldwide survey comprising over 13,000 online questionnaires, revealing strong support for more effective governance of the global ocean.
What we found was cause for alarm. The ocean is under threat, and humanity’s approach to it is uncontrolled. Benign neglect by the majority, and active abuse by the minority, have fuelled a cycle of decline. No single body shoulders responsibility for ocean health, and an absence of accountability is characterised by blind exploitation of resources and a wilful lack of care. We call this the cycle of decline.
Through consideration of the latest scientific and political analysis, we have identified proposals for action. These both sound a warning and indicate what needs to be done. While some are not new, all are pragmatic and possible, and should incentivise public and private sectors alike to take responsibility. We must now begin to turn the tide.
The task of saving the global ocean is one that no government or company or individual can achieve alone. Stopping the abusive and unsustainable exploitation of natural resources and freedoms, and restoring ocean health, requires a coalition for change with a clear mission. We are convinced that if the package of eight proposals that we now put forward is expeditiously acted upon, it is possible, within the next decade, to reverse the degradation of the global ocean.
The proposals here sound a warning, but they also offer a politically feasible way forward. As leaders and global citizens, as mothers and fathers, and as humble champions for the global ocean, we appeal to each and every one of you to join us. The riches of the global ocean are our common inheritance. The time to act is now, for ourselves and for future generations.
Mission Ocean is the name we have given our call for action. Join Mission Ocean and work with us to prove to the world that positive change is possible and that we can leave the legacy of a healthy, vibrant ocean system to future generations.
With deepest gratitude to our fellow commissioners and our secretariat, we commend these proposals to you.
José María Figueres