On Friday, 14th June 2019, delegates to the 20th meeting of the United Nations Open-Ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea (ICP20) completed their work. During the weeklong deliberations at the UN Headquarter in New York on the theme “Ocean Science and the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development”, experts from a wide range of perspectives provided input to the planning of the UN Decade. There was widespread agreement among delegates that a comprehensive scientific understanding of oceans, science-based solutions, as well as bridging the science-policy interface are important for achieving the ocean-related goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. OceanCare stressed that in the enthusiasm for more and better science, the precautionary principle is vital as well as for the gap in time between knowledge and action to be shortened. The report summing up the deliberations of the expert body will be transmitted for the attention of the UN Secretary General for the UN General Assembly in autumn.
The United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) (UN Decade) was proclaimed to provide a common framework for strengthening management of the world’s oceans for the benefit of humanity. The ICP20, an informal platform within the realm of the Law of the Sea where experts discuss emerging topics and share an open exchange of views, focussed this year’s discussions on two main areas: identification of the sources, uses of, and gaps related to the ocean science for sustainable use of marine resources, and international cooperation and coordination needed to address gaps in ocean science. The results from this meeting will flow into the UN General Assembly and provide input into the preparatory process for the UN Decade.
The importance of ocean science, science-based solutions, as well as bridging the science-policy interface as important elements in addressing a multitude of pressures threatening the ocean was highlighted. There was widespread agreement that ocean science has an important role to play for achieving the ocean-related goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
At the meeting, the vastness of the oceans, the ‘twilight’ zones, the deepest depths and many of the ‘unknowns’ of the oceans were discussed from a range of perspectives from scientists, members states delegates, intergovernmental organisations, non-governmental organisations and researchers. There was a diversity of expertise and sharing of best practices from around the world which informed the discussions on the theme which was often referred to the Decade of “the science we need for the oceans we want”.
OceanCare, one of the few Civil Society Organisations present at the Meeting, provided a number of interventions voicing concerns as well as providing input to the diverse discussions.
Particularly, some statements and presentations on the ambitions pertaining to the mapping of the seabed and geophysical explorations gave rise to concerns as these technologies often use harmful technologies such as echo-sounders, sonars and seismic airguns employed for oil and gas exploration with severe negative impacts on marine life. “Do we actually know enough that justifies the possible exploitation of the seabed for its minerals? Despite our increasing knowledge, we still know very little about deep-sea ecosystems and related processes.” were some of the concerns raised by Fabienne McLellan, Director International Relations at OceanCare. As such, OceanCare stressed the importance of the precautionary principle and the employment of Best Available Technology (BAT) and Best Environmental Practice (BEP) at several occasions during the meeting. “Science itself does not justify negative impacts on marine life”, was another urgent reminder by McLellan.
To provide two specific examples, of how the science-policy interface can be strengthened, OceanCare mentioned the following:
- the FishForum 2018 by the FAO/GFCM took place from December 10 to 14, 2018 and was attended by more than 450 participants and some 20 organisations, including OceanCare. It was the first event of its kind in the Mediterranean and Black Sea region and encompassed oceanographic, social science and economic perspectives on fisheries research and furthering the science-policy interface.
- The Workshop on “Anthropogenic Underwater Noise and impacts on fish, invertebrates and fish resources”, co-organised by GFCM and OceanCare in February 2019.
To bring it to the realm of each and every individual, OceanCare mentioned that science will achieve little, if it remains in the ivory tower. It has to be translated and communicated in such ways that it can stimulate behavioural change, help making informed decisions, reduce resource consumption and lessen our footprint on the marine environment as a whole.