Ocean Governance and Institutional Challenges

Management of the ocean is a complex web of inter-related, intertwined, converging and competing demands and interests. The modern governance framework reflects this disaggregation. Today, this special international space is regulated by 576 bilateral and multilateral agreements, a fact that in itself reflects the low priority that the calls for improving environmental, or ocean governance has among world political leaders. These legal instruments are diffused among a myriad of sectors in international, regional and national organisations that have the responsibility for monitoring implementation but often lack the means and authority to ensure compliance and enforcement.

Adequate governance structures and institutional coherence are therefore crucial to effectively respond to growing pressures on the world’s ocean and inextricably linked with the necessary transition to a Green Economy. A comprehensive evaluation of existing institutional frameworks for ocean governance is necessary and reforms should be carried out where required. Hence the fact that institutional reform being one of the two areas of particular focus for Rio+20, provides a unique opportunity for addressing these issues. At national level, weak institutional systems can also create barriers to growth. Lack of transparency in permit systems for fisheries, aquaculture, coastal forests, tourism, and oil or gas production and lack of monitoring, non-enforcement or implementation of environmental regulations are among the institutional elements which should be addressed.

Similar to what happens at the national level, where almost all ministries of a government have some function or authority related to ocean sectors, in the UN system a sizeable number of the specialised agencies and programmes are involved in ocean affairs. In its effort to strengthen UN coordination and coherence on Oceans, the United Nations High-Level Committee on Programmes approved in 2003 the creation of the UN-Oceans Network, composed of the relevant programmes, entities and specialised agencies of the UN system and the secretariats of the relevant international conventions.

Ocean governance gaps, institutional failures and problems in the implementation of global and regional conservation measures, as well as the need to harness the expertise of scientific institutions are likely to feature prominently on the Rio+20 agenda. There is therefore a strong case for the UN system to provide leadership through the fostering of enhanced dialogue, coordination and cooperative action among UN agencies, funds and programmes, possibly leading to a proposal from the UN system on a reformed mechanism for ocean coordination to be put forward at Rio.

© Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science/University Miami
Direct ship board sampling using a CTD-rosette to collect bottles of water for studying biogeochemistry, dissolved oxygen, CO2, and nutrients, remains a fundamental part of oceanographic science.

The integration of science into institutional decision making, including policy creation, regulatory enforcement, and adapting to new knowledge as it is created is essential for the future. Too often, scientific and technological opportunities are ignored or under-utilised in the absence of responsible and equitable governance arrangements and institutional willingness to promote change in industry and governments. The Blue-Green Economy will be science and technology driven but success will depend on sound policy processes and effective institutional arrangements, and will therefore require commitment and funding from the international community, as well as nations and industry.

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