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Prince Albert II of Monaco joins the Global Ocean Commission and UNEP in Calling for Comprehensive Ocean Governance


Nairobi, 26 June 2014 – With the fate of the Earth’s marine environment hanging in the balance and human-induced challenges accelerating, ocean champions from around the globe – including His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco and the former Heads of State, Ministers and business leaders of the Global Ocean Commission – have joined forces in a clarion call for comprehensive and integrated ocean governance.  

The urgent appeal was issued during the first-ever United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi, as Prince Albert, an award-winning environmental activist, addressed the myriad challenges facing the oceans – including pollution, overfishing and, increasingly, climate change.

An estimated 350 million jobs around the world are linked to the oceans, and as much as 40 per cent of the world’s population lives within 100 kilometers of the shoreline. Nevertheless, human impacts have destroyed an estimated 20 per cent of mangroves and 30 per cent of seagrass beds, and threaten 60 per cent of the world’s coral reefs – a major source of income for some 850 million people.  

Land-based human activities have also resulted in more than 500 oxygen-poor ‘dead zones’, which cover an estimated 245,000 square kilometers of coastal zones. Greenhouse gas emissions are raising sea-levels and threatening the very existence of some island states.

“The Earth’s marine environment provides humanity with a number of important services, ranging from the air we breathe, to food security and storm protection. These in turn underpin lives and livelihoods around the globe,” said Prince Albert.

“However, with a population set to rise from seven billion today to nine billion by 2050, threats to the ocean – including pollution from land-based sources, over-fishing and unmanaged coastal development – are likely to intensify. The International community must build on the Future We Want, adopted in Rio in 2012 and seize the opportunity of a Blue Economy. There cannot be social economic development without resilient and productive oceans,” he added.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), stressed that stricter adherence by states to the existing regime of regional oceans governance – led for the last 40 years by the UNEP Regional Seas Programme – was critical to reversing the rapidly accelerating degradation of the oceans.

The Regional Seas Programme, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, is the world’s only legal framework to address marine issues at the regional level. Its network of 18 regional Conventions and Action Plans aim to engage neighbouring countries in comprehensive and specific actions to protect their shared marine environment.

Nearly 150 countries across seven continents participate in the Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans.

“Despite their importance as major drivers of economic growth, the world’s oceans are not a bottomless resource,” said Mr. Steiner. “There is significant evidence that we are at risk of overstepping the ‘safe operating space’ within which irreversible environmental changes to the world’s oceans remain avoidable.”

“It is high time for the international community to adopt a truly ‘oceans-based’ economy, one which adequately values our oceans and the products and services they provide,” he added. “The UNEP Regional Seas Programme – which for more than four decades has formed the backbone of progressive oceans management – provides the framework through which neighbouring countries can join hands and reverse the staggering damage that humanity has caused.”

Prince Albert and Mr. Steiner were joined by José María Figueres, former president of Costa Rica and Co-Chair of the Global Ocean Commission. The Commission is a group of senior political figures, business leaders and development specialists concerned with the health and management of the oceans with a particular focus on the high seas. The Commission has spent the last 18 months investigating the decline of the global ocean and earlier this week delivered a rescue package of eight proposals to restore and protect its natural capital and services.

“If not us, who? If not now, when? The global ocean is our life support system, but we’re pushing it to the point of collapse through neglect and abuse,” said Mr. Figueres. “Our proposals offer an integrated rescue package, and now all of us here at the UNEA must pioneer its delivery. The scientific, economic and moral case for action is clear. This is the beginning of our collective ‘Mission Ocean’.”

One of the main issues addressed by the Commission’s report is that of Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing, which is widely understood to have significant ecological, economic and social impacts. IUU fishing is also linked to human rights and labour violations when illegal vessels facilitate trafficking of people, drugs and weapons.  

Sub-Saharan Africa is estimated to lose close to US$1 billion annually due to illegal fishing in its waters.  West Africa has some of the world’s highest reported rates of IUU fishery activity, with one third to a half of the catch affected.  

According to the Commission’s new report, IUU fishing can be combatted by stricter adherence to existing oceans governance mechanisms, such as the Port State Measures Agreement of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The agreement requires parties to exert greater control on foreign-flagged vessels, thereby keeping illegally caught fish out of the world’s markets.

At UNEA, Mr. Figueres and the Global Ocean Commission called upon the participants to commit to taking action on their proposals such as ratifying the Port State Measures Agreement.  Mr. Figueres added that it would only take 14 more countries to ratify this agreement before it would come into force, taking us one curial step closer towards putting an end to illegal fishing globally.

In addition, the Commission’s report calls for the ratification and implementation of International Maritime Organization treaties securing the safety of life at sea for workers on industrial fishing vessels, the removal of harmful fishing subsidies, and the reduction of the greenhouse gas emissions, which are causing not only climate change but ocean acidification.

Indeed, the data point increasingly to long-term socio-economic consequences if the world’s oceans are not managed for sustainability. According to the new UNEP paper on Regional Oceans Governance, the main challenge is that the current instruments of oceans governance were designed separately and are not complementary.

While regional oceans governance is provided for by the Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans, oceans governance at the global level is laid out in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea – sometimes known as the “constitution of the oceans”.  

According to Regional Oceans Governance, a holistic approach to oceans management – as called for explicitly by the 1994 Rio Summit – is one which is integrated at the national, sub-regional, regional and global levels, and which addresses sectoral and cross-sectoral issues.

In this regard, the Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans provide a platform for action to more accurately value the world’s oceans and the ecosystem services they provide, involving a number of sectors.  

For example, the Regional Sea programme known as the Abidjan Convention – based in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire – has, in a series of recent decisions, moved to consider potential feasibility of “green taxes” on extractive and polluting industries, in light of the importance of natural resources, mining and minerals found within the waters and coastal areas of the States Parties to the Convention.

Notes to Editors:

Additional facts and figures:

· Human activities produce around 120 million tonnes of reactive nitrogen each year, two-thirds of which ends up polluting air, water, soil, marine and coastal areas, and adds harmful gases to the atmosphere.

· An estimated 46,000 pieces of plastic are estimated to be afloat on every square mile of ocean (World Bank).

· Some 20 million tonnes of phosphorous are mined every year and nearly half of this – 8 times the natural rate of input – enters the world’s oceans.

· Globally, fish provides about 3 billion people with almost 20 per cent of their intake of animal protein, and 4.3 billion people with about 15 per cent of such protein (FAO).

· Most of the stocks of the top ten fish species – which account in total for about 30 per cent of world marine capture fisheries production – are fully exploited and, therefore, have no potential for increases in production (FAO).

· The technically exploitable potential for marine-based renewable energy – excluding offshore wind – ranges from 7 exajoules (EJ) per year to 7,400 EJ per year; the latter figure would exceed current global energy needs.

· The sustainable management of fertilizers would help reduce the cost of marine pollution by about US$100 billion per year in the European Union alone.

· The total volume of sea ice in the Arctic Basin is at an historic minimum, and current projections suggest that the Arctic Ocean will be ice-free during the summer months as early as 2025-2030.

Additional Information

For more information, visit the website of the UNEP Regional Seas Programme: