Initiatives to clean up the world’s oceans and transition to a fully regenerative, sustainable ocean economy demand collaborative, concentrated work, led by the G7, to accelerate processes and transform vision into action, writes Atsushi Sunami, president, Ocean Policy Research Institute, the Sasakawa Peace Foundation
On 29 June, G20 leaders concluded their two-day summit at Osaka with a declaration that included two important initiatives relating to oceans: the G20’s Osaka Blue Ocean Vision to tackle marine plastic waste and to end illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing for the sustainable use of marine resources. The world’s oceans are important in absorbing and stabilising greenhouse gases emitted as a result of human activities, but they face large-scale impacts from climate change, including ocean warming, acidification and deoxygenation. The oceans are also threatened by floating plastic debris as well as IUU fishing, which costs governments billions of dollars annually.
In preparation for the first G20 summit hosted by Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had made clear his intention to feature marine plastic waste on the agenda. He declared that Japan would announce an initiative for effective measures to drive global efforts to tackle this problem. After extensive discussions among G20 ministers at their meeting on energy transitions and the global environment for sustainable growth on 15–16 June, the G20 leaders adopted the Osaka Blue Ocean Vision, which commits to reducing additional marine plastic waste to zero by 2050. This vision focuses more on recycling and reuse than on a complete ban on usage as a realistic step towards solving this urgent issue. However, countries are encouraged to promote the acceleration of research on developing alternatives to plastics and developing biodegradable materials that are environmentally friendly.
Abe also announced Japan’s MARINE Initiative, which includes four points. The Japanese government aims to combat marine plastic litter through better waste management, recovery of oceanic wastes, innovation for management strategies, and support for developing countries to build infrastructure that improves their waste management capacity. Abe also promised at the Osaka Summit to provide training for 10,000 officials engaged in effective global waste management by 2025.
Sustainable Development Goal 14 includes a target to eliminate IUU fishing by 2020. One way is to expand the number of countries that ratify the Port State Measures Agreement, developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization to eliminate IUU fishing.
The next opportunity for world leaders to meet and discuss these issues will be in France at the G7 summit in Biarritz.
Although there are global frameworks including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, there is no such ‘ocean agency’ under the auspices of the UN that can comprehensively address all the ocean issues. With this backdrop, the UN High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy has emerged to try to address the urgent needs of our oceans. Co-chaired by Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway and President Tommy Remengesau of Palau, the panel consists of 14 heads of government, including Japan, with support from Peter Johnson, the UN secretary-general’s special envoy for the ocean. The panel will work with its advisory network and expert group to produce recommendations for transitioning to a fully regenerative, sustainable ocean economy, with the aim of issuing a final report in 2020.
A mounting sense of urgency has finally pushed world leaders to pay more attention to protecting healthy oceans. From the G20 in Osaka to the G7 in Biarritz, followed by the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation Forum summit in Chile in November 2019 – all lead up to the UN Ocean Conference in June 2020, co-hosted by Portugal and Kenya. There, the world will review the progress of SDG 14. It is important for the world community to continue its dialogue on the oceans, ultimately to establish a formal global mechanism to govern their sustainable use. Although the G20 started as an economic summit primarily dealing with the global economy, it has now evolved into a platform for discussions on all important global issues, including the SDGs. However, there are no clear mechanisms to discuss ocean issues, such as IUU fishing, in the G20 process. This is due to the lack of relevant negotiating tracks or the platforms for policy discourse that comprehensively covers the agenda for sustainable management of oceans.
It is therefore important for the G7 to accelerate that process and transform the vision into action.