In the wake of the Our Ocean conference convened by the US State Department in Washington in mid-June we are seeing some exciting and very welcome momentum towards international commitments to action on the oceans. Last week the Global Ocean Commission published a ‘rescue package’ containing a series of eight proposals to slow ocean decline and initiate a cycle of recovery in the high seas over the next five years. The Commission is an international organisation comprised of former heads of state, ministers and business leaders, hosted by Somerville College at the University of Oxford. Their recommendations are:

  1. Creating a UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) for the Oceans – The SDGs will build upon the Millennium Development Goals and shape the post-2015 development agenda. A SDG for the oceans would ensure that ocean governance and recovery remains a focus of the international community.
  2. Governing the High Seas – The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) should be strengthened through a new international agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in waters beyond national jurisdiction.
  3. Ending High Seas Fishing Subsidies – These subsidies are a key driver of overfishing through vessel overcapacity. All fishing subsidies should be fully disclosed, and high seas fuel subsidies should be immediately capped and phased out within five years.
  4. Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing – Mandatory tracking of high seas fishing vessels, and an international information-sharing platform to enable better monitoring and traceability of fish products.
  5. Keeping Plastics Out of the Oceans – Coordinated action is needed by governments, the private sector and civil society to prevent plastics entering the ocean. Priorities include minimising single-use plastics, establishing time-bound reduction targets, and exploring levies to establish a Global Marine Responsibility Fund to build waste management capacity.
  6. Offshore Oil and Gas – Establish binding international safety standards and an international liability convention on the polluter-pays principle. Ensure there is capacity and preparedness for emergency response.
  7. Creating a Global Ocean Accountability Board – This body would benchmark progress towards achieving these proposals, and would communicate this information to the global public.
  8. Creating a High Seas Regeneration Zone – If there is a continued decline in ocean health beyond the five-year period of this rescue package, the international community should consider turning the high seas into a ‘regeneration zone’ where industrial fishing is prevented, with the exception of areas where regional action has already been effective.

These are proposals which affect the entire international community. The designation of a five-year period for action emphasises the urgency of the issues facing the oceans, and the critical importance of a measureable timeframe for assessing our progress. It would be wonderful to see New Zealand champion some of these initiatives, and appropriate given both our candidacy for the UN Security Council and our reputation as an advocate for responsible management of the high seas.

Further information on the Commission’s proposals can be found on their interactive website here with links to the full and summary reports. A video narrated by the Commission’s co-chair David Milliband is an excellent place to start, and can be viewed below.