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Highlights of reports from United Nations organizations: Ocean governance -Institutional mechanisms for sustainable development in the oceans
Pacem in Maribus XIX - Background paper

Highlights of reports from United Nations organizations: Ocean governance -Institutional mechanisms for sustainable development in the oceans

United Nations organizations with reports on ocean governance

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
International Maritime Organization (IMO)
International Oceanographic Commission (IOC)
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)
United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)
World Meteorological Organization (WMO)
Economic Commission for Africa (ECA)
Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC)
Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)

Food and Agriculture Organization

The FAO report consisted of a paper entitled Environment and Sustainability in Fisheries (Doe. COFI/91/3, February 1991) and a portion of the Report of the Nineteenth Session of the Committee on Fisheries (April 1991) discussing this paper. Among the conclusions reached in the paper, which was endorsed by the Committee in the Report, are the following items on "integration and coordination" and "legal frameworks:"

At national level, inter-ministerial coordination should be established to deal with conflicts for the uses of the aquatic resources, taking due account of the need to ensure global sustainability and alleviate environmental constraints. Policies and mechanisms are needed to integrate fisheries protection into the pattern of resource use at the river basin and coastal areas level, encouraging an integrated management and development approach. Field activities should be developed as far as possible in support of national efforts toward integrated coastal areas management. Aquaculture should be included in rural planning.

At regional level, the work of regional fishery bodies in handling environmental matters of importance to fisheries should be reinforced. In particular, issues related to selective fishing, appropriate technology and critical habitat conservation from land-based sources of pollution should receive more attention.

At international level, collaboration between international specialized organizations is needed to develop a holistic understanding of the oceans and their resources. Experience has shown however, that a regional approach and sectoral specialization is [sic] required in order to be able to act efficiently. Collaboration on matters relating to data collection, research and training programmes for integrated development and management should be sought with other organizations working in these fields.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provides a framework for the conservation and management of living resources and for the protection and preservation of the marine environment. It is dear that further progress could still be made for the full implementation of the relevant provisions of the Convention, especially with regard to high seas fisheries. Further work is needed in order to maintain or restore populations of harvested species at levels which can produce a sustainable yield as qualified by relevant environmental and economic factors, and taking into account international standards. FAO has an important role to play in assisting member countries and international organizations in such a process.

International Maritime Organization

The IMO report begins with a description of the global and comprehensive strategy developed by the IMO for the protection and preservation of the marine environment. Implementation of this strategy, which takes into account the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the concept of sustainable development, relies not only on the support of Member States but also on cooperation and coordination with international organizations - within and without the United Nations.

The response of the IMO to the concept of "sustainable development" is outlined next. "All of IMO's work," according to the report, "implicitly contributes to the objectives of sustainable and environmentally sound development." A recent initiative in this direction is the Global Programme for the Protection of the Marine Environment, which is part of the strategy and which commenced operations in 1990. Also, the report notes some current changes in the IMO's operational structure "in the framework of an evaluation of the problems faced by developing countries in the prevention, control and combating of marine pollution from ships and related matters."

On the question of the IMO's relationship with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the matter has been clarified in a study undertaken by the IMO Secretariat completed in 1987. Accordingly, and similar to its attitude on sustainable development, "IMO has experienced no need to modify its internal structure in order to cooperate with the United Nations in respect of, or respond directly to, the provisions of the [Convention.]"

Thus, the IMO "has adhered strictly and without reservations to the coordination requirements envisaged in the United Nations Charter." However, it believes that:

concrete suggestions for adjustments or improvement in the coordination mechanism of the United Nations system can only be discussed in the light of the conclusions and recommendation of the [UNCED] ....

International Oceanographic Commission

The report of the IOC/UNESCO was prepared by its Secretary, Gunnar Kullenberg. The profound challenges of sustainable development in the field of ocean science, the report states, takes place in the current context where:

[t]he majority of intergovernmental programmes related to the development and coordination of marine science generally fall within the activities of the UN Agencies which have agreed to coordinate their work through the Inter-Secretariat Committee on Scientific Programmes Relating to Oceanography, the ICSPRO Agreement. There are other important programmes, both within the UN system (e.g., UNEP, IAEA) and outside (e.g., ICES and IHO) but the main thrust of the intergovernmental research activities will continue to be discharged by the ICSPRO Agencies, using, as appropriate, the IOC as the joint specialized mechanism for promotion, coordination and implementation of the relevant activities in marine science, ocean services related training, education and partnership development.

Given the principal goals and themes of the IOC, it has therefore articulated a "strategy for the future," with a special emphasis on the development of national capabilities for marine sciences and services. But constraints on resources demand the setting of priorities and finding new ways to fund research, concerning which a taxation system would not seem to be an appropriate solution. The report concludes:

The number of national and international agencies involved in marine research and provision for services, either directly or indirectly is constantly growing. While such growth is to be encouraged it has already outstripped the capability of existing coordinating mechanisms to provide adequate support both technical and financial. Effective regional cooperation is a vital prerequisite to identifying needs in different countries and to ensuring a coordinated approach to potential donor agencies. It is important that agencies such as IOC and UNESCO, through their regional networks and bodies, continue and strengthen their role in coordinating and facilitating the transfer of resources from donor agencies and countries to recipients.

This does not imply that donor countries or agencies should be limited in their support to working solely via the regional networks of international agencies but rather that international agencies should take into consideration existing bilateral and multilateral relationships in the design and execution of regional programmes of support to marine science and services and where possible integrate such relationships into wider regional programmes and activities.

United Nations Environment Programme

UNEP's contribution is entitled "Towards Sustainable Governance of the Oceans." It poses two questions for consideration by PIM XIX: (1) Is UNEP effective? and (2) is the Regional Seas Programme effective?

The catalytic and coordinating role of UNEP in sustainable development has been realized in indirect and subtle ways. This is seen in the manner by which UNEP has drawn the attention of the world community to environmental conditions, impacts, and norms. As for the Regional Seas Programme, which is UNEP's most effective and advanced tool for carrying out its mandate, there is a continuing necessity for political will among governments for the success of regional seas action plans.

The report, finally, offers advice on inter-agency coordination in the United Nations:

There are various mechanisms to achieve inter-agency coordination ranging from the Advisory Committee on Coordination (ACC) at the level of heads of agencies to the Interagency Consultations on Oceans and Coastal Areas Programmes organized each year by UNEP, and other more specialized or ad hoc bodies. It would clearly be beneficial to rationalize in some way the United Nations approach to ocean governance.

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

The report of the UNCTAD Secretariat focuses on "inter-agency coordination for the formulation of an integrated ocean policy and a strategy for sustainable development." It decries the lack of improved coordination and harmonization of activities among UN institutions, intergovernmental organizations, and non-governmental organizations involved in ocean affairs. A way out of this predicament, UNCTAD suggests, is not to create a new super or central authority in or outside of the UN but to improve existing mechanisms.

A pragmatic, less costly and less bureaucratic solution, is to strengthen the existing mechanisms by ensuring the availability of complete information in all the agencies concerned through full exploitation of modern communication technology. One such method is to create a central computerized database with a data transfer facility accessible to all agencies. It may, however, prove necessary for one of the agencies to supervise the system or to play a focal role.

United Nations Industrial Development Organization

UNIDO submitted a report on its programme in a relatively new field called "marine industrial technology." The components of marine industrial technology, duly addressed by this programme, are (1) marine systems design, (2) marine transportation and communication, (3) exploitation of living resources, (4) exploitation of nonliving resources, (5) land expansion, (6) environmental protection, and (7) scientific research. The 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, according to the report, provides a vast challenge for marine industrial technology, and to which UNIDO is now responding.

The mechanisms by which UNIDO implements its programme are varied. For instance, through centres of excellence which UNIDO helps in promoting, technology transfer and co-development will be facilitated. Centres of excellence in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean have been studied for this purpose. Other vehicles to realize the aims of the programme include information dissemination, technical assistance for, and training of personnel from developing countries, expert group meetings, and establishing industrial and academic contacts.

World Meteorological Organization

The report from the WMO initially describes the tasks of the WMO and the large number of projects it carries out in cooperation with other UN agencies or international organizations. The various, seemingly complicated, coordinating mechanisms in operation to support WMO's undertakings, the report observes, have proven effective in facilitating an efficient approach to marine data collection and the provision for marine services.

The WMO welcomes its enlarged role in sustainable development strategy. However, the report expresses some concern about national capacities for coordination, which are decisive in enhancing global coordination:

There is one specific area in the field of ocean management which WMO sees as in need of enhanced integration and coordination. Bearing in mind the formally recognized status of routine ocean observations in support of operational meteorology and oceanography, .. . there remains a potential problem in the application of the provisions of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to the conduct of marine scientific research within the EEZs, specifically in the context of approved international research projects and related global monitoring programmes. While it is true that Article 247 is clearly intended to facilitate such activities, it is also usually the case that national agencies or authorities which agree to and participate in those activities are not the same as those which regulate the passage of ships and the conduct of research and monitoring within the national EEZs. Worse, these agencies or authorities often do not coordinate their policies at all at the national level, which can and has given rise to specific and anomalous difficulties in certain instances.

Meteorological and oceanographic research, including especially global climate studies, require ocean data on a global basis, including from EEZs of all coastal nations. Such observational data are always required in the context of approved international programmes, and freely and openly exchanged on a global basis. It is therefore essential that some appropriate mechanism be established to ensure that coordinated global monitoring and research can proceed without impediments caused by lack of proper coordination at the national level.

Economic Commission for Africa

The ECA reports that its marine affairs programme is handled by a unit called Natural Resources Division. Recent marine-related activities of the ECA include organizing intergovernmental meetings on the Law of the Sea and Seabed Mining, publishing technical materials, and providing advisory services on a host of subjects. It had successfully coordinated projects with the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), IOC, FAO and the IOMAC.

Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean

The report of the ECLAC puts forward the conviction that "ECLACs analysis of ocean affairs must be conditioned by two factors: i) the current process of realignment of the social and economic sectors of the United Nations; ii) the principles contained in the International Development Strategy for the Fourth [UN] Development Decade, and consequently in the New International Economic Order and in the Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States." More particularly, ECLAC's regional priorities on ocean affairs are found in the Tlatelolco Platform on Environment and Development, adopted by ECLAC state representatives in March 1991. The Natural Resources and Energy Division of ECLAC, through its Marine Resources Unit, has expanded its oceans-related activities since it was established in 1985.

Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific

The ESCAP, according to its report, adopted a marine resources programme in 1984, whose focus as it developed was "on strengthening member countries' capabilities in planning, assessing, developing and managing non-living resources under national jurisdiction." ESCAP also collaborates with a range of regional and subregional organizations like the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), South-East Asian Fisheries Development Centre (SEAF-DEC), South-East Asian Project on Ocean Law (SEAPOL), Committee for Coordination of Off-shore Prospecting in Asian Off-shore Areas (CCOP), South Pacific Applied Geosciences Commission (SOPAC), and the Indian Ocean Marine Affairs Cooperation (IOMAC). Within the UN system, ESCAP is represented in the Ad hoc Inter-agency Meeting on Ocean Affairs which meets annually.

Pacem in Maribus XIX - Background paper

Elisabeth Mann Borgese

The national level
The regional level


Halfway on the road from Stockholm (1972) to Rio de Janeiro (1992) - from a still somewhat sectoral emphasis on the conservation of the environment to the more comprehensive concept of "integrating Environment and Development" - there is a milestone: Montego Bay (1982) with the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

This Convention contains the first comprehensive, binding, enforceable international environmental law. It is the first legal instrument effectively to integrate environment and development in the concept of sustainable development. It is the first to provide for a system of mandatory, binding settlement of disputes arising from environmental issues as well as from all other issues relating to the uses of seas and oceans.

The Convention is based on two other fundamental concepts: the Common Heritage of Mankind and the concept that the problems of ocean space are closely interrelated and need to be considered as a whole. Sustainable development, the Common Heritage of Mankind, and the interdependence of all uses of ocean space conceived as an integrated ecological system, all have important institutional implications which are yet to be explored. The institutional framework of the Convention is incomplete. The Convention is a process that needs to be continued through interpretation, implementation and progressive development.

Another milestone, halfway between Montego Bay (1982) and Rio (1992), is Geneva (1987), with the publication of the Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), Our Common Future. From it we distil three more basic concepts which will help shape the institutional framework we are trying to project.

First, the boundaries between sectors of government or governance, have become "porous," due to the interlocked, interdisciplinary character of the issues to be dealt with.

The integrated and interdependent nature of the new challenges and issues contrast sharply with the nature of the institutions that exist today. These institutions tend to be independent, fragmented, and working to relatively narrow mandates with closed decision processes. Those responsible for managing natural resources and protecting the environment are institutionally separated from those responsible for managing the economy. The real world of interlocked economic and ecological systems will not change; the policies and institutions concerned must.1

Second, the boundaries between "public" and "private" sectors are becoming porous. This applies to public and private law, which interact more intensely than in the past; and it applies to relations between business and government. New forms of public/ private cooperation are needed, at the national as well as the international level.

Many essential human needs can be met only through goods and services provided by industry, and the shift to sustainable development must be powered by a continuing flow of wealth from industry.2

These recognitions imply the need for horizontal, intersectoral, and interdisciplinary integration in the planning, regulatory, and decision-making mechanisms.


National boundaries have become so porous that traditional distinctions between local, national, and international issues have become blurred.3

This recognition implies the need for vertical integration among levels of governance: local, national, regional, and interregional.

In the marine sector, where everything flows and everything is interacting, the need for both horizontal and vertical integration is more marked than in any other realm of governance.

The Report of the WCED sums it up in three short paragraphs:

- The underlying unity of the oceans requires effective global management regimes.

- The shared resource characteristics of many regional seas make forms of regional management mandatory.

- The major land-based threats to the oceans require effective national actions based on international cooperation.4

Pacem in Maribus XIX will examine various models of horizontal and vertical integration at the national, regional, and interregional level. Ocean development, however, does not take place in a vacuum. Ocean development strategy needs to be integrated into general development strategy, and this process will have institutional implications. Pacem in Maribus (PIM) XIX will study the institutional requirements of sustainable development in the marine sector and of ocean governance in the twenty-first century.

Considering the crucial importance of the oceans (a) in the global economy; (b) as a determinant of global climate change; and (c) as a lead sector in international law and international relations, such a study is timely and necessary.

The national level

In his report, "Realization of benefits under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea: Needs of States in regard to development and management of ocean resources"5 the Secretary-General stresses the need for the establishment of mechanisms for integrated ocean management at the national level.

In view of the dramatically increased administrative challenge under the integrated marine resource policy approach, most States expressed the need for a more coordinated and cohesive institutional arrangement, moving away from the traditional dispersed approach. Traditional division of responsibilities within Government has resulted in the allocation of competences over different aspects of ocean uses and ocean resource exploitation, often jointly with aspects of land-based activity. In many cases there has not been a review of marine-related activity in a single integrated context. Many States seek assistance in devising appropriate institutional arrangements, based on the experience of other States that have successfully addressed the matter. 5

The specific form of these mechanisms for integrated ocean policy making will vary from country to country, depending on the existing infrastructure and resource base as well as on ideological orientation. PIM XI (1982, Mexico) was devoted to the impact of the Law of the Sea Convention on national legislation and infrastructure and presented a number of case-studies. Other case-studies have been assembled by the Office of Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea at the UN Secretariat.

Almost every conceivable government department is involved, in one way or another, with ocean affairs, and it deals with them from the perspective of its own priorities. Integration would require, first of all, strengthening of awareness and competence in ocean affairs within each department concerned, and this requires changes in the recruitment of staff within each department. Secondly, there must be some interministerial coordination mechanism for the integration of policies. On the whole, the establishment of new departments or ministries for ocean development has had only limited success in the making of integrated oceans policy. In India, for example, this new department has greatly enhanced the development of specific new ocean activities, such as deep seabed mining or Antarctic exploration, but it has not influenced policies of other departments, concerned, e.g., with fishing or shipping.

The most successful attempt to create integrated and coherent legislation in the marine sector has been, and remains, the Mexican Federal Law of the Sea. But its influence on the institutional infrastructure has not yet been pervasive.

One of the most interesting examples of institutional integration - at least conceptually, if not yet fully developed at the practical level - remains the National Aquatic Resource Agency (NARA) in Sri Lanka. Here we have an institution actively engaged in executing and coordinating marine and freshwater activities, supervised by a Committee representing all government departments involved in ocean affairs.

Another, more recent example of promising institutional innovation, cited in the Secretary-General's Report on the Law of the Sea6 is the new system developed by Ecuador. Ecuador has established special management zones, five on land and the sixth in the Galapagos Archipelago, for the development of the coastal areas within a framework of conservation of the resource base, through intersectoral integration. A complex institutional framework has been created for this purpose, at national and local levels to ensure proper interaction between all levels of governance in policy making, planning, and implementation. It is also worth noting that, in this scheme, implementation and enforcement is largely entrusted to the port authorities, which generally could play an active and constructive role in coastal and marine management.

The Secretary-General's report cites a number of other cases. At the practical level, especially with regard to coastal management, Brazil appears to be particularly successful; other States (e.g. Argentina) have established parliamentary committees on ocean policy: parliamentary secretaries can play an extremely useful role in the process of integrating oceans policy. It is difficult, however, to assess fully the potential of these developments, since they do not take place in a vacuum, or in a stable environment, but interact with national and international factors, such as the debt problem or civil strife which may severely limit their potential.

It is not only government departments, furthermore, that need to be involved in the making of an integrated oceans policy. Such a policy must integrate politics, economics, and science in new ways, through new decision-making mechanisms, and this will involve, together with the governmental, also the non-governmental sector: industry (employers and employees), science, and the non-governmental organizations, including consumers. Canada has attempted to establish a Council representing all these sectors; but its function is merely advisory, and its impact on government decision-making is negligible.

New trails will have to be blazed. To fulfil the participatory requirements, stressed in the Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, it may even be necessary to call periodically - perhaps biannually - an "Ocean Assembly" at national level, or a Special Session of Parliament (or Congress or National Assembly) for the discussion of ocean affairs in an integrated manner. One could imagine that the agenda for the decisions to be taken should be prepared by a National Ocean Institute reporting to Parliament and that industry, science, the NGO sector and local authorities would have the right to propose items for inclusion. Industry could be represented through the Chamber of Commerce on the one hand, and the national trade unions, on the other. Science could be represented by the national branch of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU). To find proper spokesmen for the more amorphous and complex non-profit NGO sector may be more difficult, but precedents for NGO coordination at the national level are not lacking, for example, through annual or biannual conferences of interested organizations.

One could even imagine that decisions affecting the industrial sector would have to be approved by a separate vote of representatives of industry and labour in the National Ocean Assembly; that a decision involving science would have to be approved by a second vote of representatives of science; and that decisions concerning the environment be approved by a second vote of representatives of interested NGOs and local authorities. This might be one way of integrating politics, science, and economics in decision-making, through a sort of rotating bicameral system, as proposed, in 1967 by the Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions.7

What should be emphasized, in any case, is that this integration does indeed have institutional implications which have to be faced in a spirit of innovation. While integration is essential at all levels of ocean policy-making, operation and administration, the developing countries may have a special and urgent need, described in annex VI to the Final Act of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea as:

action..., aimed at strengthening national capabilities in marine science, technology and ocean services ... with a view to ensuring the rapid absorption and efficient application of technology and scientific knowledge available to them.

Ocean governance system for the twenty-first century

Any consideration of the institutional needs of the developing countries must begin at the fundamental level of basic education. Thus governments should consider the introduction of oceanography into the curricula of primary and secondary schools, augmenting at this broadest and most fundamental level a population's awareness of the oceans' wealth, the sensitivity of the marine environment, the values of conservation, the goals of sustainability and, importantly, of career opportunities in the marine sector. Such action, as well as the establishment of national institutions at the technical training (as distinct from university or research) level, should be recognized as priority sectors for national and international institutional support, including but not limited to, the provision of funds. It is an area in which UNESCO, by itself and in collaboration with such NGOs as the International Ocean Institute, might well make a contribution of vital significance. In all countries, the mass media of communication should be encouraged to play a more important role in consciousness-raising and education in ocean affairs.

The creation of an integrated system for planning and decision-making in the marine sector would be a pilot experiment - like everything else relating to the new order for the seas and oceans. If successful for the management of ocean affairs, similar integrative systems might be created for sustainable development in other sectors: energy; food; atmosphere; outer space; etc. Needless to say, there is a financial cost attached to such a development, and this must be kept in reasonable proportion to the economic benefits to be derived from an integrated ocean policy. A cost/benefit analysis of the marine sector therefore should precede institution building.

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