Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Report on the UN's World Water Day Panel Discussion

To mark World Oceans Day, the UN held a press briefing and a panel discussion at its Headquarters in New York on Wednesday, 8 June 2011. The subject of the briefing and panel discussion was “Our oceans: greening our future.” It was moderated by professor David Freestone of George Washington University.

The UN formally recognized World Ocean Day (WOD) in 2008, but early UN press conferences on WOD were sparsely attended. In 2011 the room was full of interested parties.

The introductory remarks were delivered by Ms. Patricia O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and United Nations Legal Counsel. She emphasized that World Oceans Day affords an opportunity to raise global awareness about the opportunities and challenges faced by our oceans. She indicated that oceans are a vital component of food security and depleted fisheries and marine environments are important issues for the global economy. She went on to say that sustainable development of the oceans and the equitable distribution of ocean resources are some of the most serious challenges we face.

Here are some of the highlights from each of the four members that participated in the UN Panel Discussion on oceans:

Chandrika Sharma

Ms. Chandrika Sharma, spoke on behalf of the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF). She indicated that 35 million people are dependent on ocean fisheries around the world. She also indicated that small scale fisheries are on the front lines of sustainable fishing, they are the first to notice as they have a direct stake. She referenced the Rio Declaration's principle of eradicating poverty as an indispensable component of sustainable development.

As explained by Ms. Sharma, small fisheries (artisanal fisheries) are part of the issue of eradicating poverty. Small scale fishing is more sustainable than industrial scale fishing. As such, efforts should be initiated to support small scale fishing and the fisheries they depend on.

Rashid Sumaila

Dr. Rashid Sumaila, University of British Columbia, Canada, spoke to the economic aspects of the oceans. He discussed challenges to the sustainable development of the oceans. He began by quoting Adam Smith, "The earth and the fullness of it belongs to every generation and the preceding one can have no right to blind it up from posterity."

He believes that education can help economic, social and sustainable development. He points out the strong relationship between the environment and the economy and stresses the importance of the relationship between fish and people. He also indicates that we need more research on issues like illegal fishing. He spoke about the importance of close collaboration in sustainable development.

Amongst his research findings, Sumaila and his team have found that in Africa, $2.6 are returned for every dollar paid for fish, and in North America, $3.5 are generated for every dollar paid for fish.

He makes it emphatically clear that there are finite limits to what the ocean can provide. He also indicates that we need to protect and provide alternatives to fishing which would ease the pressure on the fish.

He further posits that fishing subsidies are not helpful as they do not reduce poverty and they do not help fish stocks. He concludes by suggesting that co-management of fisheries is better than the government or community management alone.

William Mott

Mr. William Mott is on The Ocean Project's Leadership Council which is conducting massive social marketing and youth research. After working on policy issues, he has worked on building a constituency in the US. He has also worked on helping people and businesses to be more sustainable. He promotes conservation outcomes with Zoos, Aquariums and Museams (ZAMs).

The Ocean Project research surveyed over 22,000 Americans. Here are a few of the key findings that emerged out of the research:

Conservation is a core value for Americans, however, Americans do not see the oceans as under threat and they have very short attention spans.

Public concern about climate change has fallen but people still want to be seen as green. This is most true for young people between the ages of 17-21.

The research also reaffirms the fact that the Internet is increasing daily, and youth are the most aware of both the Internet and environmental issues.

There is public demand for information and recommendations, but much of this demand is being met by corporate powers beholden to the old energy economy.

Even though oceans are not a top-of-the-mind issue, they are nonetheless important to Americans. But the public fails to appreciate the relationship between climate change and the health of the ocean.

Although awareness spiked during the BP disaster, it quickly melted away.

According to the research, Americans do not trust the EPA and other government agencies but they do trust ZAMs which makes them ideal sources to disseminate conservation material.

Younger people have the strongest belief in personal responsibility and accountability. Many young people are already engaged in conservation action. Young people are future voters and they are already influencing their parents on a range of environmental issues that impact their parent’s buying decisions.

Four Major Implications

1. Use personal solutions as a way of positively impacting the environment(rather than have education precede action).
2. Discuss the problems in terms of their local impacts.
3. Focus on youth which is an action-ready segment of the population.
4. ZAMS are well positioned as well trusted messengers for a conservationmessage.

Teresa Mesquita Pessôa

Mrs. Maria Teresa Mesquita Pessôa, Permanent Mission of Brazil to the United Nations talked about the green economy and sustainable development. According to Pessôa, the rationale for conservation can be found in sustainable development. She stated that as a matter of UN policy, we have a duty and a general obligation to protect and preserve the oceans.

She makes the point that we are an ocean planet and sustainable development of our ocean's resources impacts the social, economic and environmental pillars of our world. This issue is even more pressing given the prediction that there will be 6 billion people living on the coast in 2025.

She indicates that most of the ocean's problems are man-made. Pollution from land based sources are responsible for 80 percent of ocean pollution, and unsustainable fishing methods are the single greatest cause of depleted fisheries.

She shares her belief that subsidies for fishing are very destructive, they allow fleets to fish longer, harder and further. Ocean acidification can be directly linked to human induced climate change and the increase of acidification threatens many species of marine life.

Pessôa says while professor Sumaila talks about the importance of education, she advocates the implementation of existing agreements like the FAO IPA of 2004. She believes that lack of scientific certainty should not be used to prevent cost effective measures of preventing the ocean's degradation. She also indicates we need to define a regime of biodiversity and regulatory mechanisms that extends outside national borders.

She concludes by quoting Jaques Cousteau:

"The sea, the great unifier, is man's only hope. Now as never before the old phrase has a literal meaning, we are all in the same boat."

© 2011, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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2 comments:

Vineca Gray said...

Frankly speaking, after reading this brief on outcomes of the UN Panel Discussion on World Oceans Day, I maintain my view that this body is completely detached from the urgent realities that is barely addresses.

I cite a remark from William Mott:

"Conservation is a core value for Americans, however, Americans do not see the oceans as under threat and they have a very short attention spans."

This is an understatement and skewed to favourably disassociate the Corporate and Political will of the nation. The so-called intelligencia always places the onus on the public,how convenient.

It is deeply troubling that the UN gives audience to such underwhelming assumptions as made by Rashid Sumaila, a 'Canadian' researcher, "...He makes it emphatically clear that there are finite limits to what the ocean can provide."

Give me strength. The Atlantic Cod Fisheries are history, the Grand Banks are protected, but just a few kilometres into International waters one can witness fisheries junkets from countries such as Japan, Portugal and France rape the region seasonally. International law is meaningless here.

Why would anyone think we have a problem in our oceans?

Richard Matthews said...

Thanks for the comment Veneca, I know you speak for a great many people when you express your concerns about the UN. In Mott's defence he was quoting the results of a survey, not expressing his own opinion. During the panel discussion he was actually quite disheartened at Americans distrust of climate change. Mr. Sumaila was stating the obvious, but we need to appreciate that many North Americans are woefully ignorant of just how dire the situation is in our oceans. In my view, as the only truly international body, the UN is vital to the future of our planet.