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New Global Ocean Commission Aims to Influence U.N. Policy

High view. The high seas, international waters outside of national jurisdictions, will be the focus of a new panel that hopes to influence United Nations policy.


A group of international leaders and scientists has set up an independent Global Ocean Commission aimed at influencing U.N. efforts to preserve the high seas.

High seas are waters outside national jurisdictions, and are in part governed by the United Nation's 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea, which has been approved by 165 nations and the European Union (but not the United States). The founders of the new commission, however, say the convention—which entered into force in 1994—is outdated when it comes to facing growing threats such as overfishing, climate change, and deep sea mining. "The high seas are owned by everyone but their governance and management are inadequate," José María Figueres, a former president of Costa Rica and a founding member of the new commission, told reporters in a teleconference.

The commission says it aims to provide advice to the United Nations on how to make improvements leading up to global talks on high seas biodiversity scheduled for early next year. The panel will look at an array of issues, including overfishing, biodiversity and habitat loss, compliance, and monitoring, as well as governance gaps.

The group will "sound a warning" that business as usual will lead to ecological degradation and economic loss, said David Miliband, one of the group's co-chairs and former foreign secretary of the United Kingdom. It aims to come up with "practical solutions" by updating economic knowledge relevant to environmental issues, Miliband added. One model will be a 2006 report prepared by economist Nicholas Stern for the government of the United Kingdom on the economics of climate change.

Organizers say the commission will be based at Somerville College at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom and will work with scientists from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean. It will also hold workshops this year where scientists will be able to provide input, a commission spokesperson tells ScienceInsider.

Figueres and Miliband will chair the group together with South African Cabinet minister Trevor Manuel, while former Greenpeace adviser Simon Reddy will be the commission's executive secretary. Members will also include other political and economic heavyweights, such as Pascal Lamy, director-general of the World Trade Organization, and Ratan Tata, former head of the eponymous Indian business group.

The Global Ocean Commission is being funded by the U.S. Pew Charitable Trusts, the Adessium Foundation in the Netherlands, and U.S. philanthropic group Oceans 5.