In his opening remarks to the IOG Forum’s online launch, Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries of the European Union, invited participants to provide guidance to the European Commission and the High Commissioner on the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans. With only ten years left on the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, he reminded participants that there is an urgent need to scale up efforts to achieve what has been agreed on, and that on-going policy processes such as the negotiations on the treaty on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) offer unique windows of opportunity to accelerate progress.
And this is exactly what the EU’s IOG Forum aims to achieve: To mobilise ocean actors and stakeholders worldwide for a joint exchange and dialogue on challenges, good practices, opportunities and possible actions in response to pressing issues of ocean health and governance. Three thematic working groups have been established under this umbrella to discuss options to improve the international ocean governance framework (Thematic Working Group 1), reduce pressures on the ocean and seas and create conditions for a sustainable blue economy (Thematic Working Group 2), and strengthen international ocean research, data and knowledge (Thematic Working Group 3).
The IASS and TMG – Think Tank for Sustainability, together with the European Commission, the European External Action Service, ACTeon Environment, the European Marine Board and Fresh Thoughts Consulting, kicked-off the series of online-seminars with a two-hour long session on 22 April 2020. The online-seminar opened with welcome addresses by Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius and Peter Thomson, the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Oceans, and an introduction to the IOG Forum’s aims by Veronika Veits from the European Commission. The 170 international experts and stakeholders participating in the online-seminar were then invited to share their views on three focus topics and discuss critical issues for ocean governance that will be addressed by Thematic Working Group 1 over the coming months:
- 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and SDG 14
- Conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity
- Climate and ocean nexus
To stimulate the discussions, a group of six panellists provided additional input on, for example, how synergies across the sustainable development goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda could be leveraged through regional approaches, how institutional and ecological resilience could be built in areas beyond national jurisdiction, and how the ocean could contribute to solutions for climate action. The results of these discussions, together with input collected from participants through an online survey, will help to shape the further work of Thematic Working Group 1, which is led by the IASS together with TMG, and advance a discussion paper developed in collaboration with the project partners, the European Commission, and external experts. A series of online workshops and a targeted EU consultation will allow experts to engage with the IOG Forum at different levels, contribute to its work, and jointly develop recommendations to advance the EU’s international ocean governance agenda.
By launching the IOG Forum online, the hosts and project team also hope to have paved the way for a new, more climate-friendly approach to international policymaking, as Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius suggested in his welcome address. Responding to the Covid-19 pandemic, the IOG Forum took its activities online within a matter of weeks. This has enabled this constructive dialogue and exchange between experts from all over the world to continue uninterrupted and ensures that the Forum maintains its momentum in this “super year for the oceans”. If circumstances allow, an in-person IOG Forum meeting will be held in Brussels from 14-16 December 2020, with the aim of consolidating the recommendations derived through the work programme.
Reflecting on current delays in activities due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Peter Thomson called in his welcome address for societies to pursue a blue-green road to recovery in the wake of this crisis – a road that brings human and natural systems back into harmony and that is based on respect and balance. This view was shared by the participants, raising further questions as to what the impacts of this crisis on the human-ocean system and its governance framework will be, and how these can be addressed – on top of all that is already at stake and on the table. How to build back better will be an additional dimension to be considered in the work ahead of the IOG Forum.