In order to meet the challenges ahead of us, we need oceans that are clean and sustainably managed. The Ocean Governance project looks at how we can rethink international marine policy.
In order to meet the challenges ahead of us, we need oceans that are clean and sustainably managed. The Ocean Governance project looks at how we can rethink international marine policy. istock/Arrangements-Photography

Headline: Ocean Governance

Humans depend on a healthy and productive ocean - for their livelihoods, health, and cultures. As well as being a vital source of sustenance, the ocean regulates the global climate and hosts a wealth of biodiversity. But it is facing growing threats as human uses and impacts continue to exceed sustainable limits. A lack of adequate management frameworks is adding to the severe pressures on it.

The Ocean Governance research group at the IASS generates knowledge and initiates participatory dialogues in order to analyse and respond to the causes of ocean decline and to support ocean governance processes. It also contributes to the development of new approaches and regulatory frameworks.

Its transformative work focuses on three processes:

  • The implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in particular the Sustainable Development Goal on oceans, seas, and marine resources (SDG 14)
  • The negotiation of a legally binding instrument under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ)
  • The development of international rules for deep seabed mining

The interdisciplinary team addresses the following key questions: How can the SDGs be translated into policy processes? How can marine biodiversity be protected in areas beyond national jurisdiction? What regulatory frameworks do we need to manage the mining of deep seabed mineral resources?

As part of a transdisciplinary research agenda, the team also provides solution-oriented advice to decision-makers and societal actors with a view to transforming the responses to the urgent challenges facing our ocean.

In addition to the projects listed below, the research group conducts the project "Marine Conservation in the Arctic" in cooperation with the group "Arctic Governance".


Ocean Governance

The IASS Ocean Governance project supports knowledge-based transformation processes for the conservation and sustainable use of marine and coastal systems. It focuses on the most salient challenges for ocean sustainability and related policy processes such as the 2030 Agenda and its ocean goal SDG 14 and the negotiation of a new international agreement for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity on the high seas.

Strengthening Regional Ocean Governance for the High Seas (STRONG High Seas)

The high seas span a vast area and make up nearly two thirds of the world's oceans. Existing governance frameworks do not adequately provide for the protection and sustainable use of biodiversity in these areas. This project supports regional and national institutions in the Southeast Atlantic and Southeast Pacific regions with the task of developing integrated governance approaches.

Governance, Policy and International Legal Dimensions of Ocean-based Negative Emission Technologies

Negative emission technologies for removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere could offer an opportunity to limit global warming and meet the targets of the Paris Agreement. But many uncertainties about the feasibility and impacts of these technologies remain. The EU-funded OceanNETs project aims to provide critical new insights into ocean-based negative emission technologies. Within OceanNETs, the IASS will contribute to the assessment of governance, policy and legal dimensions.

Marine Conservation in the Arctic

The melting of sea ice in the Arctic leads to new opportunities for economic exploitation, but also poses risks to the fragile marine environment. In the research project, the project partners are examining, among other things, the use of Arctic marine resources and the introduction of conservation measures. The project is a cooperation of the research groups "Arctic Governance" and "Ocean Governance".

Marine Regions Forum

The state of the ocean urgently requires that protection and sustainable use of marine systems are aligned, suitable measures put in place and all relevant actors engaged. The Marine Regions Forum provides an informal, transdisciplinary, and participatory space at the science-policy interface to enhance ocean action. It facilitates inclusive collaborations within and between regions that could trigger transformative change to address current ocean sustainability challenges such as biodiversity loss, the impacts of the global climate crisis, or marine pollution.

Environmental Standards for Deep Seabed Mining

Mining for mineral deposits in the deep seabed could harm ecosystems irreversibly. Despite international obligations to protect the ocean, certain states - Germany among them - are working towards the advancement of deep seabed mining to maintain supply security and develop new technologies. In the current research project "Environmental standards for deep seabed mining", a scientifically and legally grounded approach is being developed which will support the ISA in systematically planning the environmental management of the deep sea.

Support of the BMU in Negotiations for a Global Ocean Biodiversity Treaty

With Germany holding the Presidency of the EU in July to December 2020, IASS researchers are supporting the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety in the ongoing negotiations for the development of a new and internationally binding instrument under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) for the conservation and sustainable use of the marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ).

Completed Projects

Ecological Safeguards for Deep Seabed Mining

The deep seabed is the least understood ecosystem on Earth and is known to contain mineral resources in some areas. Their extraction presents significant technical challenges and is not as yet financially viable. Environmental reviews have shown that deep seabed mining could result in irreversible harms on a large scale. Efforts continue to promote the development of deep seabed mining despite low commodity prices and the resulting uncertainty around its economic benefits. At present, the extraction of mineral resources in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction is not the subject of a comprehensive legal framework. The project Ecological Guardrails for Deep Seabed Mining evaluates potential environmental impacts and advises the German Federal Environment Agency on the development of environmental standards to safeguard the sustainability of deep seabed mining under the supervision of the International Seabed Authority.

Deep Seabed Mining - Test Mining and Fair Benefit Sharing

The project analyses the governance framework for potential mining activities in the Area beyond national jurisdiction. In dialogue with stakeholders from the science and policy communities and civil society, IASS researchers are generating independent reports and other input to support the international negotiation process under the umbrella of the International Seabed Authority.

The role of regional governance in addressing marine plastic pollution

Plastic pollution has become a widespread issue in the ocean. In this project, the IASS analysed the role of regional actors in tackling marine plastic litter, the challenges they face and how a new global agreement could strengthen action at the regional level and benefit ocean governance.

Towards a Contemporary Vision for the Global Seafloor - Implementing the Common Heritage of Mankind

Interest in the exploitation of deep sea mineral resources located in areas beyond national jurisdiction has grown significantly in recent years. The international debate around deep seabed mining has focused on its technical feasibility, profitability, and potential environmental impacts - rather than the question of whether deep seabed mining should take place at all and which development pathways could otherwise be explored. These questions are the subject of a new study commissioned by the Heinrich Böll Foundation: "Towards a Contemporary Vision for the Global Seafloor - Implementing the Common Heritage of Mankind".

International Ocean Governance Forum

With IASS support, the European Commission is in the process of developing a new platform for discussion and exchange on international ocean governance: the International Ocean Governance Forum (IOG Forum). Ocean actors and stakeholders are invited to participate in the Forum's online webinars and thematic workshops, targeted online consultations and conferences to develop joint proposals to advance the conservation and sustainable use of the ocean. In this way the IOG Forum is contributing to the further development of European Union policy on international ocean governance.