Inaugural Pacific Ocean Alliance Meeting Briefing by DSG Cristelle E. Pratt, Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner

Inaugural Pacific Ocean Alliance Meeting Briefing
Ms Cristelle E. Pratt
Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner and Deputy Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat

This brings us to the conclusion of this leg of the journey together. If we could take a few minutes to reflect on what we have heard and learned, the things that we have shared, the new, important acquaintances that we have made as we traverse the path ahead.

Day one confronted us with some harsh realities of where we are at.

While the Pacific is a world leader on oceans on the international stage such as championing efforts for a standalone SDG on Oceans and our own regional ocean policy and related Framework for a Pacific Oceanscape, which give us strategic guidance and direction to claim our global stake as large ocean island states.

As Pacific coastal States we must maintain our focus and drive to proclaim our maritime boundaries to ensure we do not lose benefit from the sustainable use, management and conservation of the ocean that is rightfully ours.

The Parties of the Nauru Agreement experience shows us how powerful we can be when we band together. We must seek to build on that momentum, being mindful not to undermine the significant achievements made in that regard.

Our high seas are imperative to support our trade in goods and services, including marine-based tourism.

We were very eloquently reminded of the importance of the canoe in our history as great voyagers and the achievements of our Ancestors in discovering our island homes through vast spans’ of our Oceania. Our cultural connection through our ocean is real and has been invigorated through the Vaka.

But we must heed the warnings posed by threats such as marine pollution, over- exploitation of our resources, ocean acidification and climate change.

Contrary to what we might think, high seas ecosystems are rich with life and diversity and we have embraced many different ways of identifying those values so as to afford them a higher level of protection than had we not known of their existence.

We must use existing processes and build on them where possible to improve our understanding and our management of these areas.

Day two was an intense immersion into marine genetic resources – their processing, value and potential benefit to our region. The jury is still out on the realities of the benefits and just how the Pacific may gain if they do eventuate. Despite some really robust discussion, I think what this session really showed is that it is a very complex process and negotiating an appropriate legal regime will be no less complicated.

What we heard from you is that, whilst it may be a complicated road ahead, it is imperative that the Pacific is at the table and has a voice to ensure Pacific interests are protected and Pacific people benefit and are empowered under any new regime.

You said that we need to look at strengthening existing regimes before embarking on a new implementing agreement and that this includes proclaiming our maritime boundaries so that we can further assess what marine genetic resources are ours and those that might be managed for the common good.

You have indicated that we should look into the principle of preferential access for adjacent jurisdictions (particularly in relation to the high seas pockets) and that the PNA model should be further explored in this regard.

Once again we were reminded of the cultural value of our ocean and its resources to the Pacific people.

In moving the discussion ahead, you have directed us to look at where in the ocean we are likely to find these potential resources so that we can start to reflect on the most appropriate governance regime, whether that has similarities to the International Seabed Authority or indeed our RFMOs. Despite what regime is finally determined, it was generally agreed that legal certainty will be required.

Next we heard a wide range of views on the very topical issue of area based management. We were warned not to let terminology detract from the conversation, but it is clear that a sweet spot must be found that balances the economic, environmental and social dimensions of area based management.

Area based management has the potential to manage the potential conflict over space and use but objectives must be clear and area based responses must be targeted to suit the relevant objective.

Whilst some raised marine protected areas as insurance policies for our oceans in the absence of adequate scientific information, others cautioned against this form of ‘ocean grabbing’.

We heard from many of you that a new implementing agreement should address the gaps and improve coordination between existing sectoral approaches in this regard. Although it was raised by some that perhaps UNCLOS itself needs to be amended to include meaningful area based management under which all sectoral approaches and
conservation objectives can be addressed on equal footing.
oSome of the common principles you raised were: taking a precautionary approach; taking an ecosystem approach; including adaptive management principles; and principles of equity. In addition, some raised the principles of sustainability, food security, sovereignty and adjacency, which may have particular importance in the Pacific context.
?Our leaders endorsed a need for prior environmental assessments for activities in our high seas and today we heard about the existing regimes in place to carry these out, including the voluntary guidelines issued by the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity and the current regime for environmental impact assessments under the International Seabed Authority. We heard about opportunities under the International Seabed Authority from the Cook Islands perspective. Looking forward we asked you what you thought of the existing regimes and how a new regime could be harmonized with these.
oWe heard from about the concept of a well-funded regional ocean ombudsman, as initially endorsed by Leaders in their ocean policy in 2002.
oWe heard about the need for transparency with respect to data and the challenge of standardizing data.
oAs well we were told that companies need to be held accountable and should pay the price of assessment and impact (planned or unplanned).
oWe need to look into the social impacts of operations and whole ecosystem approaches inclusive of cumulative impacts.
oMost importantly for our region we heard about capacity building and the transfer of technology opportunities presented by areas beyond national jurisdiction. The rich and important traditional knowledge was highlighted as being of particular importance and we were reminded of the ongoing, resource constraints that our
countries face relating to human, financial and technology resources.
oCapacity building must not be just a theoretical, academic endeavour - it needs to be undertaken as part of real and practical measures.

?The exemplar for this being the proactive initiative of Pacific States and their learning by doing, practice experiences in respect of maritime boundary delimitation and extended continental shelf claims, and the opportunities that the regional capacity building and transfer of technology approach has brought in building networks.
?While most partners provide some capacity building opportunities – we heard that these are not always well coordinated and are sometimes ad-hoc – therefore a more holistic approach should be taken.
?We also heard about the opportunities of various international instruments and international agencies that acknowledge their responsibilities for capacity building such as the Nagoya Protocol which provides guarantees for capacity building, as well as the UNCLOS in respect of marine scientific research (though as we heard - in the case of marine scientific research these could be strengthened significantly).
?There were many challenges, opportunities and ideas raised at this meeting and we encourage you to take these proposals to your Leaders, under the Framework for Pacific Regionalism. There is more information at the back on how to engage in that process, recognizing submissions under the Framework for Pacific Regionalism process will close on 12 June. As the Pacific Ocean Commissioner mentioned in her address at the beginning of the meeting and provided further encouragement again in her Talanoa Session on Integrated Ocean Management - Pacific Ocean Alliance Partners with shared interests should consider preparing submissions.

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