Members of the Diplomatic corps
Representatives of regional and international organisations
Ladies and gentleman
Good morning and Bula Vinaka. As Pacific Ocean Commissioner it is my pleasure to welcome you to the first meeting of the Pacific Ocean Alliance – High Hopes for High Seas. I’d like to start by thanking Conservation International, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Islands First, Government of Australian, Government of New Zealand, Pew Charitable Trust, the Common Oceans Program and the High Seas Alliance, whose generous support helped us to convene this meeting, to the regional and international organisations that have provided technical advice during preparation of this meeting and to all the presenters who have flown in from around the world to share their knowledge and experience with us.
This is my first official opportunity to speak as the Pacific Ocean Commissioner, a role that I am honoured to take on. I look forward to the challenge of being an advocate and representative for our region, to help achieve sustainable development, management and conservation of our ocean as per the vision articulated by Leaders in the Framework for a Pacific Oceanscape. This vision remains as relevant today as it was when this policy was endorsed in 2010. This, of course, does not mean everything is as it was five years ago. The dynamics in this region change very quickly and we must be responsive to the direction provided by Pacific Leaders and to emerging challenges and opportunities.
The Framework for Pacific Regionalism, endorsed by Pacific Island Forum Leaders last year, is the most significant change to the regional architecture in recent years. The Framework articulates the vision, values and objectives of an invigorated Pacific regionalism. The Framework replaces the Pacific Plan, which was for a number of years the master strategy for regionalism in the Pacific. Unlike the Pacific Plan, the Framework does not identify particular regional priorities, which are dealt with by the region’s specific thematic and sectoral policies and frameworks, such as those focussed on oceans. The Framework also specifies a process for engagement and decision making, where all interested stakeholders can assist Leaders identify game-changing regional initiatives.
The Framework signals a shift from our current way of operating. It requires all of us to carefully consider how we engage with the region and as a region. We have to strengthen existing partnerships and forge new alliances as we look for new and innovative ways to implement this agenda. The Pacific Ocean Alliance is a vital part of this effort. Many of your organisations were represented at the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States last year, where we launched the Alliance, and it is wonderful to see such a broad range of stakeholders here from governments, the private sector and civil society, including our youth, to take this partnership forward and address an issue of great importance to the region.
For those still new to the Alliance, this is a new partnership endorsed by Pacific Islands Forum Leaders. The Alliance will maintain a network of stakeholders that is truly representative of the diverse range of ocean interests. I’ve seen many stakeholders operate in isolation of each other either because they are not part of a particular stakeholder group or because they are focussed on issues within a narrowly defined scope. My hope is that the Alliance will provide a platform for all ocean stakeholders to come together, not just through large meetings like this, but through focussed working groups, like the one organised for Thursday, and other day-to-day forms of communication. Facilitating collaboration across and between the range of ocean stakeholders on equal footing will support integrated approaches to ocean management and perhaps see stakeholders working together to develop submissions for consideration by Pacific Islands Forum Leaders through the Framework for Pacific Regionalism process I discussed earlier.
The Pacific Ocean Alliance is facilitated by me as the Pacific Ocean Commissioner, and I am supported in my role as Commissioner by the region’s technical organisations, particularly SPC, USP, SPREP and FFA, as well as dedicated resources within the recently established Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner. My Office will work closely with officials from the regional organisations I just mentioned, including the mechanisms established to support coordination and collaboration between these organisations such as the Marine Sector Working Group. They will also work with representatives from other organisations and stakeholder groups as appropriate, to support me and the region strengthen our representation on ocean issues.
For decades, Pacific Leaders have emphasised the importance of ocean resources to the development of their countries and the region. I’ve had the opportunity to visit 10 Pacific countries over the last few months, and during our discussions Leaders continue to highlight ocean resources as a priority. This isn’t surprising given the significant economic, social and cultural benefits we derive from the ocean.
While the focus is often on the areas of ocean within our national boundaries, almost two-thirds of the world’s ocean lies beyond national jurisdictions. These areas make up over60% of the global surface of the ocean and nearly half of its biological productivity. This includes some of the most environmentally important, critically threatened, and least protected ecosystems on the planet. The Pacific is also unique in having high seas embedded within the region’s national jurisdictions, in areas known as ‘high seas pockets’. It is these pockets that both connect and divide us as a region.
It is estimated that 68% of the global fish harvest are of species which migrate through both EEZs and the high seas. The global economic value of high seas fisheries is estimated at over USD16 billion per year. In the Pacific, tuna from the Western and Central Pacific Fishery supplies nearly 60% of the global tuna supply. Despite the jurisdictional separation within the fishery, the impacts of high seas fishing are felt by all who share and depend on this highly migratory resource.
Shipping provides the means of transport for approximately 90% of global trade, and is critical for the connectivity of our communities and economies. This relies on the freedom of navigation through EEZs and high seas areas. Shipping must also be well managed to prevent pollution and to minimise impacts on other ocean activities.
Many of the region’s iconic marine species, including sharks, whales and turtles, are both threatened and migratory, taking them through the jurisdictions of numerous countries as well as the high seas. As well as their biological importance, these resources also have value to our tourism industry and culture.
Deep sea minerals in areas beyond national jurisdiction also offer development potential if managed sustainably. Four contracts for exploration in areas beyond national jurisdiction have been sponsored by Pacific Island Countries to date.
The ocean also plays a key role in regulation of global climate and storage of carbon dioxide. It estimated that the high seas sequester the equivalent of over 1.5 billion tonnes of global carbon dioxide annually, which conservative estimates report is the equivalent of USD74 billion annually in terms of the social cost of carbon.
The importance of areas beyond national jurisdiction is woven into the Pacific region’s two primary ocean policy instruments, the Pacific Islands Regional Ocean Policy (2002) and the Framework for a Pacific Oceanscape (2010), which describe the extent of the region as including not only the area within our exclusive economic zones, but also “the ocean and coastal areas that encompass the extent of the marine ecosystems that support the region”. At their meeting in Palau last year, Pacific Islands Forum Leaders expressed their support for an implementing agreement under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. These decisions provide the political weight to be a driving force in the achievement of our region’s ocean objectives.
It’s not just Pacific Island Countries and Territories that benefit from our ocean and the adoption of regional and global approaches to ocean management are essential. This isn’t to say that local and national efforts are not important. There are some issues that remain best addressed by local communities and national governments. However, strong management of ocean activities within our sovereign areas must be matched by management of high seas areas if we are to be truly ocean stewards. Our approaches must be consistent and integrated; not just from ridge to reef, but from highlands to high seas.
The governance regime for the high seas is often compared to a patchwork quilt. The United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea, the Convention on Biological Diversity; the UN Fish Stocks Agreement; rules for navigation and shipping under the International Maritime Organisation; rules, regulations and procedures under the International Seabed Authority; and other instruments and institutions govern some activities in the high seas. However, there is no holistic regime for biodiversity that links these together and addresses the missing pieces. Pacific Leaders have called for the precautionary principle to be applied to any extractive activities in the Pacific Ocean but how is this possible when the governance regime is incomplete? If the current measures are insufficient to comprehensively manage the current and expanding use of high seas resources, how will we deal with unanticipated threats? It would seem to me that a precautionary approach would include having the rules in place before exploitative pressure on high seas resources becomes overwhelming.
Improvements in the governance regime must also help the region to take full advantage of high seas resources. I’m interested to hear your views on how we can improve management of fisheries in high seas areas and how our countries can sustainably exploit opportunities associated with deep sea minerals and marine genetic resources. How can we ensure the protection and conservation of high seas ecosystems and biodiversity? How can we build the region’s capacity and access technology to sustainably develop, manage and conserve our high seas resources?
The existing governance regimes for both areas within and beyond national jurisdictions offers important lessons for management of our ocean resources and these must be considered in development of any new governance arrangements for the high seas. New arrangements should also consider the needs, capacities and vulnerabilities of small island developing states.
Before I wrap up, I would like to ask meeting delegates to remember that while we talk about international legal frameworks and complex scientific processes, we do not forget the people and communities who depend upon the ocean and its resources. Those for whom the ocean has been home for generations. While high seas resources may sit outside their purview for geographical or other reasons, they must not be taken for granted. We have a responsibility as scientists, Government representatives, lawyers, and experts, to ensure the sustainable development, management and conservation of these resources for the future of those we are ultimately accountable to. Those with high hopes for their futures.
There is a wealth of knowledge in this room and I look forward to having open and healthy discussions over the next few days, and future opportunities we can provide through the Pacific Ocean Alliance.