Global Ocean Commission launched

The Global Ocean Commission, an independent body of international leaders based at Somerville College with the aim of reversing the degradation of the ocean, is launched today.

Chaired by former Costa Rican President José María Figueres, South African cabinet minister Trevor Manuel and former UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband MP, the commission brings together senior political figures including former heads of state, foreign ministers and finance ministers from around the world, alongside business leaders and development specialists, to find ways to restore the world’s oceans to full health and productivity.

During 2013-14, the commission will analyse key threats to the international waters known as the 'high seas', which make up almost half of the Earth’s surface but are not owned by any one country. This large proportion of the global ocean is under severe and increasing pressure from overfishing, damage to important habitat, climate change and ocean acidification. 

The commission will publish its final recommendations early in 2014, shortly before the UN General Assembly begins discussions on protecting high seas biodiversity.

The commission is an independent entity but is hosted at Somerville College, with the college serving as a gateway to the University of Oxford's cross-disciplinary research on sustainability.

Professor Alex Rogers, Professor in Conservation Biology in the Department of Zoology and Tutorial Fellow in Conservation Biology at Somerville, says: 'The continuing degradation of the oceans as a result of human impacts has major implications for the biosphere and our future. As a marine biologist who has witnessed damage to marine ecosystems at first hand, I welcome the commission and believe that it will restore momentum to the stalled efforts to manage the oceans for generations to come.'

José María Figueres says: 'The world urgently needs to find better ways of managing the oceans, to stop abuse of its precious resources and ensure its protection for present and future generations.

'The global ocean is essential to the health and well-being of each and every one of us. It provides about half of the oxygen we breathe and absorbs about a quarter of our carbon dioxide emissions; but we are failing to manage it in ways that reflect its true value. The Global Ocean Commission will help highlight its worth in our lives and indicate ways in which we can ensure its resources are used sustainably.'

A central concern is that advances in technology and industry have outpaced the provisions of the 30-year-old United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This means there is little protection for biodiversity in the high seas, little regulation of emerging uses of the ocean such as bio-prospecting, and ineffective measures to deal with illegal fishing – threatening food security, human rights, national security and livelihoods.

'The UN Law of the Sea was a great achievement, but we urgently need a governance framework that delivers its aims and objectives for today’s global ocean,' says David Miliband.

'The ocean provides food for billions of people, as well as generating substantial economic wealth, employment and trade; getting the governance right will lead to both economic and ecological gains.

'The Global Ocean Commission will be a catalyst for the developments we need. 2014 is a critical year of decision for the ocean, when changes should be made that will set the ocean on the path to sustainable health and productivity.'

The launch of the Global Ocean Commission comes at a time when many governments, economists, scientists, business leaders and international institutions are indicating the need for reform.

'The Global Ocean Commission is the right organisation at the right time,' said Trevor Manuel, Minister in the Presidency of South Africa.

'The world population is heading towards nine billion; all need food, all need equitable access to the resources that can give them a good standard of living, and a healthy, well-governed global ocean can help provide these things.

'We are going to be very focussed and dynamic in our work; we must not miss this outstanding opportunity to achieve change.'

The Global Ocean Commission's multidisciplinary work will enhance the educational experience of students at Somerville College in a number of ways. By bringing together international experts from a range of fields, it offers access to a wealth of knowledge and research. The commission is also offering a range of internship opportunities to Somerville students, at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, to assist in research, outreach, communications and other activities to support the commission's work.

Other confirmed members of the Global Ocean Commission include Sir Ratan Tata, head until December 2012 of the Indian-based Tata business conglomerate, and a leading philanthropist; Vladimir Golitsyn, Judge on the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea; Yoriko Kawaguchi, chair of the Environment Committee in the upper house of the Diet, and a former Foreign Minister and Environment Minister of Japan; and Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Managing Director at the World Bank and a former Finance Minister of Indonesia.

The Global Ocean Commission began as an initiative of the Pew Environment Group, in partnership with Somerville College, Adessium Foundation and Oceans 5. Its first meeting will be held next month in Cape Town.