19 April 2018 - 21 April 2018

The Ocean: an opportunity for a new level of international cooperation or a tragedy of the commons?

Chair: The Honourable Lawrence Cannon

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Proposals and Recommendations

Ditchley held this unique conference, chaired by former Canadian foreign minister, Lawrence Cannon, in order to bring together cross-cutting expertise and decision makers on the full range of problems facing the ocean, from climate change through to overfishing. A series of proposals and recommendations came from the conference, whilst not reflecting a consensus view, a selection of these are offered in the first instance to the G7 Nations for consideration at their meeting in June 2018. These proposals can be taken forward in policy debates at the UN, in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and in other policy arenas.


1. We know the ocean is central to human prosperity, but the business case has to made comprehensively and convincingly.

The G7 could commission a state of the art economic assessment – a Stern Report for the Seas – on the economic costs/risks of the effects of climate change, ocean acidification and de-oxygenation on ocean health combined with threats of pollution, and the economic benefits of early action and opportunities associated with ocean health restoration. Such an assessment could then support global action and provide direction to, for example, the UN’s Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021- 2030).

The work done by The Global Ocean Commission (GOC) hosted by the University of Oxford in 2014, provides a good starting point for a comprehensive and quantifiable assessment framework for valuing the full range of marine ecosystem services and functions. The GOC (2016) report The Future of our Ocean, next steps and priorities made significant governance / policy proposals and recommendations for ocean health restoration and management. Concepts of ocean restoration could set the basis for future research and policy.



2.  There is a need to establish an effective financing mechanism for ocean health restoration and sustainable development.

The G7 could promote the establishment of a Global Ocean Restoration and Sustainability Bank – to support science and observation based ocean recovery and innovation. There is some precedent in the Green Climate Fund. The Bank would aim for co-ordination across developed and developing countries.

The UNCLOS and the UN’s negotiations for a new treaty for conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction could provide the policy framework and the impetus for coordinating action.

Capitalising such a bank/trust might come from governments’ voluntary contributions, international and bilateral finance institutions or possibly through taxes and other levies on ocean activities, or via financial instruments developed via the private sector (e.g. insurance industry, blended finance, blue bonds or debt swaps, impact or equity investments). Torsten Thiele and the Global Ocean Trust have researched ‘blue finance’ and an Ocean Sustainability Bank.



3. Current climate change targets are not sufficient for the ocean. The G7 could push for commitment to go beyond the 2015 Paris Agreement for the sake of the ocean.

Large-scale changes in the ocean throughout the globe are becoming apparent. Coral reefs are an example of an ecosystem already suffering great harm as a result of climate warming and ocean acidification to date, and are an early warning of marine ecosystem failure. Given the speed of change, pushing for net zero emissions by 2050 requires G7 support and is a global emergency measure.

Could the G7 develop a common policy position promoting net zero emissions by 2050 and a target on ocean acidification? Supporting UNFCCC Paris Agreement parties to achieve a greater level of ambition, an accelerated timeframe as well as incorporating the ocean in ‘Nationally Determined Contributions’ (NDCs) are starting points.

The G7 could also support the establishment of monitoring stations to monitor progress towards SDG14 target 14.3. (Minimize and address the impacts of ocean acidification, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels.)



4. The G7 could support use of marine spatial planning to allocate ocean uses including Marine Protected Areas and Indigenous Protected Areas and support calls to restore 1/3 of the ocean in order to protect the 2/3rds. The target is for one third of the ocean area to be a network of MPAs protecting representatives of all marine ecosystems. The other two-thirds need to be managed sustainably. 

Current science (for e.g. the work of Professor Callum Roberts) suggests that protection of about 30% of the ocean by 2030 would deliver extensive benefits for wider ocean health and marine biodiversity. It is essential this includes both areas of the sea over which states have particular rights – Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) and Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ). The G7 could support the current BBNJ* negotiations to establish a legal framework for Marine Protection Areas in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction.

*BBNJ is an international legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.



5. The G7 could provide leadership and new impetus to end harmful fisheries subsidies in World Trade and other negotiations consistent with SDG14.  The work, for example, of Professor Rashid Sumaila  from the University of British Columbia establishes a clear starting point for policy. The 2019 WTO meeting is an ideal platform for the G7 to lead these discussions and to eliminate capacity-enhancing subsidies to fishing fleets.

6. In addition to reducing harmful fishing subsidies, the G7 could commit to exercising their flag, port and market state powers to reward responsible fishers and frustrate illegal fishers. At the same time the G7 could support ecosystem-based fisheries management by stimulating the scientific, observational and technical tools to restore and sustain ocean abundance.

Illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing is a threat to global security, as it undermines the sustainability of fishing, threatens food security and livelihoods for coastal populations and provides cover for other ocean crimes.



7. The G7 could co-ordinate and align its plastics reduction targets with other related initiatives and engage with wider public concern over plastics pollution, for example the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s programme on the New Plastics Economy.

Plastics pollution has received media attention and public recognition; however, plastics are but one aspect of a much broader pollution problem. There is increasing evidence that the use of many domestic chemicals (e.g. personal care products, fireproofing chemicals and pharmaceuticals) and agricultural pesticides and fertilisers do substantial harm to marine organisms and to marine ecosystems.

Current concern over plastics offers an opportunity to bring to light broader issues of marine pollution and greater awareness of the way human activity on land has a critical impact on the ocean. An extension of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants to cover a broader listing of harmful substances could provide a starting point.



8. The G7 could approve a strategy for ocean education and literacy targeting politicians, citizens and schools across the G7 nations. This presents an opportunity to change the narratives on the ocean and create stories that engage, inspire, support calls to action and understand the ocean at the centre of future human prosperity.

Seablindness is a limitation to action for the ocean. The impact of the BBC’s Blue Planet documentaries in raising awareness of the ocean and ocean risks, demonstrates the critical role of media, public culture and education in generating public support for action.

The G7 could lead by placing the ocean in national curricula and holding competitions to generate innovative approaches to ocean literacy.  [The new Ocean Literacy Coalition in Canada could be supported to share common goals with other G7 ocean literacy programmes.]

9. Canada could take a lead on organizing an G7 Arctic Ocean Expedition in 2020, to mark the review of the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity strategy and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets; and to showcase ocean literacy and connect, inspire, share stories about the ocean. An expedition could bring together diverse leaders, scientists, indigenous elders with youth, artists, fisherman, politicians, media and more.  



10. The G7 could set a framework for global and national co-ordination to:

  • strengthen transparency in decision-making and effective reporting in many of the organisations that implement UNCLOS, especially those related to fishing, exploration for minerals (ISA) and shipping;
  • support research efforts to increase direct ocean observation to underpin action and to make the ocean visible;
  • facilitate partnership with marine industries in order to achieve shared goals for security, data gathering, new codes and standard setting;
  • facilitate a call for open and free access to ocean data and the co-ordination, compliance and sharing of maritime monitoring and data collection, especially in ABNJ.  Without data, calls for management and regulation are decoupled from the means to verify.

11. The G7 could lead on ensuring that new codes of practice, for the operation of emerging ocean industries, for example, using autonomous vessels or deep sea mining activities, are developed together with the private sector so that they can be transferred across emerging sectors.

G7 countries could voluntarily commit to apply the same standards of practice to the high seas and the high seas ocean floor as they do in their own exclusive economic zones (EEZs).



12. The G7 could lead in building an international consensus over the future development of the global ocean economy to ensure the sustainable development of the commercial opportunities afforded by shipping, tourism, energy and deep sea mining. A public debate on the potential to transition to sustainable food sources for 10 billion people (world population projected to be 9.7 billion by 2050) could also be initiated by G7 nations. This could include raising awareness of the potential for engineering affordable proteins.

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference. No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.

Ditchley continued the conversation on our Oceans and the use of Ocean Data through a mini-conference in October 2019. A full report of the discussion can be found here.