The Ocean Security & Global Impact
Editor’s note: This analysis is part of Impact — an ongoing Stimson Center series examining the innovative approaches being used to help solve the world’s major global challenges. Contributions to this series are from leading experts at the nonpartisan Stimson Center. Click here to read the full series.
By Sally Yozell, Amanda Shaver, and Lindsay Getschel
90% of fishing grounds worldwide are fully or over-exploited. Large scale illegal and unregulated fishing continues unabated. Climate change is exacerbating the situation, as fish move to new waters or their populations drop. And when fisheries collapse, unemployed fishermen are often exploited by traffickers to run drugs or weapons instead. An estimated 150 million metric tons of plastic circulates our ocean, with additional estimated 8 million metric tons entering it each year. At the same time, life below the water is drastically being altered from climate change – coral reefs are dying, fisheries are shifting their range, and important habitats can no longer support the life they once did. The global ocean economy is worth about $1.3 trillion, and experts suggest it will grow to $3 trillion by 2030, adding further pressures to its already fragile state. The world’s ocean – the largest carbon sink in the world – is under threat. And time is running out to shift the trajectory of these impending changes – as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change signaled earlier this month. Taken together the problems facing our ocean go far beyond the costs to the environment – they threaten the economic and food security of communities and place a disproportionate burden on the national security of coastal nations. There is a need for collective action before it is too late.
Acknowledging the global security risks associated with an ocean in peril, Stimson’s Environmental Security Director and Senior Fellow, Sally Yozell, helped launch the first-ever Our Ocean Conference in 2014, working on behalf of then-Secretary of State John Kerry, and subsequent conferences in 2015 and 2016. In 2017, Yozell was called upon to continue this partnership by facilitating the 2017 Our Ocean Conference hosted by the European Union and the 2018 Our Ocean Conference hosted by the Government of the Republic of Indonesia.
“…the Our Ocean Conference offers us hope, as the clock is ticking on the future of the ocean, it represents what is possible when innovative world leaders from governments, the private sector, and foundations come together to address a common threat..."
Continuing John Kerry’s vision of tangible action and commitments, the conference centers on six main themes: Sustainable Fisheries, Marine Protected Areas, Ocean Pollution, Climate Change, the Sustainable Blue Economy, and Maritime Security. The conference is unique in that it is attended by heads of state, foreign ministers, private sector CEOs, and civil society’s leaders who work together to collectively construct meaningful and impactful actions and solutions to safeguard the world’s ocean.
In keeping with Stimson’s edge to seek pragmatic solutions and Secretary Kerry’s goal to produce tangible action, the four conferences have yielded 663 new commitments from governments, industry, and civil society around the world. All together these commitments are valued at over $18 billion and have protected 12.4 million square kilometers of ocean – an area seven times as large as Alaska. Setting itself apart from other global conferences – the Our Ocean Conferences have not only spurred commitments, but held stakeholders accountable for the follow through and completion. Each year, the conference host is responsible for tracking the status of previous commitments, as well as encouraging new ones. Notable commitments spurred by the Our Ocean Conferences include the following:
- The mobilization of governments to join the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing. The treaty gained momentum between 2014 and 2016 with the number of parties increasing from 11 signatories to 35, with an additional 24 parties encouraged to sign on to the Agreement prior to the 2016 Our Ocean Conference. Today, 55 countries and the European Union are party to the treaty.
- A 2014 U.S. Government commitment to increasing traceability in the seafood supply chain to help combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and seafood fraud. The resulting traceability program – the Seafood Import Monitoring Program – went into effect in January 2018.
- The four Our Ocean Conferences from 2014 to 2017 have generated over 140 commitments for marine protected areas, helping to meet the Aichi Target of 10 percent of coastal and ocean protection by 2020. These commitments have promised to protect nearly 3.5 percent of ocean.
- A five-year, $250 million commitment to ocean conservation in Indonesia and the Americas from the Walton Family Foundation and a five-year, $550 million commitment to advance the protection of our ocean and to improve its long-term health from the Packard Foundation.
- The mobilization of $352.5 million from the World Bank in support of sustainable oceans and the blue economy, including the improvement of fisheries management in the Indian Ocean; innovative financing of fisheries and aquaculture in Peru; and enhancing coastal resilience from Vietnam to the Marshall Islands.
- Our Ocean 2017 and 2018 have been two years marked by plastic action – from corporations transitioning away from single-use plastic and banning plastic bags and straws to global institutions like the World Bank and Global Environmental Facility dedicating millions of dollars to waste management projects. Influential researchers such as Dr. Jenna Jambeck, who first highlighted her research at Our Ocean 2015 in Chile, helped capture the audience of governments, corporations and NGOs to spur action to address marine pollution.
Under the leadership of the Government of the Republic of Indonesia – this year’s conference is poised to build and expand upon the work of the previous Our Ocean Conferences, emphasizing the importance of the next generation. With 42 percent of Indonesia’s population under the age of 25 and it being the largest archipelagic state in the world, this year’s Our Ocean Conference underscores the centrality of a healthy ocean for the world’s economic, environmental, and national security.
Stimson has served as an advisor to the Our Ocean organizing committee – engaging stakeholders around the globe to encourage impactful commitments, assisting in the development of the conference agenda, and serving as an institutional memory for the conference organizers.
The outcome of the Our Ocean Conference represents what is possible when innovative world leaders come together to address a common threat and safeguard a precious resource – a process that Stimson has been honored to help facilitate.