Politics and the oceans
WOR 4 Sustainable Use of Our Oceans – Making Ideas Work | 2015

Politics and the oceans

Politics and the oceans
> The oceans can only be protected if all stakeholder groups pull together. Good governance of the oceans therefore calls for participation from the local people directly affected and from the economic and policy spheres. National and international agreements are in place, enshrining comprehensive marine protection in law. However, the rules laid down need to be respected in practice.
On the difficulty of governing the sea © www.paul-langrock.de

On the difficulty of governing the sea

> Worldwide there are dozens of different institutions dealing with the use or protection of the sea. These include multinational organizations like the United Nations and, of course, national governments themselves. The fragmentation of responsibilities makes it harder to ensure that use of the sea is entirely sustainable. Experts are therefore trying to define universally applicable rules for good governance of the sea.

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The ideal of good marine policy

The protection and sustainable use of the ocean are, first and foremost, a political task. Each aspect must be enshrined in both international conventions and national laws, and followed through with measures to ensure compliance. “Good ocean governance” of this kind is difficult because a host of different institutions are responsible for the ocean and its protection; furthermore, the sea is subdivided into indi-vidual zones. For instance, UNCLOS contains the categories of territorial sea, which is part of a coastal state’s sovereign territory; the exclusive economic zone in which a coastal state alone has the right to exploit resources and fish stocks; and the high seas, which are open to all countries for use with certain restrictions. This zoning is fundamentally in conflict with comprehensive sustainable governance of the ocean. Fish stocks move across vast areas, toxic substances are washed across national borders by the sea currents, and phenomena like ocean acidification and ocean warming pose a threat to all sea areas in equal measure. The fact that different institutions are respon­sible for different types and sectors of sea use is an additional complication for sustainable governance. At the highest political level, several different United Nations institutions are dealing concurrently with different aspects of the ocean. For instance, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) lays down the rules for international commercial shipping, and the International Seabed Authority (ISA) exclusively administers the mineral resources located in high-seas areas. In addition to these, there are major UN bodies whose tasks only partially comprise particular marine aspects. On the regional level, too, the sectoral view of the ocean currently predominates. Today almost 600 agreements are in existence which have been adopted by multiple states and which regulate par-ticular uses in a delimited region. This large number notwithstanding, there are very few positive examples of really effective regional ocean governance. In other cases, marine protection fails due to poor cohesion among the states. One example is the Abidjan Convention, which governs the African Atlantic coast between Mauritania and South Africa and entered into force in 1984. Due in no small part to civil wars in Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone as well as a lack of technical equipment and funds, little progress has been made towards marine protection objectives since the convention came into force. For a few years, however, the member states have been endeavouring to revitalize marine protection. Despite the many obstacles, there are certainly examples of functioning ocean governance: for instance, port state control (PSC) was introduced in order to verify compliance with certain UN conventions. This allows a country’s port authorities to de­tain a ship in harbour if a ship’s master commits any breach of international regulations. Today, disputes between two states can often be resolved successfully in an international arena. Countries can take their cases to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) of the United Nations or to the International ­Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). Many cases revolve around violations of marine borders. However, even if a country is sentenced by ITLOS, it can refuse to accept the judgement. In that case, all that usually remains as a last resort is to exert addi­tional pressure through diplomatic channels. For this reason, experts in the law of the sea view the ICJ and ITLOS as an international regulatory apparatus with significant weaknesses.