Justice in the Ocean-Climate Dialogue

By Student Delegate Caroline Fullam

COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, amplified how deeply the ocean and climate change are intertwined through Ocean Action Day on November 5, 2021. Ocean Action Day built upon Small Island Developing States (SIDS) advocacy within the ocean-climate nexus[1] and showcased increased participation from other parties on ocean issues within the climate context. The events recognized the need to account for climate effects on the ocean as well as disasters brought on by a climate impacted ocean. Beyond this, at the Ocean and Coastal Zones Action Event, panelists considered a different question: How should the ocean be used?

The common answer? Justly.

For Fiji, just use includes securing legal rights to resources within the nation’s exclusive economic zone. Exclusive economic zones are established under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea but are being affected by climate led sea level rise that is expected to force low lying island populations to migrate.[2] Fiji raised the issue at the Ocean and Coastal Zones Action Event to advocate for permanent recognition of rights to their current marine resources.

The Nature Conservancy[3] spoke about innovative finance projects helping large ocean states sustainably use their own marine resources. In partnership with Seychelles, a debt-for-nature swap was established in 2016 to help fund marine conservation and sustainable management projects.[4] Now, a similar partnership has been made with Belize to help them protect 30% of their ocean territory.[5] The Nature Conservancy views their role as a support to countries in their efforts to realize their ambitions.

Coastal Oceans Research and Development- Indian Ocean (CORDIO) East Africa[6] supported the inclusion of justice in knowledge building of the ocean’s potential. CORDIO stated data monitoring and management needs to include indigenous and local knowledge- not only scientific knowledge. Also, there needs to be an understanding of the social and economic dynamics of a community- not only its biophysical realities. Grasping these types of knowledge can help to bring action that is not only scaled up but scaled out to reach a larger group of communities. Then, as CORDIO stated, communities’ needs could be met and sustained.

Community engagement and localized input were a common theme of the Ocean and Coastal Zones Action Event. Rare, the Center for Behavior and the Environment, takes a people-based approach to developing ocean-climate solutions.[7] Rare shared their position that a human centered approach connects the social and cultural aspects of a community to new economic and ecological systems, which is important as communities become guardians of those systems.

The SEA’TIES project[8] similarly advocated for an integration of environmental, economic, social, and equitable issues that allow local communities to identify the adaptation projects that will be most effective for their local needs.

As one panelist remarked, the ocean, unlike land, has not been cultivated and managed over centuries. As governments, companies, non-profits and other stakeholders develop innovative ways to sustainably use the ocean modern principles of human rights need to be incorporated.  As each panelist spoke, the message became increasingly clear: Local communities must play an integral role in design and management of plans, and benefit from sustainable ocean uses that bring ocean-climate solutions. The call for ocean-climate action at Ocean Action Day was a call for just action mindful of differing needs and vulnerabilities.

[1]  https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/10.1146/annurev-environ-012320-083355

[2] https://www.reuters.com/article/climate-change-pacific-fishing-idAFL5N2L232C

[3] https://www.nature.org/en-us/

[4] https://seyccat.org/about-us/#our-structure

[5] https://www.nature.org/en-us/what-we-do/our-insights/perspectives/belize-transforming-caribbean-blue-bond/

[6] https://cordioea.net/

[7] https://rare.org/program/center-for-behavior-the-environment/

[8] https://ocean-climate.org/en/seaties-2/

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