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A UN Ocean Science Decade to Meet the Needs of All

Last week, the first Global Planning Meeting ended after three days of lively discussions with over 200 participants from science, academia, policy, communication and private sector organizations brainstorming on how to achieve the six key Decade outcomes by 2030: a clean ocean, a healthy and resilient ocean, a safe ocean, a sustainable and productive ocean, a predicted ocean and a transparent and accessible ocean.

Human and society questions were at the fore and core of debates: What kind of science and infrastructures are needed to understand and inform decision makers and citizens alike about the present and future changes in the ocean? How can we align on-going research investments in order to produce major breakthroughs such as a global map of the seafloor or a deep-sea observing system? How can science define pathways for ocean sustainability, providing solutions to feed a growing world population without harm to marine biodiversity?

“The Decade takes on a critical role in critical times, as we are facing challenges our species has never faced before. As we know so little, we need this Decade to fill the gaps in scientific knowledge to enhance ocean health. But it must do so within a precautionary approach applied with vigor” said Peter Thomson, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, opening the meeting at the Assembly Hall of Denmark’s National Museum.

Decade 12826By video message, H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco urged to go further in the transformation of society. He insisted we must act urgently to provide solutions to society’s major current challenges, responding to the climate change and biodiversity crisis and plastic pollution.

Peter Haugan, Chair of IOC-UNESCO said the Decade is a once in a lifetime opportunity, that it needs to be about the people, leaving no one behind, and enabling individuals to make a difference. He highlighted the need for an ambitious top-down and bottom-up movement to meet the Sustainable Development Goals.

Vladimir Ryabinin, Executive Secretary of IOC-UNESCO called on young professionals and social scientists to work together in an interdisciplinary effort. It should be an ambitious, team work undertaking across all sectors.

Two side events highlighted the contributions and commitments to the Decade from the ocean observing and the underwater cultural heritage communities. For ocean observing experts, achieving sustainability at global, regional and local scales will require monitoring the impact of our policies and management actions. The event launched the 2030 Strategy of the Global Ocean Observing System to design the observations and information systems to ensure the sustainable growth of the blue economy.

The underwater cultural heritage side event sought to integrate the social sciences and the human dimension into each of the Decade objectives. An inseparable part of the marine and coastal environments, the physical remains of past human interactions with the sea can inform the present, and help us understand future patterns regarding pollution, sea-level rise and other hazards.

To succeed, participants concluded that the Decade needs to promote ocean literacy across the world to anchor mind-sets around the fundamental relationship humanity has with the ocean. The Decade needs to be inclusive, participative, and interdisciplinary. It will require a powerful marketing and communication strategy, advancing stakeholder partnerships across different disciplines.

Capacity development and technology transfer are required to smaller economies who are in need of ocean science, such as the Small Island Developing States. The importance of traditional knowledge should be emphasized as our way of life is destructive. Ultimately, the Decade needs to start a global movement and should change the current ‘domination’ narrative over the ocean and turn it into something positive. In the end, as summed up by Margaret Leinen, Director of the SCRIPPS Institution of Oceanography, “it is about what can we do together that we cannot do separately” as no single nation can deliver on its own the science we need for the ocean we want.

Decade 12861The Decade Meeting echoed the G7 Environment Ministers communiqué (Metz, France, 5-6 May 2019) that called for “improving and sharing the latest state-of-the-art knowledge of the ecological state of the oceans, to boosting ocean awareness and literacy, and to ensure that existing and any new human-induced pressures are reduced and do not threaten the health of the oceans”. The Ministerial Declaration calls for translating those commitments into contributions and general support to the Global Ocean Observing System and to the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, both coordinated by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC).

The next months of planning will include regional workshops to identify further priorities and identify existing initiatives, experts and potential partnerships. The first regional workshop covering the Pacific Community is set to take place in Nouméa, New Caledonia (23-25 July 2019), and a second workshop in Tokyo, Japan (31 July – 2 August 2019) will consult stakeholders in the North Pacific region. Many more workshops and consultations are planned from August 2019 to the first quarter of 2020, covering every ocean basin, including the polar regions and marginal seas.

A Second Global Planning Meeting scheduled for May 2020 will then integrate knowledge and regional priorities into a global implementation plan that will include a science plan, a communication strategy as well as a resources mobilization plan to be presented to the various Decade partners at a kick-off meeting in Germany during the first quarter of 2021.

Story by UNESCO

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