In light of the UN General Assembly’s decision to convene a High-Level UN Conference on Seas and Oceans in June 2017 the Indian Ocean Observatory (IOO) had an exclusive interview with Remi Parmentier, Deputy Executive Secretary of the Global Ocean Commission. Parmentier explains why oceans matter to everyone and brings to the fore the opportunities for Africa. His insights are a captive read and a point of reference to the emerging Blue Economy discourse

Remi Parmentier, Deputy Executive Secretary of the Global Ocean Commission. [Image:De Agueda/Varda Group]

IOO: The UN General Assembly has decided to convene a high level UN Conference on Seas and Oceans in June 2017 to support the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14: Conserve and Sustainably Use the Oceans, Seas and Marine Resources for Sustainable Development. What does this decision mean for our oceans and seas?

Remi: Because ocean governance within the UN is so fragmented, with many different bodies responsible for only parts of the SDG14 agenda, it was thought that it was a good idea to create a forum to promote SDG14’s implementation holistically. Some have used the expression “orphan SDG” for SDG14; well now it looks like the UN General Assembly has adopted it to make sure it does not get lost.  

Fiji: The host of the high level UN Conference on Seas and Oceans in June 2017 [Image: GOC/RP Rights Reserved]

IOO: The conference will be held in Fiji from 5 to 9 June, 2017. In 2014 the Third UN International Conference on Small Islands Developing States was held in Samoa. These are crucial developments experienced in the last decade. Can we conclude then that there is a global shift whereby oceans and seas are finding their way into international policy discourse?

Remi: Indeed, as awareness is growing, action is taking a new pace, and not just with the two conferences you mention. The “Our Ocean” conferences in Washington DC (June 2014) and Valparaiso, Chile (October 2015) are good examples and there will be two more of those in 2016 and 2017 in Washington and Brussels respectively. The Economist magazine is also organizing an event they call “Ocean Summit” every couple of years. And – most importantly – the UN General Assembly also last year has decided to launch negotiations for a new implementing agreement for the sustainable use and conservation of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea – a proposal the Global Ocean Commission, among others, had called for.

IOO. Briefly enumerate on the benefits of oceans and seas in light of the landmark UN June 2017 conference decision?

Remi: With SDG14, the international community committed to seven targets, some of which with a bottom date of 2020 for completion. 2020, that’s less than five years, so there’s no time to waste. For example, according to SDG14.6, the elimination of harmful fisheries subsidies should take place by no later than 2020, yet when it held its ministerial conference in Nairobi in December 2015 the World Trade Organization maintained business as usual. We cannot afford to miss the boat again, and this is why hopes are placed in the Fiji 2017 UN Ocean conference. The fragile ocean cannot afford business as usual.

IOO. What is the place of Africa in this maritime discourse?

Remi: The livelihoods of millions of African people are affected by continued illegal, unreported and unreported (IUU) fishing operations along the coasts of Africa. One important measure the Global Ocean Commission has identified is the ratification of the FAO Ports State Measures Agreement, or PSMA, which was adopted in 2009 but hasn’t entered into force yet. For it to enter into force it needs 25 ratifications and today six countries are still missing. More African countries joining would be to their benefit. IUU fishing is also fed by subsidies rich countries provide to their respective long distance and high seas fishing fleets; Africa should have a bigger say because it is also a global equity concern.

Our ocean is the engine of our living planet. It’s our most valuable asset, and it’s shrinking”. Remi Parmentier [Image: IOO]

IOO. There has been a new clamour for the Blue Economy. Can you break down what the "Blue Economy" is for the benefit of a lay person?

Remi: Economy is about maintaining and fructifying assets. And our ocean is the engine of our living planet. It’s our most valuable asset, and it’s shrinking.

IOO. In the overall discussions on oceans and seas landlocked countries feelleft out. Are they included in this conference and what can be done tomake them feel part of global oceans discourse?

Remi: The Fiji 2017 conference is open to all UN member States without exception, and to all concerned stakeholders. Whether you live on the top of the Himalayas or along the coastline of India, everyone without exception relies on the ocean: every second breath of air you breathe comes from the Ocean.

IOO. Pollution, piracy, over-fishing and maritime border conflicts are someof the key concerns within our seas. How is the Global Ocean Commission handling these issues?

Remi: In June 2014 the Global Ocean Commission released its report “From Decline to Recovery: A Rescue Package for the Global Ocean” (http://www.globaloceancommission.org/wp-content/uploads/GOC_Report_20_6.FINAL_.spreads.pdf) which contained eight key proposals to address these issues. Eighteen months later, we are now about to publish a progress report. It will say what has happened and what has not happened in this last year and a half, and provide a Vision for the Future of the Ocean. It will be available in mid-February on our website www.globaloceancommission.org

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