Exploring Ocean’s Rights at Ocean Race Summit

The One Ocean Hub was invited to contribute to Ocean Race Summit’s discussion of the potential benefits of the idea of “ocean rights” and the elaboration of a “bill of ocean rights” to be presented to the UN in 2023, from an ocean governance perspective.

The Ocean Race (previously ‘Volvo Ocean Race’) has a “policy arm” called The Ocean Race Summit that aims to “bring together a diverse group of top experts across many fields and disciplines who can work collaboratively to develop and share effective solutions to restore ocean health”. They are planning a series of 9 summits between now and 2023, taking place in different locations around the world, but also digitally. The first summit in the current series (2021-2023) was a Europe summit held on 16 June 2021, featuring a high-level session and three “action labs” on respectively Ocean Governance, Ocean & Climate, and Ocean Protection to “share solutions, best practice, challenges, gaps and opportunities”.   

Prof Elisa Morgera, Hub Director, was invited to speak at the Ocean Governance action lab to discuss if and how ocean rights can help strengthen the ocean governance framework at a global or European level, but also what challenges legal and policy structures may pose to the uptake and operationalisation of ocean rights. The other presenters were Jake Rice (Chief Scientist Emeritus, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Canada) and Prof Massimiliano Montini (University of Siena, Italy).

Prof Morgera’s contributions have been summarized here.

Potential benefits of recognizing ocean’s rights

  • Ocean’s rights can help prioritize our shared responsibility to protect the functional integrity of ocean ecosystems, fully taking into account ecological connectivity in the ocean and the inter-dependence of life in the ocean and on land;
  • Ocean’s rights can help mainstream the ocean in discussions on climate change, terrestrial biodiversity, food, water, human health, gender, and other sustainable development dimensions;
  • Ocean’s rights are not new; instead, they should acknowledge and enhance respectful engagement with indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ worldviews and knowledge.

Legal and policy challenges to the uptake and operationalisation of ocean rights

  • It is essential to recognize that a pre-condition for ocean rights to realize their potential is to urgently advance ocean science in an inclusive and integrated way, which implies working towards ocean knowledge co-production between the Global North and the Global South, and indigenous and local knowledge holders to ensure transformative ocean governance;
  • To that end, we need to recognize and integrate social sciences and arts in inter- and trans-disciplinarity ocean science;
  • We also need to understand the barriers faced by scientists from the Global South, women, indigenous and local knowledge holders to participate in ocean science;
  • We need more standardized scientific approaches to ensure global coherence and effective monitoring of the cumulative impacts on the ocean.

What is needed to realize the potential of ocean rights

  • In national decision-making processes and before national courts, we can already use existing international human rights law standards (notably indigenous peoples’ rights, children’s rights) to operationalize also ocean rights;
  •  We need to raise awareness about the importance of the oceans for human rights, and the need to protect ocean defenders as environmental human rights defenders;
  • At the multilateral level, we need to create a new global oversight body and innovative oversight mechanisms in the context of the UN negotiations on a new treaty on marine biodiversity; there is a window of opportunity as the next stage of the negotiations has been postponed to early 2022; and
  • We should engage with ocean research funders and ocean researchers through the UN Decade of Ocean Science.

Photo: Ainhoa Sanchez