Part 1: One Ocean Hub participates in five panels for the 2023 Summer/Winter School for Human Rights & the Environment

By Senia Febrica, Andrea Longo, Milica Prokic, Buhle Francis, Georgina Yaa Oduro, Mia Strand, Martha Jonas, Mathew Upton, Alana Malinde S.N. Lancaster, Britney G. Nurse, Elisa Morgera, Holly Niner, Philile Mbatha & David Wilson

For the third year running, the Hub has collaborated with the Global Network for Human Rights and the Environment (GNHRE) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in  co-organising a series of panels for the GNHRE & UNEP Summer/Winter School for Human Rights & the Environment. This blog post summarises key messages highlighted by three Hub-led panels for the School that highlighted everyone human rights to a healthy ocean including children’s, women and girls’, and Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and traditional and experiential knowledge holders’ human rights.

This year the School ran from 11-15 September 2023 under the themes of transformative governance, (just) transition and the many dimensions of ‘change’ that enhance or threaten human rights and the environment. The School is held in collaboration with the University of Southampton Law School, with ongoing support from the Hub.

The transformative role of children’s rights to a healthy ocean (12 September 2023). The event recording is available here.

The panel  dealt with the potential role of children as agents of change and transformation at the ocean-climate nexus, presenting their substantive and procedural human rights as an opportunity for the progressive development of the law of the sea and, more broadly, of the system of international law. After a general introduction about the  rights of children to a healthy ocean, Panellists  first examined children’s procedural human rights in  Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries, by exploring the scope of   Article 9 of the Escazu Agreement, then investigated  the importance of recognising children’s cultural rights, by drawing on case studies from South Africa. Overall the Panel  concluded by proposing a process of reimagining ocean literacies, and a framework for the enhancement of children’s rights to be heard in ocean decision-making.

Key messages
  • children are amongst the categories of individuals mostly affected by climate change, in spite of their negligent contribution to it. Their human rights are severely threatened, including e.g. the right to life, the right to development, the right to health, the right to food etc.
  • international climate- and ocean-related governance mechanisms traditionally exclude children and youth movements from taking part in decision-making processes. This situation of “invisibility” of children must be challenged, and increasingly children and youth have made inroads as  climate and ocean defenders, through climate activism (Donger, 2022; Lancaster, Mitchell and Nurse, 2024 forthcoming). The recently approved General Comment 26 underscores that children’s procedural rights are as important as their substantive rights in addressing the climate change issue (Morgera and Lennan, 2022; Morgera et. al., 2022; 2023).
  • We need to reimagine ocean literacies through critical environmental justice approaches to assist us in the process of considering what knowledge is informing environmental education in the light of children’s human rights – and how ocean decision-making can influence and impact children’s development and cultural rights.
  • All international processes on the ocean and on climate change need to work together with children’s rights experts to adapt their participation approaches with a view to respecting children’s right to be heard, and through that support transformative change.
Next Steps
  • One of the Panellists, Britney Nurse is finalising two joint papers with the Hub early-career researcher, Dr Alana Lancaster (the University of the West Indies, Barbados): the first on the opportunities provided by the Escazú Agreement for children climate and ocean defenders, and a second on emphasising the inter-and-intra-generational rights of girls and women, and their roles in decision-making, equity within the context of ocean-climate nexus
  • Mia Strand (Nelson Mandela University, South Africa) and other Hub researchers are currently adapting their paper into a policy brief that provides 10 recommendations and messages for reimagining ocean literacies that consider children’s human rights to development and culture. Mia’s future postdoctoral research funded by Ocean Nexus in partnership with the One Ocean Hub will explore how we can advance cognitive and contextual equity in protecting children’s right to a healthy ocean, with perspectives of children from Global South contexts (particularly focusing on South Africa).
  • Hub researchers involved in this panel are planning to develop a joint article on children’s right to culture.
Gender-transformative approaches to environmental protection: Women, Girls & the Ocean (14 September 2023).  The event recording is available here.

With case studies spanning Ghana, South Africa and Namibia this panel engaged with the topic of cultural and gendered dimension of climate change resilience in vulnerable coastal communities; equality and equity in livelihoods in the gender context; protecting women’s rights through art and fair Benefit-sharing, as well as the potential of social capital as a transformative strategy for the climate change adaptation in the gender context.

Key Messages
  • Climate change is not experienced equally by all. In Africa, women are more vulnerable to climate change in comparison to the wider group within the society due to their reliance on the natural environment for access to food, water, land, and energy.  Despite their vulnerability to climate change, women have devised strategies by forming social networks that facilitate physical, emotional,  and financial support that enable them to cope with impacts posed by changing climate and ocean. 
  • The protection of the rights of women and girls, including those living at or adjacent to the marine protected areas, needs to be highlights in efforts to protect marina and coastal biodiversity. Highlighting the relevance of gender in the protection of marine and terrestrial biodiversity is crucial when considering how biodiversity access, use, and governance operate in different contexts. Evidence suggests that women and girls in various parts of global South are rarely the key beneficiaries of processes and practices related to access to benefits from marine and terrestrial biodiversity.
  • Trust, community participation, and relations with other community members who share the same interests influence women’s receptiveness to climate adaptation.​ It is important to strengthen social capital to improve climate change adaptation strategy.
  • Gender-transformative approaches, as advocated by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, need to rely on the full realisation of women’s human rights, including in the ocean context, thereby allowing all to value and benefit from women’s unique knowledge and care practices.
Next Steps
  • One of the panellists, Buhle Francis (Rhodes University, South Africa), will deliver a presentation titled “The Grandmothers of the Sea: Stories and lessons from five Xhosa ocean elders” at “Resist, Persist; Gender, Climate  and Colonialism” Conference organised by the Paul Mellon Centre on 7-8 December 2023 at, London, UK
  • Hub researchers are developing a synthesis paper that brings together research findings on ocean and gender across all three focus countries (Ghana, Namibia, and South Africa).
  • Two of the panellists, Dr Georgina Yaa Oduro (University of Cape Coast, Ghana) and Dr Philile Mbatha (University of Strathclyde, UK and University of Cape Town, South Africa) had been invited by Martha Jonas (University of Namibia, Namibia) to speak at Ocean & Women Conference at the University of Namibia on 26 September 2023. 
Transitioning from the past, through the present to potential futures of knowledge hierarchies in ocean biodiversity governance research. (14 September 2023). The event recording is available here.

In the context of knowledge hierarchies, the panel engaged with the themes of law as an instrument of legitimacy of knowledge hierarchies; the notion of natural capital approach; and the role and the challenges of digital technologies in the pursuit of safeguarding knowledge and culture.

Key Messages
  • There is a renewed push for the law to facilitate the transition and transformation of knowledge hierarchies from a Western-centric past approach that marginalised traditional knowledge to future knowledge systems that foster mutual respect and co-production with traditional knowledge holders.
  • We need to value and learn from Indigenous and experiential knowledge as it holds the capability to contribute to sustainable ocean-climate governance and inform policymaking through collaborative approaches.
  • Technology assumes an essential role in safeguarding and preservation of knowledge, as it establishes platforms to disseminate, access, and preserve knowledge, culture, and heritage. However, in safeguarding knowledge and culture, it is important to acknowledge and honour the limits of what can be shared, as not all forms of knowledge are suitable for sharing and digitisation.
  • Natural capital approaches can provide a platform to integrate a range of knowledge to make the relationships between nature and people visible. In doing so, they challenge assertions that statistical certainty is the only legitimate knowledge base for decision-making and biodiversity protection.
Next steps
  • Hub early career researchers involved in this Panel are preparing a joint article on knowledge hierarchies for Frontiers in Ocean Science journal.