“What would we have done without the sea – should we have carried the boats?”
This old joke among fishermen in northern Norway tells us something about the importance of the oceans — for the fishermen themselves, obviously, but also for the rest of us.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, Prime Minister Erna Solberg launched an initiative by the Norwegian Parliament to set up a high-level international panel for building a sustainable ocean economy. The panel aims to take the lead in international efforts to manage and use marine resources in a sustainable way, while also spurring economic and social development.
Heads of government from 11 other countries – Australia, Fiji, Ghana, Guinea, Indonesia, Jamaica, Japan, Mexico, Namibia, Palau and Portugal – have been invited to participate in the panel.
Expecting to deliver its report in 2020, the panel will work closely with the UN and others. The ambition is to contribute to the realization of Sustainable Development Goal 14, on the conservation and sustainable use of life beneath the sea.
I am a layman in matters relating to the ocean. But I do know that, for thousands of years, the oceans have provided us with food and a means of transportation. Today they are also an important source for energy, minerals and medicines. Two-thirds of the Earth’s surface consists of oceans, the majority of which lie outside of national jurisdictions.
I also know that over a relatively short time, man has developed the capacity to overexploit the oceans’ natural resources. And we are polluting the oceans much more than ever before.
To address these challenges, the international community has negotiated several agreements and treaties, in particular the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Gaps remain, however, and substantial efforts are needed to follow up on the responsibilities states have assumed through the convention.
One of the many dedicated individuals pushing for further international commitments is Lewis Pugh, whom I had the pleasure of meeting some time ago. A British/South African endurance swimmer, he has been appointed Patron of the Oceans by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNDP). Pugh willingly plunges into the freezing waters of the Antarctic to draw attention to the challenges facing the world’s oceans.
International cooperation is critical. Individual countries, or groups of countries, can make a difference, too – for instance by removing plastic from their coastal areas. We all have a responsibility. I am always happy when I meet young people, including children, who are engaged in cleaning beaches or reminding their parents to recycle.
As a coastal state, Norway depends on the income generated by the exploitation of marine resources. We are therefore keenly aware of the need to balance use and conservation. Long-term sustainability can be achieved only by prudent management of resources.
Norway has demonstrated how this balance can be achieved in our own waters. Now Norwegian experts are sharing their know-how with developing countries through the Fish for Development program and the Nansen program run by the FAO.
Seafood is a significant part of the diet of an increasing global population, including many of the poorest people in the world. As part of the UN Decade of Nutrition, Norway has initiated a global action network for sustainable seafood, aiming to improve food security for those who depend on nutrition from the oceans.
We are concerned about the dangers posed by plastic pollution, spearheading international talks on the issue in the UN and elsewhere. We have also committed NOK 150 million (around 19 million USD) to combat the marine plastics problem, and will work with other nations to step up our efforts in this regard.
Getting from words to action is at the core of what Norway wants to achieve in its marine policy. I am pleased to see that the United States is our ally in this. We work closely together in a number of international forums on oceans issues, and share the overarching goals of sustainable use and conservation. Norwegian and American marine scientists have met annually for more than three decades to discuss issues of common concern, and our fisheries authorities also hold annual consultations.
The two countries are among the champions of the Our Oceans conferences, which the United States initiated in 2014. Norway will host next year. These conferences have evolved into one of the most important global arenas for addressing pollution, overfishing and climate change – as well as solutions to such problems.
I feel confident that the new international panel chaired by Norway can rely on support from the United States in its ambitions to foster a sustainable ocean economy, where business goes hand-in-hand with responsible management.