Research News

Sustainable Oceans: Reconciling Economic Use and Protection

2011-08-17

From Wednesday, June 29th to Friday, July 1st, 2011, the Earth Institute co-sponsored the first of a series of three conferences devoted to the subject of “Sustainable Oceans: Reconciling Economic Use and Protection” organized by the German Dräger Foundation. The first conference, entitled “The Use of the Ocean's Energy Resources, Risk Management and the Need for Regulation,” was held in Hamburg, Germany and brought together approximately 80 international participants from the fields of politics, business, academia, international organizations, and NGOs.  Supporters of the conferences include the Leibniz Institute for Marine Research Kiel (co-sponsor), EU Commission, DG Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, ALDEBARAN Marine Research & Broadcast, the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Ocean Research, German Marine Research Consortium, and the World Ocean Council. 

The goal of the three-part conference series, and the mission of the Dräger Foundation, is to work to rapidly incorporate new scientific research and discoveries into political action and measures. Organizers and attending delegates hope that international cooperation, through conferences such as these, can advance the state of knowledge on these issues and help find and deliver solutions to global challenges like ocean degradation and climate change.  Professor Karin Lochte, Director of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, said at the conference, “We are giving away the treasures of our oceans before we have had a chance to get to know them properly.” Her statement emphasizes the importance of the conference and the need for continued international scientific and political cooperation.

The conference began with a dinner reception on Wednesday evening, at which Dr. Wendy Watson-Wright, Assistant Director General and Executive Secretary, Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission UNESCO, gave a speech on the science-policy gap as it relates to ocean governance.  Her talk set the stage for the subsequent days of the conference which focused how oceans can continue to be researched and their resources utilized without suffering over-exploitation.  On Thursday, Dieter Feddersen, Member of the Board of the Dräger Foundation, and Peter Schlosser, Associate Director and Director of Research at the Earth Institute, the primary organizers of the conference, gave welcome remarks formally opening the conference which were followed by morning and afternoon panel sessions. 

The first session focused on pricing the oceans and panelists discussed the value of ocean ecosystems and mineral resources as well as the economic gains and losses of exploitation.  The second session highlighted the risks and opportunities of managing offshore energy resources.  This discussion touched on topics such as oil and gas exploration and production, alternative energy, maritime safety, international cooperation, and crisis prevention mechanisms and crisis handling.  The third session of the day centered on marine governance and discussed issues relating to stewardship of oceans, licensing, legal regulation, surveillance, criminalization of damages, and penalization.   Finally, the last session of the day discussed financing mechanisms for protection of the oceans.  Panelists debated who should pay the costs and bear the risks and how benefits ought to be allocated as well as options for financing instruments.  Thursday evening concluded with a dinner and reception where guests were treated to a performance by the Auerbach Quartett, a youth music group. 

On Friday, panel sessions continued with the first session focused on the unique challenges facing the Arctic region.  Participants debated oil, gas and shipping during times of rapid climate change, the costs and benefits to indigenous peoples, and the protection of the Arctic marine environment.  The following and last session of the conference discussed transatlantic cooperation in ocean governance and looked at the important players and stakeholders as well as the potential role for a future European Ocean Commission. 

Throughout the conference, delegates stressed the importance of advancing these issues, imploring action and noting that proper marine protection is ultimately ten to one hundred times cheaper than unregulated exploitation.  International agreements and concrete measures to protect the oceans are urgently needed.  One such measure suggested at the conference was the introduction of an international “Sea Tax,” which could be used to finance necessary protections.   One of the objectives of the conference was to begin a joint EU-US white paper on the state of the oceans for politics and business.  To facilitate this project, methods were developed at the conference to more effectively evaluate and communicate scientific results so that they may be better employed in both political and business decisions and actions.  

The conference generated significant German media attention and was widely considered a success by organizers and conference delegates. Peter Schlosser, of the Earth Institute, commented, “It laid the foundation for engaging a wide spectrum of stakeholders in the discussion of the present state of our oceans and how we can use them in a sustainable fashion going forward. I hope that the next conference held at Columbia University will build on the discussions in Hamburg and moves us towards concrete recommendation for action.”

Following the success of the Hamburg conference, the two subsequent conferences in the series will be held at Columbia University in 2012 and Lisbon in 2013 and will continue to work on establishing an international regime toward sustainable oceans.