Why all citizens must speak up to help protect the ocean

The ocean produces 50% of the world’s oxygen. It transports heat from the equator to the North and South Poles, regulating our climate and weather patterns. It is the number one source of protein for more than a billion people. Yet, nearly half of the planet’s surface does not belong to any individuals or entities. Multinational organizations, governments, parliaments at national and regional levels and institutions are sharing fragmented responsibilities to protect the ocean in light of climate change. But three key actors are missing from these vital conversations: everyday citizens, the seventh generation and the ocean itself.

Recently, UN members failed to agree on how to share benefits from marine life, establish protected areas or prevent human activity with life on the high seas. Pursuing ‘business as usual’ in the way we govern the ocean is not an option. By bringing everyday citizens to the negotiating table, from the retired builder in Rio, to the student in literature in Bristol, or the fishermen off the coast of Dakar, decision-makers will have access to real experiences and deep knowledge on the ground from those who are the first impacted by the decisions they make behind closed doors. A Global Dialogue, through deliberation and participation at scale, can bypass interests that influence policy outcomes and give trust and legitimacy to a political framework that lags behind.

 

Creating a global dialogue on the ocean

Decentralised and deliberative global processes – that can include thousands of everyday citizens globally by implementing local and regional dialogues – can address value-driven policy dilemmas, complex problems that require trade-offs and long-term issues that go beyond the short-term incentives of electoral cycles.

The French Convention for Climate, for example, whose aim was to define measures to achieve a reduction of at least 40% in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, was recognized as outstanding by the scientific and decision-making community. The French President, Emmanuel Macron, acknowledged he was impressed with the in-depth quality of citizens’ proposals.

Michael Roth, former German Minister of State for Europe at the German Federal Foreign Office, stated that: “Citizens are not only consumers and recipients (of technology) but also actors and political participants,” during the We the Internet Global Citizens’ Dialogue on Internet Governance in 2020. The power of such processes is not in asking for people’s views, but in allowing them to produce concrete, structural and to-the-point measures that can help decision-makers take the right trajectories.

 

Ocean toxins imperil health

When toxins in the ocean make landfall, they imperil the health and well-being of more than 3 billion people, according to a new report by Boston College’s Global Observatory on Pollution on Health. These 3 billion people will probably never be able to give direct input and the other 5 billion people on earth probably won’t either, but a clearly defined microcosm of humanity can be selected according to the rules of deliberation and invited to attend a decentralised Global Dialogue to shape a new frame for ocean governance. Selected criteria can be gender, geography, proximity to seashores, literacy and far more. Such a process can enable thousands to come together in their own countries and deliberate to issue key recommendations and concrete proposals.

These proposals or recommendations, based on informed deliberations through inputs from impartial scientific communities, give a ‘people’s mandate’ to the outcomes while addressing high-quality issues. Ocean treaties, marine negotiations and environmental policy need strong backup to tackle climate chaos in the years ahead.

 

Looking after future generations

And, everyday citizens aren’t the only voices missing from international negotiations. By attending a Global Dialogue on the Ocean, the seventh generation will ensure that decisions are sustainable for 200 years to come. Each and every decision made today must consider the generations who will live in the future and the human impact in the long run.​

The ocean as a living system provides incredible services to humanity, but so far it has been considered a resource and an object, rather than a subject. A continuation of the current way of making decisions is bound to lead to an unsustainable future for the planet. A Global Dialogue on the Ocean is the time and place to give the Ocean a seat at the table with a percentage of citizens who will represent and speak for the Ocean as a singular entity.

Going further and faster is possible if the 2025 United Nations Ocean Conference listens. Alongside policymakers, everyday citizens are the key drivers of change that can steer ocean governance in the right direction by 2030 and help move towards more sustainable ocean governance aligning with the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and the UN Ocean Decade.

In 2015, the Global Citizen’s Debate on Climate and Energy proved that it is possible and relevant to roll out a global-level consultation (which has been done several times successfully since), and to feed into the development of a model for global deliberation on other issues. The outcome was a set of convergent expectations and red lines, laid down by everyday citizens for the attention of policymakers as they built on the foundations of the Paris Agreement.


Author : Yves Mathieu (Co-director of Missions Publiques)
This article was first published by the World Economic Forum

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