Crossing Jurisdictions and Sectors: Laws, Policies and Plans for the Deep Ocean

Sunday, 16 February 2014
Columbus EF (Hyatt Regency Chicago)
Kristina Gjerde , International Union for Conservation of Nature, Konstancin-Chylice, Poland
Government leaders at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in June 2012 recognized that the oceans, seas and coastal areas form an integrated and essential component of the Earth’s ecosystem and are critical to sustaining life on Earth as we know it.  Implementing the Rio+20 ocean commitments in the deep sea creates a need for innovative laws and policies. This talk will highlight the present regulatory environment and propose solutions to enhance integrated ecosystem-based management and planning across boundaries and sectors for the largest ecosystem on the planet.

Today, the deep ocean is far from the pristine paradise of strange creatures and exotic ecosystems we envision it to be.  Human activities including oil exploitation (aka Deepwater Horizon), fishing, cable laying, discharges from ships and shore, biosprospecting and even deep sea tourism are going deeper and deeper and farther from land.  James Cameron just dove 10,000 meters deep. 

Deep seabed mining is now on the horizon, coming at the same time as knowledge of the potentially vast impacts of climate change and ocean acidification is maturing. Yet much remains unknown.  This combination of unregulated or partially regulated activities, growing impacts and poor knowledge makes deep ocean planning and governance a profound challenge but also of vital importance if we are to ensure sustainable development for all.

The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provides the primary legal framework for ocean activities. What it lacks however are provisions for integrated, ecosystem-based and systematic planning and management. Most maritime legal frameworks, both national and global, are sector driven, focusing on one single activity, with little capacity to incorporate cumulative impacts or effective design principles for conservation.

This talk  will review the gaps and weaknesses in UNCLOS as well as propose ways to address them with the aim of fulfilling the Rio+20 commitment to “protect, and restore, the health, productivity and resilience of oceans and marine ecosystems, and to maintain their biodiversity, enabling their conservation and sustainable use for present and future generations, and to effectively apply an ecosystem approach and the precautionary approach in the management, in accordance with international law, of activities impacting on the marine environment, to deliver on all three dimensions of sustainable development.”