Livelihoods of millions depend on healthy oceans and sustainable trade: Secretary-General

The Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland, says urgent action is needed to save the world’s oceans, since the livelihoods of millions of people depend on their preservation and sustainable development.

Speaking at the second Oceans Forum in Geneva, the Secretary-General said: “Blue ecosystems are being degraded at an unprecedented rate and this is not an issue any country can solve alone. We are unlocking the power of 53 nations on what is clearly one of the most pressing causes of our time.”

The Oceans Forum is exploring ways to achieve the trade-related targets of Sustainable Development Goal 14, which balances commerce with ocean conservation.

Secretary-General Scotland’s comments were backed by UN Oceans Envoy Peter Thompson and Secretary-General of UNCTAD, Mukhisa Kituyi.

“We cannot afford the early harvest of the targets included in SDG14 to fail. Harmful fishing subsidies need to be redirected to the sustainable oceans economy,” said Mr Kituyi.

Secretary-General Scotland emphasised that partnerships are essential: “We are delighted to be working with all participants towards strengthening the position of our developing country members so that they are able to add value, diversify and seize trade opportunities while also improving environmental and social sustainability within the seafood value chain and related services.”

The Secretary-General said that ensuring the sustainability of Seafood and Marine Value Chains (which link producers to consumers through complex networks) would only be possible by capitalising on the “distinctive goodwill and connectivity” among Commonwealth member nations.

She said Small Island Developing States are particularly dependent on the oceans economy, citing sustainable fisheries management as “of utmost importance.”

“We also have to tackle the issue of harmful fishing subsidies, which severely undermine access to markets and competitiveness for producers in small states – particularly artisanal producers,” she said.

Paulo Kautoke, Director of the Trade, Oceans and Natural Resources Directorate at the Commonwealth Secretariat said there is a need for more coordinated action on trade-related oceans governance.

“The governance of the global value chain is always complex but particularly so for the fisheries sector, as the WTO negotiations to address unfair competition because of harmful fishing subsidies have shown.”

When Commonwealth Heads of Government met in London earlier this year they adopted the Commonwealth Blue Charter, which maps out how member countries will lead the way in sustainably developing and protecting their ocean.

New toolkit reviews Barbados’s climate change and energy laws

An innovative new toolkit has been piloted in Barbados to support lawmakers in assessing national laws and outlining reforms towards implementing the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The Law and Climate Change Toolkit was tested during a two-day workshop to acquire feedback from the country’s officials. Participants were drawn from a range of Barbadian government departments and agencies with a background in law, energy or climate change.

The pilot, developed by the Commonwealth in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), contains an online database of laws in two areas: overarching climate change laws and energy laws.

“The toolkit has enormous potential to provide practical help in complex policy areas,” said Mathew Moorhead, Legal Adviser at the Commonwealth. “The sessions were well-received by participants, who would be the prime users of this toolkit once it is launched. Many key insights were gained during this workshop.”

Using the toolkit, participants identified possible areas for reform in the energy sector and overarching climate law. Within these areas the toolkit suggested concrete legislative reforms for Barbados.

Participants gave inputs on various aspects of the toolkit, including the utility of legislative examples, lessons learned, practical use, future modules and priority areas for reform. The “most innovative” function, according to participants, was the feature providing concrete proposals for action.

The feedback received in the workshop will refine the ongoing development of the toolkit. Participants, particularly legislative drafters, praised the toolkit and welcomed the produced proposals during a roundtable discussion.

The Barbados government expressed a keen interest in continuing its role as a pilot for the toolkit over the next stages of its development.

The Commonwealth will now work with its partners to add more modules to the toolkit under a consultation process that involved four member countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Jamaica, and Vanuatu.

Mauritius expertise to back Commonwealth fight for coral reefs

The Republic of Mauritius will share valuable marine protection know-how with other Commonwealth countries, using the Commonwealth Blue Charter as a platform to exchange best practices, collaborate on research, and carry out training workshops.

As one of the ‘champion’ countries of the Commonwealth Blue Charter, adopted by 53 countries in April, it co-leads an action group on coral reef restoration along with Australia and Belize.

To highlight the issue of coral degradation and the need for ocean regeneration, the Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland took part in a coral-planting ceremony in Mauritius this week, together with the Minister of Ocean Economy, Marine Resources, Fisheries, and Shipping, Mr Premdut Koonjoo.

“Climate change poses an existential threat to our small island states, and has lasting impacts on marine ecosystems,” she said. “The vigour, energy and expertise expended in Mauritius to conserve and restore coral reefs is commendable.”

She also hailed the country’s actions in setting up voluntary marine conservation areas, promoting the blue economy, and hosting the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access hub. The hub helps small and vulnerable countries tap into international sources of climate finance for their adaptation and mitigation needs.

“Saving the ocean is a programme for the whole world and we have to work together. I believe if any nation or any person has knowledge, they have to share it, especially where the ocean is concerned,” added Mr. Koonjo.

Ministry officials cited coral reef monitoring, data compilation and analysis as areas where they can share experiences and best practices with other Commonwealth members, aiming to learn from each other.

Meanwhile, they are working to enhance their expertise in ocean-based coral farming, monitoring marine ecosystems, and good fishing practices, seeking also to raise public awareness on coral conservation.

Seychelles leader commends Commonwealth ocean approach

The president of the Seychelles, Danny Faure, has credited the Commonwealth for propelling his island country forward as an advocate for ocean issues and climate change. He highlighted Commonwealth support for developing the blue economy in Seychelles, which unlocks the benefits of ocean resources in a sustainable manner to protect the environment.

The president also welcomed the Commonwealth Blue Charter that brings 53 member countries together to protect ocean health:  “When the heads of government adopted the Commonwealth Blue Charter, collectively we sent a clear message to the world about the importance of oceans and the significant contributions to economic, social and environmental health, as well as the cultural heritage of our nations,” stated Mr Faure.

Since endorsing the charter at the biannual Commonwealth leaders’ summit held in London in April, several ‘champion countries’ have stepped forward to lead action groups on key issues such as marine pollution, coral reefs, ocean acidification, and the blue economy.

Speaking at a gathering to welcome the Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland on her first visit to the country, the president hailed a “fruitful working relationship” based on shared values.

“The Commonwealth remains one of the most committed international organisations in Seychelles, actively engaged in our national development,” he told guests. “Through the assistance of the Commonwealth, Seychelles has been able to take the lead in advocating for the cause of small island developing states, especially in regards to combatting climate change.”

The Seychelles has benefited from a range of support on ocean issues. For instance, an ocean governance internship programme under the Commonwealth Youth Council exposed at least 30 young people to blue economy employment last year.  In addition, the Commonwealth has carried out feasibility studies on new sectors such as aquaculture, marine biotechnology and marine renewable energy, while also advising the government on national ocean policies and governance regimes.

Strategic advice given by Commonwealth experts to the Seychelles and Mauritius on their continental shelf claims in the Mascarene Plateau region contributed to a world-first joint management agreement, with lasting impact on natural resource development.

Secretary-General Scotland said the Blue Charter will support small island countries in developing their economies while being ‘guardians’ of the ocean. “We are now going to put the rules in place so that prosperity will come from our oceans, but it will come in a sustainable, managed, consensual way,” she stated.  She thanked the Seychelles government for its advocacy on climate change, ocean issues and the vulnerability of small states.