Blue Charter champs find allies for ocean action

Fresh alliances are set to flourish under the Commonwealth’s flagship programme for ocean action, known as the Blue Charter.

On Thursday, the Commonwealth and Bloomberg Philanthropies co-hosted an intensive partnership forum for ‘champion’ countries that have volunteered to lead action groups tackling ocean issues under the Commonwealth Blue Charter.

Gemma Read heads up Bloomberg’s Philanthropy & Engagement for Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia-Pacific. She said: “The power of partnerships delivers high impact solutions for some of the world’s greatest problems. We really believe that by combining our resources and our tools we are able to use that data to build ocean resilience around the world.”

Country representatives heard “pitches” and panels from around 40 potential partners from the private sector, science and research community, civil society and charities, all keen to work with them on issues such as coral reef protection, the ocean economy, and plastic pollution.

Countries sought out the best placed partners to help them address their needs, ambitions and constraints.

Participant Angela Braithwaite is the Caribbean director for Blue Finance, an NGO that provides sustainable financing for marine protected areas. She said: “The platform is great – it’s not often that you have so many different countries in one room, with a single focus, and who are interested in what you have to offer.”

Alain de Comarmond, Principal Secretary of the Department of Environment of Seychelles, added that he was encouraged by the support from such a wide range of potential partners, as well as the teamwork amongst group members.

There are currently nine action groups under the Blue Charter, striving to make headway on various ocean challenges, by sharing strategies, scaling up best practices and mobilising resources for shared projects.

The UK and Vanuatu, for instance, have rallied 27 member states so far to join their action group on marine plastic pollution, also known as the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance.

As Commonwealth Chair-in-Office, having chaired the last Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2018, the UK has made available £66.4 million for projects that tackle marine litter. It has also joined other action groups on coral reef restoration and protection (co-championed by Australia, Belize and Mauritius), mangrove restoration (led by Sri Lanka), ocean and climate change (led by Fiji) and ocean acidification (led by New Zealand).

Paulo Kautoke, Senior Director for Trade, Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth said: “What we are trying to do here is to move the global ocean agenda forward. We hope that these action groups can become effective vehicles to deliver commitments such as the Sustainable Development Goals.”

The day-long event wrapped up with a special address from prominent environmental activist Alexandra Cousteau, who urged delegates to “articulate a vision of abundance” and focus on pooling together ideas, technologies and innovations to ensure a vibrant future for the ocean.

The partnerships programme was co-organised with Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Vibrant Oceans initiative, as part of the Commonwealth Blue Charter All Champions meeting held from18 to 21 June in London.

Action and innovation to drive Commonwealth Blue Charter champs

‘Champion’ countries of the Commonwealth Blue Charter are laying the groundwork for joint action and developing robust, innovative strategies to tackle the world’s most pressing ocean issues.

The Secretary-General Patricia Scotland opened a four-day programme yesterday in London for countries leading on the Blue Charter – a commitment made by the 53 Commonwealth member states to work together to solve ocean-related problems.

She said: “We are determined for our collective engagement on the Commonwealth Blue Charter to focus on practical action, and for our response to be guided principally by those who experience most acutely the difficulty and trauma of ocean and climate-related challenges. They will be further supported by the acuity and knowledge of all the partners we can find, with the emphasis always on action.”

She welcomed delegates from the 12 countries currently chairing nine ‘action groups’ made up of like-minded countries from across the Commonwealth, who rally around key focus areas.

The nine action groups include: Aquaculture (led by Cyprus), Blue Economy (Kenya), Coral Reef Protection and Restoration (Australia, Belize, Mauritius), Mangrove Restoration (Sri Lanka), Ocean Acidification (New Zealand), Ocean and Climate Change (Fiji), Ocean Observations (Canada), Marine Plastic Pollution (United Kingdom, Vanuatu) and Marine Protected Areas (Seychelles).

The Secretary-General urged “concerted cooperation” among members, adding: “Human ingenuity got us to where we are today with our environment, and human ingenuity can get us out of it.”

Keynote speaker Peter Thomson, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean echoed this message of hope. He highlighted the value of the Commonwealth as a platform for cooperation.

He said: “We have had two strengths as a human species. One is our ability to share, secondly is our power of innovation.

“Why, at the greatest challenge that humanity has ever faced, would we give up on our two greatest strengths? This would be the time when we really step forward with these abilities to tackle these challenges.”

Action groups will spend time reviewing progress, while sharing strategies on how to rally members, mobilise political backing, source funding for collaborative projects and boost public awareness. They were given a special reception by the New Zealand High Commission in London.

On Thursday, the programme homes in on intensifying partnerships, with a networking day co-hosted with Bloomberg Philanthropies. Countries will have the chance to link up with more than 50 potential partners from the private sector, academia, civil society and the international development community.

On the final day, Friday, countries will be hosted by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office to discuss priorities leading up to the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Rwanda in June 2020.

Commonwealth Blue Charter champions to convene in London

Countries leading action for ocean health and governance in the Commonwealth will meet in London next week to share strategies and firm up plans for action under the Commonwealth Blue Charter.

Agreed unanimously by leaders in April 2018, the Commonwealth Blue Charter commits all 53 member countries to work together on solving crucial ocean-related challenges.

To date, 12 ‘champion’ countries have stepped forward to rally fellow members around nine key areas, including marine pollution, ocean acidification and the sustainable blue economy.

A four-day ‘All-Champions’ workshop on 18-21 June will bring them together to boost collaboration and network with major potential partners, such as philanthropies and businesses.

Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said: “Progress under the Commonwealth Blue Charter has been tremendously encouraging. The All-Champions meeting is a valuable opportunity for representatives of our member countries to brainstorm, share best practices and mobilise support for their ocean priorities, and by so doing to make progress towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 14.

“A major focus will be on forging partnerships with a range of actors in civil society, the private sector, academia and international development bodies. It is only by working together across sectors and engaging at all levels, that we can mobilise in effective ways to drive lasting global change for our ocean.”

Part of the programme, organised in partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies, will focus specifically on matching champion countries with suitable partners.

The nine action groups they lead include: Sustainable Aquaculture (led by Cyprus), Sustainable Blue Economy (Kenya), Coral Reef Protection and Restoration (Australia, Belize, Mauritius), Mangrove Restoration (Sri Lanka), Ocean Acidification (New Zealand), Ocean and Climate Change (Fiji), Ocean Observations (Canada), Marine Plastic Pollution (United Kingdom, Vanuatu) and Marine Protected Areas (Seychelles).

Head of Oceans and Natural Resources Nicholas Hardman-Mountford added: “The momentum for action continues to build under the Blue Charter. All enthusiastic actors are welcome to get on board and support the initiative.”

The workshop will help countries make the transition from commitments to concrete actions, in the lead up to the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in June 2020 in Rwanda.

Blog: Commonwealth Blue Charter – A beacon of hope for the future of ocean governance

To mark World Oceans Day, Head of Oceans and Natural Resources Nicholas Hardman-Mountford shares how the Blue Charter can help spur lasting global change towards sustainable ocean governance.

In the depths of the Pacific Ocean, 11 km beneath the sea surface, lies the deepest known point in the Earth’s seabed known as the Challenger Deep. On this pitch black patch of the Mariana Trench, temperatures are just above freezing, and the ocean pressure is comparable to a one kilo weight on a single fingernail.

Here, just a few weeks ago, undersea explorer Victor Vescovo returned from the deepest ever solo expedition, only to report that he witnessed a plastic bag and candy wrappers, floating glibly on the ocean floor.

On this year’s Ocean Day, this disturbing find reminds us of two facts. The first is the scale not only of marine pollution, but the plethora of challenges the world faces in terms of ocean health. The second is the incredible opportunity we have to cooperate on a global scale to protect and manage one of our most precious natural resources.

A historic step towards united action

The Commonwealth covers a third of the world’s coastal oceans and nearly half of its coral reefs. The majority of the world’s small island developing states (SIDS) are Commonwealth, although they can be more accurately dubbed ‘large ocean states’ due to their vast oceanic domains or exclusive economic zones. Forty-six out of 53 Commonwealth members have a coastline, and three of the remaining landlocked states border great lakes.

For these countries, the ocean is everything – it represents their home, their livelihood, their history, culture, and their future.

Yet this future is under unprecedented threats. Global warming is causing ocean heatwaves that bleach kilometres of reefs; foreign trawlers are depleting fish stocks – often illegally; sea level rise is flooding homes and salinising the soil, and plastic junk is polluting waters and beaches while contaminating food supplies.

In response, 53 world leaders adopted the Commonwealth Blue Charter in April 2018, unanimously agreeing to actively co-operate to solve ocean-related problems and achieve sustainable ocean development.

Progress and milestones

To date, 12 countries have stepped forward to lead on nine different topic areas or ‘action groups’. These include: Sustainable Aquaculture (led by Cyprus), Sustainable Blue Economy (Kenya), Coral Reef Protection and Restoration (Australia, Belize, Mauritius), Mangrove Restoration (Sri Lanka), Ocean Acidification (New Zealand), Ocean and Climate Change (Fiji), Ocean Observations (Canada), Marine Plastic Pollution (United Kingdom, Vanuatu) and Marine Protected Areas (Seychelles).

Over 25 countries have signed up to these action groups, and counting.

Action-oriented and member-driven, the success of the Blue Charter is dependent on the level of passion or commitment from the countries to set goals, forge partnerships, and mobilise together. We believe this creates deeper and more enduring actions.

Key progress made by countries in implementing the Blue Charter includes:

  • A package worth up to £66.4 million pledged by the UK to fight marine plastic pollution through the Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance;
  • Increased bans or restrictions on single use plastics, with more than 30 Commonwealth countries now taking action on plastic pollution;
  • Commitments by Seychelles and the UK to protect 30 per cent of their ocean waters by 2020;
  • The world’s largest conference on the sustainable blue economy hosted successfully by Kenya in November 2018, with more than 18,000 registered delegates from 184 countries;
  • Action group meetings hosted in UK, New Zealand and Canada on marine plastics, ocean acidification and ocean observation, to discuss concrete actions, tools and cooperation under the Blue Charter.

We have also received tremendous encouragement from the private and philanthropic sectors, for example:

  • British supermarket chain Waitrose has donated £500,000 to the Association of Commonwealth Universities to support Blue Charter fellowships for research on marine plastic pollution;
  • Ocean research organisation Nekton is partnering with the Commonwealth to build ocean scientific research capacity and knowledge in Indian Ocean countries. This includes ground-breaking deep sea exploration in Seychelles waters;
  • Bloomberg Philanthropies is partnering with the Commonwealth to direct their ocean conservation efforts to support member countries.

The first Commonwealth Blue Charter ‘All Champs’ conference on 18-21 June 2019 will bring together champion countries with international partners to strategise on more concrete actions to address our ocean priorities, and help achieve Sustainable Development Goal 14.

The momentum for action is rising, and there is a hope that the Commonwealth Blue Charter will help spur lasting global change towards sustainable ocean governance.