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.

All Champions Meeting of the Commonwealth Blue Charter

This event at Marlborough House, Pall Mall, London from 18 to 21 June will reflect on the work carried out by Blue Charter action groups over the past year within the context of wider ocean issues.

The Commonwealth Blue Charter was a landmark document launched at CHOGM 2018 where all 53 Commonwealth countries galvanised their support for ocean action. Progress under the Blue Charter is being carried out through member-led Action Groups on issues from ocean acidification to coral and mangrove restoration, and from marine plastics to the blue economy.

To mark a year since the launch of the Commonwealth Blue Charter, the Commonwealth Secretariat is bringing together the champion countries leading those Action Groups, to consider how further progress can be made. During this workshop, the Secretariat is also connecting these representatives with potential external partners, to consider how they can achieve more, together.

Ocean focus expected in next round of climate talks

With global climate talks freshly concluded last weekend in Katowice, Poland, some Commonwealth countries are already working towards a stronger ocean focus at next year’s negotiations in Chile.

While annual sessions of the Conference of the Parties (COP) emphasise cutting global emissions to tackle climate change, there is a growing recognition of the role played by the ocean. A special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the ocean and cryosphere – the frozen part of the world’s water – is due out September 2019, and will further spotlight ocean issues in climate debates.

“Due to the exemplary leadership of Fiji during its COP Presidency [2017-2018], the linkage between the ocean and climate change has solidified,” said Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland at a COP24 side event co-organised by the Commonwealth and Fiji. “Though there is still much work ahead of us, the ocean is at long last ‘in the room’ and should not be disregarded in future negotiations.”

Opened by Fiji’s Minister for Agriculture, Rural & Maritime Development and National Disaster Management, Inia Seruiratu, the event drew out innovative solutions to tackle ocean and climate change issues, both at international and local levels.

Taholo Kami, Special Envoy for the COP23 Presidency Secretariat, elaborated on advocacy efforts towards a more ocean-inclusive UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Working towards COP25, Fiji plans to host climate negotiators from up to 50 countries next March, to strategize on advancing the ocean agenda.

“One of the aims of the [Commonwealth] Blue Charter Action Group on ocean and climate change [chaired by Fiji] is what we do in the UNFCCC, and we’d like to see more leadership from the Commonwealth countries,” said Mr. Kami.

Speaking in support of the Blue Charter, the Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna highlighted the country’s home-grown approach to ocean management known as “marae moana” or ‘sacred ocean’. The Marae Moana Act established a marine park, and a Council to oversee it, made up of traditional, religious, government leaders and members of the opposition, in consultation with grassroots communities.

“It confirms my suspicion that my people are born conservationists. Conservation is in our blood,” he said. “But while we’re trying to do our best to conserve it and manage it sustainably, the actions of others will have far-reaching impact on the ocean.”

Seychelles representative Angelique Pouponneau welcomed an ‘Ocean COP’ in 2019, and shared innovative financing solutions from her country, which champions the Blue Charter action group on marine protected areas.

This includes a ‘debt swap’ programme with the Paris Club, supported by the Nature Conservancy, whereby US$30 million of Seychelles’ foreign debt has been exchanged for commitments to ocean conservation projects. Seychelles also recently launched the world’s first sovereign ‘blue bond’, raising US$15 million from international investors, of which $3 million will be going to the Seychelles’ Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust.

“This is not just top-down – what I find most exciting is the fact that one of the first tranches of money provided by the Trust was for a voluntary fishery zone closure on Praline Island for the benefit of the marine environment and fisher folks,” she explained. “Innovative financing going to marine conservation as well as climate adaptation is definitely a win-win-win.”

At the grass-roots level, Karuna Rana, Coordinator of the Commonwealth Youth Climate Change Network underlined the significant impact made by young people in Mauritius. In the fight against marine pollution, young people are installing drinking water dispensers across the country, lobbying local businesses and restaurants to become plastic-free, while developing an app that locates not only water dispensers, but plastic-free establishments as well.

The panel also included presentations by Australia, Vanuatu and New Zealand as (co-)champions for Blue Charter Action Groups on coral reefs, marine plastic pollution and ocean acidification respectively. Delegates from the Pacific Islands Forum, the Nature Conservancy, and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) shared notable examples of region-wide and international ocean action.

Commonwealth countries rally behind ocean action

A gathering hosted by the New Zealand High Commission at the Royal Academy of Arts in London on Monday, heard widespread support for the various action groups under the Blue Charter, which was unveiled by Commonwealth leaders at their last meeting in April.

Actions groups are led by ‘champion countries’ and focus on eight key areas: marine plastic pollution, blue economy, coral reef protection and restoration, mangroves, ocean acidification, ocean and climate change, ocean observations and aquaculture.

New Zealand Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage called the Blue Charter initiative a “model for bold, coordinated leadership.” As champion for the action group on ocean acidification,

New Zealand will focus on building a better understanding of the issue, identifying challenges, and connecting Commonwealth countries to ocean acidification networks.

“We are really impressed and pleased by the many Commonwealth countries that are involved in the action group [on ocean acidification],” said Hon Sage, acknowledging Australia, Barbados, Canada, Mozambique, Samoa, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and the UK.

Thérèse Coffey, Parliamentary Under Secretary at the UK’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Areas added: “The Blue Charter is so important, not only for Commonwealth countries, but for the entire world… I’m really proud to be working with Vanuatu taking forward action on the Clean Oceans Alliance and I’m very proud that we’re also joining other action groups.”

Alongside Vanuatu, the UK leads the action group on marine pollution, which includes 20 members in total from all regions of the Commonwealth.

“This is something that the Commonwealth can celebrate. I’m really pleased the Commonwealth Secretariat is continuing to make sure that these things come through, but together as nations we really can be champions for something that is exceptionally precious to us,” she said.

Special guest at the event, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Oceans, Peter Thomson, commended the “wave of ocean action” in the international community, and encouraged collaboration with the United Nations Communities on Ocean Action.

Delegates from Fiji and Australia also made presentations on their countries’ ocean activities. Fiji leads the action group on ocean and climate change, and is planning an event on the Blue Charter in the margins of the UN Climate Change Conference COP24, to be held in Poland in December.

Commonwealth Director of Trade, Oceans and Natural Resources, Paulo Kautoke recognised the crucial role of the ocean in Commonwealth economies, cultures and communities, and called on governments as well as non-government organisations to join the action groups and intensify collaboration on ocean issues.



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.