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Is Governance the Issue? Experts Weigh In

February 23, 2012

Advocates for oceans are coalescing around the view that the oceans need “a new deal” or new rules of the game, new incentives that advance sustainable uses, and more protection. Governments play a critical role in establishing the legal frameworks.

Here, a number of experts from leading organizations weigh in on why governance lies at the heart of the oceans challenge.

Michael Arbuckle, Senior Fisheries Specialist, World Bank.
William (Bill) Fox Jr., Vice-President, Fisheries, World Wildlife Fund US.
Andrew Hudson, Head, Water & Ocean Governance Programme, United Nations Development Programme.
Sebastian Troeng, Vice President, Marine Conservation, Conservation International.

The world’s oceans present an array of challenges. To what extent should these be understood as governance issues?

Michael Arbuckle: We used to say, "teach a man to fish and feed him forever". But that’s not adequate any longer. Instead we need to allocate and manage a resource that is scarce. Instead of investing in the process of catching and processing more fish, we need to become better at utilizing what nature can produce sustainably. It is about setting the rules to govern the way humans utilize our ocean's living resources rather than promoting the free use of these resources.

Bill Fox: Our Global Marine Programs create, promote, and implement solutions to protect marine ecosystems and use marine resources sustainably. There is no universal method to do this as solutions need to adapt to each specific case, however key to success is good governance (and sometimes governance reforms) which involves comprehensive stakeholder engagement.

Andrew Hudson: Most of the challenges - overfishing, invasive species, pollution, climate change and habitat loss - stem from inadequate governance and from market failures. But work under the Global Environment Facility (GEF) International Waters focal area showed that when you improve ocean governance, you unleash public and private investment, whether for sustainable tourism, fisheries, carbon storage or reducing pollution. The ocean is bankable, if the governance frameworks are the right ones.

Sebastian Troeng: We’re looking at seascapes, which is an approach to improve governance at scale. We identify what can strengthen the policy environment, build capacity, use science, and make long-term use of market mechanisms and the private sector.

When we talk about investing in governance changes, what specifically is needed?

Michael Arbuckle: In the ocean environment, where ownership interests are often uncertain or evolving, a range of institutional mechanisms have developed that mimic these property rights arrangements and incentives. In fisheries, these are known as rights-based systems and they grant control over aspects of resource use in specifically identified marine areas. The transitional investment to develop national and international capacity for this sort of program should not be underestimated.

Next, private and public sector investment will be needed to expand these sorts of institutions and technology and capabilities to attract and engage private investment in wider ecosystem services.

Bill Fox: Too many countries still do not see the benefits of investing in the marine sector, favoring instead familiar land-based investments. Governance changes must therefore start with making the case to finance and planning ministries that the marine sector can yield significant economic, social and environmental benefits. In turn, adequate capacity and financial resources will then be prioritized for sustainable marine resources management.

Andrew Hudson: It’s best to look at catalytic experiences, such as work the World Bank, UNDP, and the GEF and others did on the Danube and the Black Sea. There was support for policy changes and public and private financing. Following many coordinated actions, the Black Sea outlook is improving, with hypoxic zones beginning to retreat.

Sebastian Troeng: Increasing political will, and engagement at the highest levels, is absolutely necessary. Then you start to work on improving the management of specific situations.

Looking around the world today, is there a willingness to act on some of these governance challenges and actually invest in them in the near future? Is a new Partnership what’s needed?

Michael Arbuckle: There is a global consensus now emerging that successful governance involves redesigning institutions or “rules of the game” in ways that reorient individual initiative and innovation away from exploitation toward conservation and stewardship. To do this requires that those who invest in such endeavors are given secure claims to the benefits that accrue from this investment.

Bill Fox: We believe that transformational change can be achieved by developing investment strategies to align investments by the World Bank Group, foundations and NGOs in order to catalyze private sector investments and provide a range of financial products to World Bank clients, local communities and other stakeholders. Priority should be given to the selected targeted marine areas, with some investments outside these areas to catalyze innovation and action in additional countries where interest and political will exist.

Andrew Hudson: If you convince governments of the long-term benefits, they will adopt the necessary governance reforms and these in turn will catalyze public and private investment. The private sector can be a supportive partner. With the GEF and International Maritime Organization (IMO), we helped governments and the shipping industry reduce the risks of transferring invasive species in ships’ ballast water. That helped catalyze a new industry - ship ballast water treatment - that will eventually be valued in the tens of billions of dollars.

Sebastian Troeng: The strength of NGOs is talented people and partnerships throughout the world, but we have limited resources. If we can come together now with governments, the private sector and international financial institutions, we really start to leverage major investments.

What is the likelihood that governance changes can reverse patterns such as chronic pollution or depletion of fish stocks from a fishing industry in overcapacity?

Michael Arbuckle: Human nature is at the center of this over-exploitation -- just like children at a lolly scramble, we want to get in before anyone else does and take the best or most valuable resources first. We now know that the real problem of fisheries exploitation is not the inherently competitive nature of those using the resource but rather, the governance systems that they are forced to operate within.

Bill Fox: We strongly believe the solution lies in an inclusive approach, and we are therefore working with resource users, managers, traders, and consumers to reform marine resources management towards long-term sustainability, where resources are harvested in a way that sustains and protects the marine environment, the species within it, and the people who depend on them.

Andrew Hudson: We have examples. In our work in the Yellow Sea with China and the Republic of Korea, we saw governance reform lead to more than $10 billion in commitments to reducing pollution and fishing overcapacity, expanding marine protected areas and sustainable aquaculture.

Sebastian Troeng: We have many examples. “No-take” reserves restore marine life to spectacular levels. On average, when the governance situation changes and countries establish protected areas, there is, on average a 20 percent increase in the diversity, a 30 percent increase in the size of the organisms inside the reserves relative to unprotected areas nearby. The tons of fish-per-square-kilometer increases 450 percent on average within five to 10 years.