United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

Director-General opens 25th session of the IOC General Assembly

On 16 June 2009, the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, opened the 25th session of the General Assembly of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.

In his opening address, the Director-General noted that IOC was beginning its 50th anniversary celebrations this year and that this was without doubt a major milestone in the history of the Commission. He went on to underscore that “this represented an opportunity to look back at IOC’s many accomplishments, but also to look forward to the challenges ahead”. In that regard, Mr Matsuura recalled that he had convened a high-level Ministerial Round Table on Oceans during the 35th session of UNESCO’s General Conference, on “Building stewardship for the oceans: the contribution of UNESCO to responsible ocean governance”.

One of the future challenges for IOC, Mr Matsuura highlighted, is climate change. He noted that IOC had been recognized within the UN system as a leader in ocean climate science and been asked to coordinate, together with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), UN efforts in the area of science, assessment, monitoring and early warning, as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process leading up to the UN climate summit in Copenhagen in December 2009.

The Director-General further recalled that IOC, along with UNEP, had been tasked by the UN General Assembly in 2005 to begin the process of assessing the state of the ocean, and that the UN General Assembly would be considering at its next session whether to move towards a first Global Integrated Assessment of the Ocean to be conducted by the whole UN system for 2014-15.

Mr Matsuura then underscored another important area of IOC’s work: tsunami warning systems. He noted that UNESCO was developing a system to provide global protection against tsunami hazards. The Director-General remarked that “four and a half years after the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami, this is a major accomplishment which deserves the full recognition of the international community. But the real challenge lies ahead. The big question is whether we are ready and able to maintain these efforts in the long-term, as the nature of the tsunami threat demands.” He called on IOC Member States to “develop their own national detection networks, conduct their own risk-assessment studies, and have national tsunami centres capable of receiving warnings around the clock and disseminating such life-saving information to the relevant authorities and the general public.”

The Director-General continued his intervention by highlighting IOC’s work in assisting Member States, particularly in Africa, to connect with specialist organizations, such as UNEP GRID-Arendal Shelf Programme in Norway, and Geozentrum Hannover’s Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), so that they could gain access to technical assistance to delineate the outer limits of their continental shelf under UNCLOS and report this information to the United Nations by the required deadline of 13 May 2009.

The Director-General emphasized IOC’s important work in Africa, notably in helping build capacity to African marine science institutes, helping African Member States adapt to climate change, and training African specialists in the Ocean Data and Information Network in Africa (ODIN-AFRICA) spread over 40 institutes in 25 countries.

In conclusion, Mr Matsuura described IOC as a flagship programme for UNESCO, and thanked the current Chairman of the IOC, Captain Javier Valladares and his team of five Vice-Chairpersons, as well as all past Chairpersons, for their collective leadership of the Commission. He went on to pay tribute to Patricio Bernal, IOC’s Executive Secretary since April 1st 1998, who will retire at the end of this year, “for his leadership of this vital aspect of UNESCO’s work.”

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Author(s): Office of the Spokesperson - Source: Flash Info N° 116-2009 -  Publication Date: 17-06-2009

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