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DIRECTOR-GENERAL OF UNESCO

Director-General addresses ministerial round table on the oceans

Director-General addresses ministerial round table on the oceans
  • © UNESCO/D. Bijeljac

On 12 October 2009, the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, opened at UNESCO Headquarters a ministerial round table on the theme, “Building stewardship for the Ocean: The contribution of UNESCO to responsible ocean governance”.

The meeting was held during the second week of the 35th session of UNESCO’s General Conference and brought together 32 Ministers, as well other Member States representatives and participants from multilateral organizations.

In his address, Mr Matsuura noted that this was the first time a UNESCO General Conference round table was dedicated specifically to the oceans, following roundtables on the basic sciences and on science and technology for sustainable development at the 33rd and 34th sessions of the General Conference. “This is a testimony of your countries’ commitment to this Organization, and of the importance you place on ocean governance, as was again emphasized during the general policy debate”, he stated.

The Director-General highlighted that “the oceans are the ultimate global commons, providing essential ecological services that make life possible on our planet. Ocean science has in the last decades repeatedly highlighted the impacts of human activities on the marine environment, delivering accumulated evidence of degradations of marine ecosystems.”

He went on to underscore that the effect of climate change on the oceans was compounding these problems, and called for “a special effort to maintain the health of the ocean” noting that any impairment on the capacity of the ocean to absorb the excess carbon coming from human activities would exacerbate the negative impacts of climate change.

Mr Matsuura told participants that UNESCO could be genuinely proud that its Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) has been at the centre of all the efforts to build stewardship for the oceans over the past decades. IOC celebrates its 50th Anniversary in 2010. He then referred to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), adopted in 1982, and which entered into force in 1994, as the basis of this law-based regime.

The Director-General noted that UNESCO’s 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage filled an important gap in the coverage of UNCLOS, and an often overlooked aspect of the world’s cultural legacy: its underwater heritage.

Mr Matsuura then described IOC’s role, together with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), in leading the Start-up Phase of the Regular Process for the assessment of the oceans. He noted that discussions at the UN General Assembly this Fall on the topic had revealed that there is a wide consensus on the urgent need to conduct an integrated global assessment of the ocean, including socio-economic aspects, and on the general objective of establishing under the UN a regular process maintaining the ocean under permanent review. He welcomed the recommendation of the Roundtable that the IOC jointly with UNEP and other UN Specialized Agencies and Programs should play an active role in this process. He underscored that it was a joint responsibility of all specialized agencies and programmes of the United Nations to provide an effective mechanism for the UN General Assembly to review regularly the status of the ocean and to adopt the necessary corrective policy measures at the highest level.

Finally, in relation to climate change, the Director-General emphasized that “over 80% of the total additional energy accumulated by the planet due to global warming has already been absorbed by the ocean. It is fair to say that the ocean has already spared us from dangerous climate change.” He also underscored the important role IOC could play in addressing the impacts of climate change to the oceans, notably in assessing the impact of sea-level rise, an unavoidable consequence of climate change.

Mr Matsuura ended his intervention by paying tribute to Mr Patricio Bernal, IOC’s Executive Secretary since April 1998, who will retire at the end of this year, “for his strong leadership over the past eleven years. I am very grateful to him for his loyal contribution to the Organization.” He also welcomed Ms Wendy Watson Wright, from Canada, who will take up her functions as new IOC Executive Secretary in January 2010.

The roundtable was structured around three sessions, with moderators and theme presenters starting the discussion on the themes: “The role of science and the United Nations in providing governance for the Oceans”; “The contribution of UNESCO to monitor the state of the Ocean and its ecological services: the United Nations regular process”; and “Ocean and Climate Change, the impacts on and from the Ocean: adapting coastal communities to sea-level rise”. Among the theme presenters were former President Mario Soares of Portugal, Ms Claire Dansereau, Deputy Minister of Fisheries and Ocean of Canada and Professor Tissa Vitaran, Minister of Science and Technology of Sri Lanka. The discussions were animated and constructive and led to many innovative ideas which were summarized in a report presented to the Science Commission of the General Conference in document 35/ C Inf. 29*.

In his remarks at the closing of the round table, the Director-General thanked the participating Ministers for their engaged discussion of the three themes proposed: “I would like to congratulate you for your constructive discussion on the issue of Ocean Governance and the role of UNESCO in these areas. I believe these will assist UNESCO and its IOC in addressing the needs of its Member States in a more comprehensive manner.”

  • Author(s):Office of the Spokesperson
  • Source:Flash Info N° 202-2009
  • 16-10-2009
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