International ocean governance: an agenda for the future of our oceans

International ocean governance: an agenda for the future of our oceans

International ocean governance: an agenda for the future of our oceans

International ocean governance: an agenda for the future of our oceans

On 15 March 2019, the Commission published a joint report outlining the progress made on the ocean governance agenda since the adoption of the Joint Communication on International Ocean Governance together with the High Representative of the European Union two years ago. The 50 actions for safe, secure, clean and sustainably managed oceans in Europe and around the world are all successfully being implemented, while on a number of them the work will continue. 

An agenda for the oceans

In 2016, the European Commission and the EU's High Representative set out a joint agenda for the future of our oceans, proposing 50 actions for safe, secure, clean and sustainably managed oceans in Europe and around the world.

The joint communication on international ocean governance builds on a widely shared understanding that the ocean governance framework needs to be strengthened, that pressures on the oceans need to be reduced and that the world's oceans must be used sustainably. It also stresses that a better understanding about the oceans is necessary to achieve these objectives.

The joint communication proposes ways the EU can step up and play a stronger role at global and regional level in shaping the way oceans are managed and used. It sets out detailed actions to shape international governance in three priority areas:

  1. Improving the international ocean governance framework
  2. Reducing human pressures on the oceans and creating the conditions for a sustainable blue economy
  3. Strengthening international ocean research and data

The joint communication is an integral part of the EU's response to the United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in particular Sustainable Development Goal 14 'to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources'. It is based on the political mandate given to Commissioner Vella by President Juncker 'to engage in shaping international ocean governance in the UN, in other multilateral fora and bilaterally with key global partners'.

What is international ocean governance?

International ocean governance is about managing and using the world's oceans and their resources in ways that keep our oceans healthy, productive, safe, secure and resilient.

Today, 60% of the oceans are outside the borders of national jurisdiction.This implies a shared international responsibility. Under the overarching UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, a plethora of jurisdictional rights, institutions, and specific frameworks have been set up to organise the way humans use these waters.

EU action on international ocean governance aims to build on this framework and work with others to improve the health of this resource which is open to all States.

Why do we need to take action?

Healthy oceans are essential for humankind: as climate regulators, as a source for global food security, human health and as an engine for economic growth. The OECD estimates that ocean-based industries contribute roughly €1.3 trillion to global gross value added. Oceans are also home to a rich, fragile, and largely unexplored biodiversity, which provides a variety of important ecosystem services. For instance, oceans produce half of the oxygen in the earth's atmosphere and absorb 25 per cent of C02 emissions.

However, with a world population reaching 9-10 billion by 2050, pressures on the oceans are expected to increase. Global competition for raw materials, food and water will become more intense, while illegal fishing, piracy, climate change, and marine pollution are already threatening our ocean's health. In addition, the blue economy heavily depends on the global economy and global rules.

After consulting governments and various other ocean stakeholders, the European Commission concluded that the existing framework for international ocean governance was not effective enough in tackling these shared challenges. The Joint Communication adopted in November 2016 seeks to redress this. As a strong global actor, the European Union sets out its response for better ocean governance, calling for a cross-sectoral, rules-based international approach.

What has been done so far?

The European Union has been championing determined action for our oceans even before adopting the Joint Communication. In the past 10 years alone, the EU has:

- adopted a holistic approach to all marine and maritime issues: the EU integrated maritime policy;

- put in place a robust set of mandatory environmental rules to ensure EU maritime actors use marine resources sustainably, wherever they operate;

- developed an EU-level strategy to boost sustainable and inclusive blue growth, including blue economy considerations in external policies as regards natural resources, energy, trade, development and security;

- put in place regional strategies to address common challenges and opportunities, collaborating closely with non-EU countries and stakeholders from civil society and the private sector;

- earmarked about €350 million a year for marine research, improving cooperation and information-sharing, and making maritime data publicly accessible;

- engaged in international and cross-sectorial forums to address the common challenge of ensuring safe, secure, clean and productive seas and oceans worldwide. 

- adopted the EU maritime security strategy a comprehensive common tool to identify, prevent and respond to security challenges

Official documents

  • Joint report: Improving International Ocean Governance – Two years of progress (JOIN(2019) 4)
  • Joint staff working document accompanying the joint report; Improving International Ocean Governance - Two years of progress (SWD(2019) 104)
  • Joint communication: International ocean governance agenda for the future of our oceans (JOIN(2016) 49)
  • Synopsis of the outcome of the consultation on international ocean governance (SWD(2016) 352)
  • Developing the international dimension of the integrated maritime policy of the European Union (COM(2009)536)
  • Contribution of the marine strategy framework directive (2008/56/EC) to the implementation of existing obligations, commitments and initiatives of the Member States or the EU at EU or international level in the sphere of environmental protection in marine waters (COM/2012/0662)

More info

Maritime affairs