Global ocean governance is critical as climate hangs in the balance

This page in:
Fishermen from Tanah Beru Village in Indonesia preparing their boats by the sea. Fishermen from Tanah Beru Village in Indonesia preparing their boats by the sea.

Our oceans are experiencing a range of problems caused by climate change and human activity: rising temperatures, acidification, sea-level rise, habitat destruction, overfishing, marine pollution, and the introduction of invasive species.  These impacts are damaging ocean health and threatening the livelihoods of billions of people. They also point to a critical lack of governance globally of this precious resource.

The Earth’s atmosphere and oceans are both common resources that are entirely dependent on international cooperation if they are to be managed sustainably. Doing so calls for renewed commitment at the broadest level. Last November, at the 26th Conference of the Parties of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in Glasgow, 15 countries pledged to increase protection of their maritime areas, known as national exclusive economic zones (EEZs), by investing in ocean-based renewable energy and decarbonizing their shipping industries. Yet these pledges to address climate change in aggregate fall far short of the global ambition needed to avoid the worst and cumulative impacts of climate change on oceans. 

The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a stark reminder of the narrowing window to bolster global climate action on oceans. A series of global events in 2022 has aimed to drive momentum -- including  the One Ocean Summit in France in February, Our Ocean Conference in Palau in April, and the Stockholm+50 Conference in Sweden and UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon in June.  Pressure continues to increase from all quarters to maintain support for ongoing global initiatives, from the UN Environment Assembly negotiations on marine plastics to UN negotiations on biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. 

The World Bank is supporting countries to chart a new course away from business as usual and towards a Blue Economy—defined as the sustainable and integrated development of oceanic sectors in healthy oceans.  Such a path necessarily involves greater collaboration as ocean-based resources are often either shared or migratory, rendering international cooperation essential to the sustainable management of ocean resources in the face of growing climate impacts on oceans.

"The World Bank is supporting countries to chart a new course away from business as usual and towards a Blue Economy—defined as the sustainable and integrated development of oceanic sectors in healthy oceans."

Ocean governance considerations were central to the African Union’s continent-wide Blue Economy Strategy released in 2019, which aims to chart a coordinated path to address regional threats, including sea piracy, illegal fishing, climate change, and pollution. The strategy also seeks to harness the potential for oceans to provide jobs, strengthen food security and environmental sustainability. It focuses on five thematic areas: (i) fisheries, aquaculture, and conservation, (ii) shipping and transport, (iii) environmental sustainability, climate change, and coastal tourism and infrastructure, (iv) sustainable energy, mineral resources, and innovative industries, and (v) governance, policies, and job creation. 

Such strategies and the activities they envision are anchored in international and regional conventions relating to the Blue Economy, including the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Abidjan, Nairobi and Jeddah regional seas conventions, the MAPROL Convention on marine pollution, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement. 

To build on these cornerstones of the global ocean regime, the Environment and International Law Practice Group of the World Bank has launched an Ocean Governance Capacity Building Program to support the development and implementation of ocean governance strategies. The training program was developed in partnership with the University of Melbourne Law School, the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea of the Office of Legal Affairs of the United Nations, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, the International Seabed Authority, and the Maritime and Oceanic Law Centre at the University of Nantes in France. It brings together experts from the partner organizations, government officials and other stakeholders for training workshops on ocean governance focusing on the key international legal frameworks. 

Following two successful workshops focused on the Pacific and Africa Regions in 2021, which trained more than 150 stakeholders, the World Bank will launch a self-paced e-learning course in the summer 2022 and plan future workshops in the Indian Ocean, Latin America, and other regions. This training program is one of several supported by the multi-donor trust fund PROBLUE, established in 2018 with support from 15 development partners in 11 countries and the European Union. PROBLUE support will continue for future efforts to bring together key stakeholders and build more robust global ocean governance.  


Victor Mosoti

Chief Counsel, International and Environmental Law Unit, Legal Vice Presidency, World Bank

Charlotte de Fontaubert

Global Lead for the Blue Economy, World Bank

Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000