More than 120 Representatives from 13 Member States of the IOC Sub-Commission for the Western Pacific and Adjacent Areas (WESTPAC) met on 27-29 April 2021 for the 13th Intergovernmental Session, held virtually. The Session was hosted by the Government of Bangladesh. The Foreigner Minister of Bangladesh, IOC Executive Secretary and Assistant Director General of UNESCO, and the WESTPAC Chairperson addressed the opening.
“There is no denying that Member States must have strong scientific understanding and systematic observations of the changing world, ocean climate, and ecosystems,” H.E. Dr. A.K. Abdul Momen, Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, remarked during the Session’s opening.
While stressing the role of the oceans in the development of human civilisation and recovery from the covid crisis, he reiterated the significance of concerted efforts in, and shared responsibility for the sustainable use of the oceans, and also underscored the vital role of IOC/WESTPAC in this regard.
The Session was held at an important juncture: The year 2021 came in the wake of a prolonged global Covid-19 pandemic and it is also the first year of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030). Thus, this session aimed to review the Sub-Commission’s programme delivery, identify good practices to overcome the negative impact of COVID-19, and deliberate on the engagement and contribution of the Sub-Commission to the UN Decade of Ocean Science.
Notwithstanding the restrictions imposed by the pandemic over the past two years, the Sub-Commission remains active in and highly committed. All delegations expressed their great appreciation for the significant progress on addressing four regional priority issues: ocean processes and climate; marine biodiversity, seafood safety and security; ocean ecosystem health; and capacity development and transfer of marine technology.
Most noteworthy is the increasing knowledge and services that the Sub-Commission delivered to Member States in the last intersessional period. This could be demonstrated in various areas, including developing operational ocean forecasting services to support decisions; monitoring ocean acidification and researching its impacts; developing member states’ research capacity for combating marine plastic pollution; transferring and applying remote sensing techniques for marine protected area management; delivering knowledge on harmful jellyfish for public health; and establishing ocean hypoxia research and monitoring network to help inform policymakers on the issue of declining oxygen in their coastal and open waters.
In response to member states’ increasing demands for science underpinning sustainable development, the Sub-Commission has been endeavoring to transform the demands into concrete action. At this session, the Sub-Commission established two new programmes, respectively on the 2nd Cooperative Study of Kuroshio and its adjacent regions (CSK-2), and multidisciplinary studies on interactions between human activities and ocean system over the marginal seas; and three new Working Groups: rapid detection technologies for harmful algal blooms, the gas hydrates and methane fluxes in the Indo-Pacific region, and the integrated investigation in the Indo-Pacific Convergence Center on the evolution of marine ecosystems and biodiversity.
Built on the outcome of the Decade Regional Planning Workshop and the Decade Regional Dialogue of “Co-designing Ocean Science for the Ocean We Want” that the Sub-Commission organized in August 2019, and 10 November 2020 respectively, more than 100 virtual workshops/consultations were organized despite the pandemic, to mobilize region-wide actions for the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030). These continued efforts culminated in eight pipeline proposals for UN Decade Actions, which were presented to the Session for further inputs, engagement, and commitments.
Adhering to the “co designed, solution-oriented” approach, the eight potential proposals include: the second cooperative study of Kuroshio and its adjacent regions, enabling ocean research community to engage other ocean stakeholders into the design and implementation of the CSK-2 programme to improve forecast of regional weather and climate, and enhance science informed fisheries and aquaculture management; development and application of the WESTPAC Ocean Forecasting System via the stakeholder engagement, development and provision of of tailored application tools and services; the riverine flux of plastic to ocean; Ocean solutions, a demonstration programme that benefit people, nature and economy for developing coastal countries in the region, seeking possible solutions through the deployment of multi-disciplinary monitoring and research on, including nutrient, hypoxia, OA, in selected demonstrate sites with social-economic and ecological importance, and generation of knowledge about the environmental status, root cause of ecosystem issues to inform decision and management; Save Our Corals, a partnership programme about coral resilience, by reaching out to and working together coral reef related international initiatives and national programmes, and providing needed knowledge and science services; capacity development and transfer of marine technology through the IOC Regional Network of Training and research Centers (RTRCs) on Marine Sciences; and the development of UN Decade Regional Conference in conjunction with the WESTPAC International Marine Science Conference (2022, 2025, 2028, 2031).
The level of backing to the tremendous efforts was indicated by the strong commitments made by a wealth of countries at the session. In addition, delegations also shared their actions and plans at national level and reiterated their willingness to elevate their engagement in the development and implementation of the Sub-Commission’s present programmes and new initiatives.
The Sub-Commission, in view of deliberations at the session, adopted its workplan for the next two years, as guidance for joint actions that Member States would like to promote, implement and/or seek potential resources in support of their implementation. The Sub-Commission expressed its sincere thanks to the outgoing WESTPAC officers for their dedication during the period of May 2017- April 2021 and elected new officers for the term from May 2021 to April 2023: Kentaro Ando (Co-Chair, Japan); Fangli Qiao (Co-Chair, China); and Aileen Tan Shau Hwai (Vice-Chair, Malaysia).
The Session finally concluded with the closing remarks of H.E. Masud Bin Momen, Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh. “The land divides, the sea unites”, he conveyed his heartfelt gratitude to all participants for their overwhelming presence and spontaneous participation. “The approach of the Sub-Commission addressing common priority issues of its Member States is encouraging for the Member States and will definitely uplift the organization’s moral”. He further expressed that Bangladesh will actively engage in the ongoing and future research opportunities of WESTPAC and collaborate with other research institutions where WESTPAC’s role could be instrumental. Upon the kind offer the Government of Indonesia, the Sub-Commission decided to hold its next Session in early 2023, Indonesia.
WESTPAC. Science for society: Ocean science providing sustainable development solutions takes spotlight at the 13th WESTPAC Intergovernmental Session. IOC Sub-Commission for the Western Pacific website, https://www.ioc-westpac.org/news/2021/04/science-for-society-ocean-science-providing-sustainable-development-solutions-takes-spotlight-at-the-13th-westpac-intergovernmental-session/, 30/04/21.