The coming decade will be big – for the ocean, the various communities who have a stake in a healthy ocean, and indeed the whole world. “Think big!” urged Vladimir Ryabinin, UNESCO-Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Executive Secretary, to the nearly 200 ocean scientists, government representatives, early career ocean professionals, industry and business people, philanthropists, and development workers who gathered online on November 10, 2020 for the Western Pacific Regional Dialogue on Co-designing the Ocean Science We Need for the Ocean We Want.
Through the proclamation by the UN General Assembly of 2021 to 2030 a Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) hopes to put in motion an extraordinary amount of action as well as collaborative research to develop the ocean science that could fully support countries to achieve the ocean everybody – we – want, that is, a clean, healthy, resilient, productive, predicted, safe, accessible, and inspiring and engaging, ocean.
Central to the Ocean Decade is the transformation of ocean science into solution-orientated research that responds to existing and emerging societal needs. And central to that transformation is the notion of co-design and co-delivery: reaching across and actively seeking collaboration between different disciplines and communities of knowledge, and designing and delivering through innovative and sustainable partnerships.
Convened by the IOC Sub-Commission for the Western Pacific (WESTPAC) in cooperation with partners from national governments, research and academic institutions, industry, and International organizations or programmes, panelists and participants at the Regional Dialogue explored the region’s opportunities and challenges, best practices and lessons learned, as well as recommendations, for a co-designed and co-delivered ocean science that could respond to the needs for sustainable development in the region.
The most densely populated region with the highest level of marine biodiversity in the world, the Western Pacific and adjacent areas hold a vital social, economic, and cultural importance in humans’ livelihood and prosperity, not only among those living in the region, but in the whole world. “The UN Ocean Decade offers a grand opportunity for this region to accelerate the development of ocean science solutions to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” remarked Wenxi Zhu, IOC-WESTPAC Head of Office.
The realization of an ocean science that provides solutions to sustainability challenges, according to the session’s panelists, is hampered by, among others: low priority accorded to ocean research in the national development agenda; weak cross-discipline/sector collaborations; inadequate consideration of indigenous knowledge; lack of a strong connection between researchers and knowledge users; limited funding for ocean research, and constraints on the conduct of ocean research in coastal states’ Exclusive Economic Zones. In addition, there is a growing recognition that the younger generation in some developing countries are less inclined and less supported to cultivate a career in ocean science.
“Engage younger generations,” advised University of Tokyo’s Makino Mitsutaku, one of the panelists. “Diversity is not an obstacle; it’s a source of richness, of innovation.
The quest for co-designed solution-orientated research, among other ‘Decade Actions,’ has commenced with the publication of the First Call for Decade Actions, on October 15, 2020. Individuals, organizations, or institutions are called upon to put forward, before January 15, 2021, their Decade Actions, either in the form of large-scale transformative Decade programme, or contributions of in-kind or financial resources.
The Sub-Commission, together with IOC member states and partners in the region, will hold a UN Ocean Decade regional kickoff conference scheduled for August 2021 in Bangkok, Thailand. It will be held in conjunction with the 11th WESTPAC International Marine Science Conference.
Watch out for the discussion paper being developed following the Regional Dialogue, on the Ocean Decade website.