The 16 principles that could save the ocean

The ocean provides livelihoods for millions of people all over the world.

The ocean provides livelihoods for millions of people all over the world. Image: REUTERS/Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana

Xi Xie
Project Lead, Friends of Ocean Action, China, World Economic Forum
Yan Li
Program Manager, Marine Spatial Planning and Blue Economy, China Oceanic Development Foundation
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  • Human activity threatens to fundamentally undermine ocean health, which would have knock-on effects for humans worldwide.
  • But committed, multilateral cooperation has the power to reverse the ocean’s decline and preserve it for generations to come.
  • The 16 Blue Partnership Principles proposed by the Chinese delegation during this year's UN Ocean Conference pave the way for multilateral management of ocean health.

Despite a well-documented and serious decline in overall ocean health, the intense pressure placed on this vital planetary resource by human activity continues to grow.

Pollution, overfishing and global warming have pushed ocean health to a precarious place. The international community, however, has a chance to change course — and it must before it is too late.

To this end, thousands of people gathered last week in Lisbon, Portugal for the 2022 UN Ocean Conference, where the international ocean community had the chance to exchange on the need for decisive and immediate ocean action.

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The ocean is in crisis

Ocean health and its decline is a critically important global issue, and current systematic governance and scaled deployment of solutions do not go far enough.

Human health on a global scale is intricately linked to the health of the ocean. It underpins the global systems that make the Earth habitable for humankind. The rainwater for agriculture, the water we drink, much of our food, and even the oxygen we breathe is provided and regulated by the ocean.

It took the international community 30 years to gradually determine the objectives, principles, rules, and structure of global climate governance. When it comes to the ocean, we don’t have another 30 years to spare.

Ocean protection needs more recognition worldwide, and responsible action must be taken together urgently. We need trust and cooperation among all stakeholders — whether that is governments, the private sector or international organizations — to convert dialogue into real efforts and shared benefits.

The 16 Blue Partnership Principles

In 2017, at the first UN Ocean Conference, the Chinese delegation put forward the “Building the Blue Partnership” initiative, which called for joint action by states and multilateral organizations toward sustainable ocean governance. On 29th June, at this year’s conference, that same delegation announced the 16 Blue Partnership Principles.

The principles establish a new model of maritime cooperation that is inclusive, flexible and that enhances mutual trust among coastal states worldwide.

Principles 1-5 outline areas of cooperation, such as protecting marine ecology, cutting pollution and prioritizing blue, sustainable growth. Principles 6-9 underscore the central role that science and technology will play in the Blue Partnership, and the remainder outline the shared vision for advancing the Blue Partnership, including openness, inclusivity and equitable governance.

The 16 principles:

1: Conserve the Marine Ecosystems

2: Tackle Climate Change

3: Reduce Marine Pollution

4: Sustainable Use of Marine Resources

5: Thrive Blue Economy

6: Strengthen Guidance of Technological Innovation

7: Implement Integrated Management

8: Contribute Solutions

9: Reinforce Capacity Building

10: Adhere to Openness and Inclusiveness

11: Welcome Multi-party Participation

12: Encourage Voluntary Commitments

13: Take Collective Actions

14: Promote Legislative Governance

15: Share Development Outcomes

16: Safeguard Intergenerational Equity

To accompany the 16 principles, the Chinese delegation to the UN Ocean Conference also spearheaded the development of a multilateral network that will enhance cooperation for the preservation of the ocean.

Multilateralism for the ocean

Cooperation is fundamental for preserving the ocean. To that end, the Sustainable Blue Partnership Cooperation Network was launched during this year’s UN Ocean Conference. Convened by the Forum’s Friends of Ocean Action group and the China Oceanic Development Foundation, the network aims to facilitate multi-stakeholder cooperation within the Blue Partnership framework.

The network will convene and promote cooperation through the exchange of knowledge, best practices and cooperation on specific projects.

Stakeholders from governments, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, academia, financial organizations, enterprise, industrial associations, and others are invited to join and contribute to this network.

Fundamental to this effort is that all members of the network are committed to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 14: to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources. They must also endorse the 16 Blue Partnership Principles.

Rising to the great transformational challenge

Peter Thomson, the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, said: "I believe the time has come to accept that linear exploitation of finite planetary resources is a dead-end street and that we have reached a point on humanity’s path whereupon global transformation to circular recycling systems of production and consumption has become a straight-forward matter of survival."

"I see this as the great transformational challenge facing us in the 21st Century — a tectonic transformation akin to when human societies moved from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age.”

If humanity is going to continue to thrive, address inequality, prevent and reverse climate change and lift up the world’s most vulnerable in dignity, then preserving the ocean cannot be ignored.

The 16 principles outlined here rely on the willingness of states and their partners to commit to preserving the ocean. But, if acted upon, they have the potential to reform humanity’s relationship with its most important resource and preserve it for generations to come.

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