Inter Press Service » Yeosu World Expo News and Views from the Global South Mon, 22 May 2017 13:06:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 U.N. Launches New Oceans Compact Following Expo 2012 Mon, 13 Aug 2012 16:57:17 +0000 Thalif Deen At this Bonaire reef, the olive-green coral is alive, but the mottled-gray coral is dead. / Credit:Living Oceans Foundation/IPS

At this Bonaire reef, the olive-green coral is alive, but the mottled-gray coral is dead. / Credit:Living Oceans Foundation/IPS

By Thalif Deen

As the three-month-long international exhibition Expo 2012 came to a close in the South Korean coastal town of Yeosu last week, the United Nations announced the launch of an “Oceans Compact” aimed at the preservation of marine resources worldwide.

The announcement was viewed as a successful offshoot from Expo 2012, whose primary theme was the protection of the world’s fast-degrading oceans, including overfishing, chemical pollution and warming oceans.

The new Compact, “Healthy Oceans for Prosperity”, described as an initiative of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, is expected to marshal the resources of the entire U.N. system to improve the coordination and effectiveness of the work of the United Nations on oceans.

Speaking Sunday at the Yeosu international conference to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Ban said the world’s oceans are key to sustaining life on the planet, constituting a conduit for 90 percent of world trade, and for connecting people, markets and livelihoods.

“But humans have put the oceans under risk of irreversible damage by overfishing, climate change and ocean acidification, increasing pollution, unsustainable coastal area development, and unwanted impacts from resource extraction, resulting in loss of biodiversity, decreased abundance of species, damage to habitats and loss of ecological functions,” he said.

Besides the new Compact, the secretary-general also announced the creation of an Oceans Advisory Group, composed of executive heads of relevant U.N. organisations, high-level policy-makers, scientists, leading ocean experts, private sector representatives, representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society organisations.

The Advisory Group would focus on strategies for mobilising resources needed for the implementation of the Oceans Compact Action Plan.

Asked for a response, Sebastian Losada, senior oceans policy analyst at Greenpeace International, told IPS that Greenpeace welcomes the announcement of the secretary-general, and added, “We don’t need more statements of concern nor more summaries of the problems we face.

“What we do need is urgency in the negotiation rooms to move from words to action. Solutions to the oceans crisis exist and are well known, but they continue to be blocked by short-sighted national interests,” Losada said.

Before 2014, the United Nations is expected to make a decision to launch a global oceans rescue plan, “a new binding instrument under UNCLOS designed to end the current Wild West management of our oceans”.

“This will be a critical test case to judge on the success or failure of this panel,” Losada added.

The proposed rescue plan was one of the few concrete agreements reached at the Rio+20 U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil last June.

In a statement released here, the United Nations said the new Oceans Compact establishes three objectives: protecting people and improving the health of the oceans; protecting, recovering and sustaining the oceans environment and natural resources; and strengthening ocean knowledge and the management of oceans, according to the United Nations.

The Compact sets out “a strategic vision for the U.N. system on oceans, consistent with the Rio+20 outcome document, ‘The Future We Want’, in which countries agreed on a range of measures to be taken to protect the oceans and promote sustainable development”.

The Oceans Compact also supports the implementation of existing relevant instruments, in particular the 1982 UNCLOS.

According to the United Nations, the launch of the Oceans Compact follows the announcement by the secretary-general earlier this year of his Five-Year Action Agenda, which includes oceans as a main category.

In that context, the United Nations said, Ban decided to give strong emphasis to the importance of oceans and their role in sustainable development by putting forward the idea of an Oceans Compact that would commit the wide U.N. system to furthering healthy oceans for prosperity.

At the Expo 2012 U.N. Pavilion in Yeosu, about 20 U.N. agencies and international organisations showcased their collective work in helping to protect the world’s oceans and maritime resources.

Under the theme “Oceans and Coasts: Connecting Our Lives, Ensuring Our Future”, the United Nations highlighted the various contributions made by marine life to humans, including biodiversity, food security and renewable energy.

The U.N. Pavilion had a virtual “Pledge Wall” where thousands of visitors made commitments to protect the world’s oceans and coasts.

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Amid Rise in Piracy, U.N. Backs Summit on Maritime Security Thu, 09 Aug 2012 17:07:09 +0000 Thalif Deen Members of a visit, board, search, and seizure team from USS Anzio intercept a skiff containing a group of suspected pirates in the Gulf of Aden. Credit: US Navy

Members of a visit, board, search, and seizure team from USS Anzio intercept a skiff containing a group of suspected pirates in the Gulf of Aden. Credit: US Navy

By Thalif Deen

When the United Nations advocates the protection of the world’s oceans, its political agenda transcends the battle against marine pollution, global warming, overfishing, greenhouse gases and sea-level rise.

“We are also talking of high seas piracy and growing conflicts over maritime boundaries,” says one U.N. official.

And as piracy continues to be on the rise, the United Nations is now pushing for a summit meeting of West African leaders aimed at thwarting high seas crimes in the Gulf of Guinea.

Supported by the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the meeting is to take place before the end of this year.

A U.N. assessment mission on piracy, whose members visited Benin, Nigeria, Gabon and Angola late last year, recommended that a summit meeting on maritime security be convened “as soon as possible to develop a comprehensive strategy” against high seas crimes.

According to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), incidents of piracy rose from 45 in 2010 to 64 last year.

The concern over maritime security comes amid a growing dispute between China and its neighbours over claims in the South China Sea involving the Paracel and Spratly Islands.

Abdel Fatau Musah, director of political affairs at ECOWAS, points out that the decline in piracy in Benin, the most affected in ECOWAS, doesn’t mean high seas crimes have peaked.

But there has been a rapid spread of the phenomenon to other states in the region, including 18 attacks last year alone in Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire.

Musah told a recent meeting of the U.N. Security Council that piracy was increasingly dovetailing into other forms of transnational organised crime, including oil bunkering, robbery at sea, hostage-taking, human and drug trafficking and terrorism.

And when the United Nations hosts an international conference to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Law of Sea later this week, piracy will be the subtext of the discussions to be presided over by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Scheduled to take place Aug. 12, the conference will coincide with the closing ceremonies of the international exhibition Expo 2012, currently underway in the coastal town of Yeosu in South Korea.

The theme of Expo 2012 is the protection of the world’s oceans and maritime resources.

Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, India’s permanent representative to the United Nations, told IPS his country had been at the forefront of highlighting “the menace off the Somalia coast”, and was also concerned about the surge in piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.

“While the two situations were quite different in proportion at present, the failure of the international community to act decisively against piracy off the Somali coast could have spawned the new surge of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea,” he said.

Addressing a Security Council meeting, the Indian envoy also said, “The time has come for the attention being paid by the Council to translate into a concrete plan of action.”

He pointed out that piracy off the African coasts reflected the instability prevalent in the region and the reach of organised terrorist and criminal groups.

The perpetrators, he said, were targeting oil and chemical vessels, as well as oil-drilling platforms in the Gulf, and employing severe violence against their captives.

The region, he said, produced more than five million barrels of oil daily and three-quarters of the world’s cocoa supply.

Pirate attacks were thus adversely affecting the emerging oil industry of the region, as well as commercial shipping and marine traffic.

In a resolution adopted last December, the General Assembly recognised the crucial role of international cooperation at the global, regional, sub-regional and bilateral levels in combating threats to maritime security, including piracy and armed robbery at sea, in accordance with international law.

The resolution also recognised that bilateral and multilateral instruments and mechanisms are necessary to monitor, prevent and respond to such threats, and enhance the sharing of information among member states to better detect, prevent and suppress such threats, and to prosecute offenders with due regard to national legislation.

Lynn Pascoe, the outgoing under-secretary-general for political affairs, told a meeting of the Security Council last February, “We must take further concrete steps designed to eradicate piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, which constitutes a clear threat to the security and economic development of the states in the region.”

Currently, at least three organisations, the International Maritime Organisation, the International Maritime Bureau and the Bureau overseeing the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships in Asia, are coordinating efforts to collect and share accurate information.

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OP-ED: U.S. Adrift on Law of the Sea Fri, 03 Aug 2012 20:30:29 +0000 Ian Williams By Ian Williams

A little overshadowed by the Olympics, the Yeosu 2012 Expo is, in its own way, doing more than the London Games to promote global harmony – and without stirring up the waters the way the British did when they posted the ROK flag for the DPRK women’s soccer team.

Next weekend, as the Expo holds another session celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the Law of the Sea, with an Asian perspective, it is worth remembering that there are people in the U.S. establishment every bit as pugnaciously ideological as any Pyongyang commissar – and above all on the question of the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).

It has been five years since the George W. Bush administration, not the most U.N.-friendly of recent presidencies, declared the need for the U.S. to ratify the treaty, backed by the Pentagon and the Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.That was already 25 years after the rest of the world had finished drafting the treaty.

Since then, the melting sea ice in the Arctic and the competing claims to seabed resources there under the former polar ice cap, have accentuated the U.S. need for the treaty. Not just the Navy, but telecoms, maritime and oil lobbies have put their weight behind ratification.

Recently an open letter signed by previous Republican secretaries of state also called for it.

On Jul. 16, however, 34 Republican senators signed a letter opposing ratification, which is one more than necessary to block the two-thirds majority necessary.

It is a moot point whether the opposition to the treaty from inside the U.S. is motivated by specific objections to its provisions or just a generalised conservative aversion to all forms of international law.

However, in any case it is a sad commentary on the U.S. government that a bigoted minority has thwarted U.S. participation in a convention universally welcomed by all rational U.S. political factions and which has already been signed by 162 other countries.

Former Canadian minister of state for external affairs Mark MacGuigan described the convention’s truly global scope at the conference which produced the final draft:

“The Conference is not merely an attempt to codify technical rules of law. It is a resource Conference: it is a food Conference; it is an environmental Conference; it is an energy Conference; it is an economic Conference; it is maritime-boundary delimitation Conference; it is a territorial-limitation and jurisdictional Conference; it is a transportation, communications and freedom-of-navigation Conference; it is a Conference which regulates all the uses of the ocean by humanity.

“Most important, it is a Conference which provides for the peaceful settlement of disputing the oceans. It is, in other words, a Conference dedicated to the rule of law among nations.”

Which is, perhaps, why some in the U.S. want nothing to do with it.

In fact, the treaty was carefully crafted over years of negotiations to provide inducements to countries to join the convention since it went beyond customary international law in what it offered signatories – and in an effort to woo the U.S. signature, Washington’s concerns were taken into account at every stage.

It was relatively easy to establish conventions on outer space, and indeed on the Antarctic, since there was little or no commercial or military activity going on there. Indeed, in 1957, before U.S. isolationism and exceptionalism resurfaced as potent political forces in Washington, the U.S. had signed the Antarctic Treaty, which froze all the old territorial claims and kept the icebound continent free from military action and land grabs. The treaty has stood the test of time.

But ITLOS had to take into account not only the millennia-long history of human endeavours on the oceans, but also the future aspirations, like sea bottom mining. It took decades of intricate negotiations to take into account the competing demands of countries that included not only the traditional maritime nations but those landlocked countries that understandably claimed rights to seabed resources that are, as it were, the shared patrimony of the whole world.

The very first case to go to the Hamburg-based International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea demonstrated the need for it. In 1997, the MV Saiga, an oil tanker registered in St Vincent and the Grenadines, owned by Cypriots, chartered by Swiss, managed by a Scottish company, officered by Ukrainians and crewed by Senegalese, had been bunkering fishing vessels off the coast of Guinea when patrol boats from there seized the ship and detained the crew.

Guinea claimed a customs zone that extended 250 miles from its coast. The tribunal ordered the release of the ship and crew on payment of a bond, and, after consideration, it threw out the Guinean claim and ordered the ship and its crew freed. Under the convention, Guinea was not entitled to claim more than 200 miles for its exclusive economic zone.

Conventional law could not have coped with such complex jurisdictional disputes, but ITLOS can. Only last year, the tribunal resolved its first boundary dispute between Myanmar and Bangladesh, to apparent mutual satisfaction – just as it could adjudicate on Russian claims to the seabed under the North Pole that compete with those of Canada and the U.S.

But Washington’s failure to ratify the treaty knocks it out of the process, hence the rush of interest by all but most blinkered. It is not only bad for the U.S., it sends a wrong signal to the rest of the world – not least to the countries surrounding the China Sea.

Half a dozen navies are circling round asserting competing claims to atolls and islets with their territorial waters. They are interested in the oil under the water, but their unresolved disputes are like gasoline waiting for a match. Clearly, an arbitrated legal adjudication could resolve the situation.

But the biggest navy in the area, with treaties with many of the claimant nations, belongs to a nation that has yet to sign up for the most appropriate body of law and institutions to cope with the complexity of the region.

One has to feel sympathetic to President Barack Obama, dealing with an opposition whose concerns about economic and military conflagrations come second to their desire to see him out the White House.

But ratification is not only good for the U.S. and for the world, it would allow the president, backed by all those Republican secretaries of state, presidents and chairmen of the Foreign Relations Committee, to expose the ideological obduracy of his opponents. President Obama should at least sign the treaty and challenge Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to explain why his supporters oppose ratification.

We can assume that for some of them, it is simply a case of going along with raucous idiocy, and they might reconsider if the White House summoned some of those oil and defence lobbyists to make a call.

*Ian Williams is a senior analyst at Foreign Policy In Focus, and columnist, Tribune.

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Q&A: U.N. Spotlights Pirates in the Malacca Strait at Expo 2012 Fri, 03 Aug 2012 12:47:45 +0000 Isabelle de Grave

Isabelle de Grave interviews PATRICIA O’BRIEN, U.N. Under Secretary-General for Legal Affairs

By Isabelle de Grave

At the Yeosu World Expo 2012, the U.N. commemorated the thirtieth anniversary of the U.N. Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), highlighting efforts to quell the global scourge of piracy.

Patricia O’Brien. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

With its theme of the “Living Oceans and Coast”, Expo 2012 has turned the attention of a global audience to marine issues ranging from declining fish stocks and pollution to illegal fishing and piracy.

“Piracy has existed for thousands of years. It had substantially diminished in the end of the nineteenth century and seemed to have become one of the legends of the past, gradually disappearing from criminal law legislation,” Patricia O’Brien, U.N. under secretary-general for legal affairs, said at the Expo 2012 U.N. Pavilion.

“A few decades ago, the ‘pirate phoenix’ appeared to be rising again to become a regional, if not a global scourge,” she told the audience prior to a film screening on the law of the seas.

In an interview with U.N. correspondent Isabelle de Grave, Patricia O’Brien talks about current efforts under UNCLOS and beyond to combat piracy in the Malacca Strait, which runs between the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

Q: How serious is the threat of piracy to Asia?

A: The threat of piracy and armed robbery on board ships is of utmost importance to the U.N. and we are constantly monitoring the situation. Piracy poses a serious threat to the economies of all nations, as 80 percent of the volume of global trade is seaborne, representing 70 percent of its value, and it is expected to increase by 36 percent by 2020.

The Strait of Malacca is particularly prone to pirate attacks as one of the most important and strategic passages for maritime trade between Europe and East Asia. It supports 50 percent of the world’s oil shipments, including 80 percent of petroleum imports to Japan and the Republic of Korea among others.

Furthermore, at the regional and local levels, piracy poses a serious threat to the safety and security of seafarers and fishermen, whose means of livelihood directly depend on their ability to access specific maritime spaces and routes. Southeast Asian waters, and the many island and archipelagic states therein, are no exception. The safety of maritime circulation also bears heavily on the ability of some of these states to maintain political stability.

Q: Many fisherman impoverished by declining fish stocks turn to piracy. Will the Yeosu Project, which aims to build the capacity of emerging countries to address such issues, contribute to combating piracy?

A: The initiative taken by the Republic of Korea is commendable, and constitutes an important part of the regional and international efforts that must be undertaken by States Parties to UNCLOS and to the 1995 Agreement relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks to promote the conservation of fish stocks, both within and beyond the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ, a nation’s official territorial waters).

However, the root causes of piracy do not only lie in the mismanagement of fish stocks and the depletion of resources from seas and oceans. If the trends regarding piracy off the coast of Somalia are to provide any guidance, whereby pirates have expanded their areas of operation and acquired heavier artillery, allowing them to attack larger ships further out at sea, major shipping routes such as the Strait of Malacca should continue to be monitored closely.

Although reported incidents of piracy in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore saw a 50 percent decrease between the first half of 2011 and the first half of 2012, coastal states as well as ship owners should not become complacent. Coastal States have a responsibility to adopt and implement best management practices when operating in areas with a high level of activities.

They also have to educate transiting merchant ships on their local fishing practices and procedures in order to reduce instances of transgression of fishing gear, as well as incidents where merchant ships mistake fishing vessels for pirates. Incidents of piracy will only consistently decrease if these issues are tackled simultaneously.

In this globalised economy, where a state’s economy may still be impacted by acts of piracy committed thousands of miles away, improving the socioeconomic situation of fishermen locally is no longer sufficient.

Q: How effective are UNCLOS and other regional and international initiatives in the fight against piracy?

A: The definition of the crime of piracy is contained in UNCLOS under one of the most significant sections of the Convention, (article 101 Part VII) that regulates the High Seas. States have an obligation to cooperate to the fullest possible extent in the repression of piracy and have universal jurisdiction on the high seas to seize pirate ships and aircrafts and arrest the persons and seize the property on board.

UNCLOS provisions have been subject to national implementation by many states, which have issued legislation to criminalise piracy, allowing their domestic courts to prosecute persons suspected of this crime.

For instance, concerning piracy off the coast of Somalia, over 1,100 persons have either been arrested or tried and found guilty on the basis of such legislation. And efforts are continuing, at the international and regional levels, to assist states in building the capacity to conduct effective prosecutions and enforce the sentences imposed, which will have a deterrent effect on communities where the culture of piracy is still rampant.

The Strait of Malacca benefits from a patrolling system akin to that established with the convoy participation process off the coast of Somalia that the Republic of Korea just joined.

The Malacca Straits Patrols (MSP) is comprised of the Malacca Straits Sea Patrol (MSSP), the “Eyes-in-the-Sky” (EiS) air patrols, and the Intelligence Exchange Group (IEG), which are a set of practical cooperative security measures undertaken by the four littoral States, namely Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand, to ensure the security of the Strait of Malacca.

This arrangement entails conducting coordinated naval and air patrols while facilitating the sharing of information between ships and the Monitoring Action Agency. This is a very sophisticated system, which has allowed the number of piracy attacks in the Malacca Strait to drop from 38 reported incidents in 2004 to none in 2011, as per the International Maritime Bureau data.

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South Korea Showcases Role as Donor at Expo 2012 Wed, 01 Aug 2012 18:37:03 +0000 Isabelle de Grave By Isabelle de Grave

When South Korea took the initiative to integrate a development cooperation programme into this year’s World Expo, it stepped up its efforts to gain credibility as a donor on the international stage.

“The Expo is intended not only to enhance the public awareness of the dangers faced by the sea, but also to promote the need for international cooperation to turn these challenges into hopes for the future,” Ambassador Kim Sook the U.N. permanent representative of South Korea, told IPS.

The series of capacity building programmes, titled the Yeosu Project, is the first international cooperation initiative ever to accompany a World Expo, involving countries from Asia to Sub-Saharan Africa.

Greening aid

Under the banner of Green Overseas Development Assistance (ODA), the project includes programmes for developing eco-friendly marine fishing technology, improving coastal environment conservation and disaster prevention monitoring.

The Korean government plans to increase the percentage of “Green ODA” to 30 percent of its total ODA by 2020.

The East Asia Climate Partnership (EACP), set up by the Korean government in 2008 to facilitate international cooperation on climate change mitigation, currently has 20 projects underway in 10 countries.

In Mongolia, programmes numbering five in total include a water resource management project in the new town of Yarmag in Ulaanbaatar, a solid waste management project and a heating and hot water systems project.

“Such policy direction was well considered during the preparation process of the Yeosu Expo. Korea’s commitment to Green ODA will be materialised through the Yeosu Projects,” Kim told IPS

“For those developing countries keen to pursue a Green Economy path, the greening of ODA is likely to be welcome in terms of them accelerating and scaling up such ambitions,” Achim Steiner, U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) executive director, told IPS.

Gaining donor credibility

The greening initiative coincides with a concerted effort on the part of the Korean government to scale up its development cooperation programme following its recent accession to the Organisation for Overseas Cooperation and Development Assistance Committee (OECD DAC) in 2010.

Mexico, Chile and South Korea are the only former developing countries to ever to have transferred into the DAC.

“As a recipient-turned-donor country, the Republic of Korea has made strenuous efforts to bridge the gap between developed and developing countries,” Kim told IPS.

Heavily reliant on foreign aid in the 1960s, Korea propelled itself from destitution following the Korean War to its current status as the thirteenth largest economy in the world.

According to government estimates, it received 12.7 billion dollars in the post-war period.

In response to growing interest from developing countries in learning from Korea’s development experience, the Korean government established the Knowledge Sharing Programme (KSP) in 2004 with the Korea Development Institute, and the Ministry of Strategy and Finance.

For sustainable development, “Knowledge sharing is crucial. No one country has all the solutions to large scale (climate) challenges; the perspective and experience of individual nations, including traditional knowledge can, through shared programmes, and the sharing of lessons learnt, act as a catalyst for action,” Steiner told IPS

“Not least by building confidence that addressing marine and climate change issues are not insuperable but infinitely do-able,” he added.

“Building on its commitment to South-South Cooperation, Korea has become a world leader in knowledge sharing,” David Arnold, president of the Asia Foundation, non-profit organisation working towards the development of the Asia-Pacific region, told IPS.

The government has also committed to doubling its development assistance by 2015.

“I am very proud as a Korean that Korea has now become a donor country in the world from a poverty-stricken, war-devastated country.” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said in his speech at the 2011 High Level Forum (HLF4) on Aid Effectiveness in Busan.

Tied aid, loans and MDGs

However, 75 percent of Korean ODA is tied aid, according to OECD statistics, which binds recipient countries to conditions that promote donor country products and exports.

While the DAC estimates that tying aid raises the cost of many goods, services and works by 15 to 30 percent, a U.N. study of bilateral aid to sub-Saharan Africa found that tying aid reduces the value of the aid by 25-40 percent.

Since embarking on a “Roadmap on Untying”, Korea has reduced tied aid from 98 percent in 2008 OECD statistics.

South Korean assistance to Least Developed Countries (LDCs) is also predominantly in the form of loans, which often foster dependency due to the inability of poorer countries to pay back the loan. LMICs on the other hand mostly receive grants, considered a more sustainable form of assistance.

A 2008 DAC review recognises that Korea’s emphasis on mutual cooperation “is important in understanding Korea’s thinking, and to some extent drives policy choices such as the heavy use of loans and tied aid”.

But the committee recommends that South Korea “maintains a focus on poverty reduction and contributes to the MDGs, by prioritising LDCs and low-income countries and using appropriate aid instruments”

An Asian perspective

At the HLF4 the Asian Approaches to Development Cooperation dialogue series raised the issue of “whether donor alignment around an agreed set of principles and approaches is desirable or possible” for Asian approaches, Arnold, who represented the Asia Foundations at the HLF4, told IPS.

Countries like Korea, India, China and Malaysia have been providing training and technical assistance to other countries since the 1950s.

“Beyond resources, these emerging actors bring distinctive philosophies, expertise, partners, and modalities to their cooperation,” Arnold told IPS

Arnold highlighted some key similarities in Asian approaches such as mutual benefit with partners, responding to partner country requests, shared and sustained growth and capacity development.

“Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are not often used to describe either the goals or indicators of development cooperation in Asia,” he said.

In a similar endeavour to avoid the aid-recipient dichotomy, “’Aid’ is rarely used to describe Asian cooperation partnerships and most countries do not consider themselves donors,” Arnold told IPS.

But “Asian approaches to development cooperation have mostly fallen under the radar of OECD DAC donors until recently,” he said.

Highlighting Korea’s key role in facilitating mutual North-South learning at HLF4 negotiations Arnold told IPS “Korea, as host, played a unique bridging role between donor and partner countries, between DAC and non-DAC donors, and between ‘Asian’ and ‘Western’ development partners.”

Balancing the bargaining tables of foreign aid, “Korea was instrumental in shepherding the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation and expanding the dialogue on development and aid effectiveness to include important emerging donors like China and India,” he said.

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Q&A: South Korea Steps Up as Marine Conservation Champion Tue, 31 Jul 2012 19:56:14 +0000 Isabelle de Grave

Isabelle de Grave interviews AMBASSADOR KIM SOOK, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations

By Isabelle de Grave

When South Korea picked an oceans theme for the 2012 Yeosu World Expo, it became host to the largest marine-themed event in history, with the potential to make a concrete contribution to sustainable development and simultaneously buoy the Korean global image.

Ambassador Kim Sook. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

With hi-tech spectacles, such as a virtual whale that feeds on the text messages of visitors, and the emblematic “Big O” structure, which floats above Yeosu’s sparkling waters projecting a nightly multi-media show, the global exhibition does not disappoint.

But the question is can South Korea translate a captivating display of oceanic beauty and marine threats into concrete action to protect the world’s oceans and environment?

In an interview with U.N. correspondent Isabelle de Grave, Ambassador Kim Sook, permanent representative of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations, talks about what the 2012 Yeosu Expo means for South Korea, for Yeosu and for the protection of the world’s oceans. Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: What does this year’s Expo mean to South Korea, its global image and role on the international stage?

A: The Expo is one of the most significant international events and is expected to upgrade the national brand of Korea. It serves as a good opportunity to address climate change, depletion of natural resources, and the destruction of the ecosystem, which will bring out Korea’s active role in consolidating global cooperation.
The Expo is also expected to stimulate Korea’s shipbuilding and associated ocean-related businesses, which will further strengthen its economic dynamism. In addition, being held in a relatively small city located in the southwestern part of the Korean Peninsula, the Yeosu Expo will raise awareness of the region and help diversify the images of Korea

The government of the Republic of Korea expects that the event will provide an opportunity to enhance the international community’s awareness of the function and value of the ocean and coast, to share the knowledge on the sustainable use of the ocean and coast, and to strengthen the need for cooperation in the maritime sector.

At the end of the Expo, the Yeosu Declaration will be launched, in which Korea’s strong commitment towards developing countries will be clearly reflected. As a recipient-turned-donor country, the Republic of Korea has made strenuous efforts to bridge the gap between developed and developing countries. This year’s Expo is an extension of such efforts, particularly in the field of oceans.

Q: How has the coastal town of Yeosu benefited as host to the Expo and subsequent beneficiary of an eco-friendly urban regeneration project?

A: The Korean government introduced the concept of “low-carbon green cities” and has applied it to new urban planning and urban regeneration projects since 2009. Low-carbon green cities aim to build a low energy-consuming socio-economic system that promotes environmental protection and economic growth simultaneously.
By seizing upon the Expo’s momentum, Yeosu has been transformed into a model case of the green growth project. Now Yeosu has become a low-carbon green city that promotes green growth by combining green technology, including green construction, green traffic, and new renewable energy, with smart grid and information technology.

Despite its rich marine resources, Yeosu’s poor infrastructure has restrained its potential for development. However, the improved infrastructure has helped the city to fully utilise its potential for sustainable development and to set the foundation for the future development of the entire southern coastal region.

Q: How will Expo 2012 build upon the outcomes of the Rio+20 summit on sustainable development?

A: Oceans is one of the areas with the most important outcomes in Rio+20, including an agreement to take a decision on the development of an international instrument under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to address the issue of marine biodiversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction as well as to call for the elimination of IUU (illegal, unreported and unregulated) fishing and market-distorting subsidies.

Rio+20 is not an end, but a beginning of our journey into sustainable development. To make Rio+20 an ultimate success, we have to translate our words into actions.

The theme of the Yeosu Expo, “The Living Ocean and Coast,” conceptualises the future we want for oceans, where sound preservation of oceans is essentially linked with sustainable development for humankind. I am certain that the Yeosu Expo will expedite the continued progress on international cooperation to achieve the conservation and sustainable use of oceans, seas, and coastal areas.

Q: What contribution can technological exhibits at Yeosu make to sustainable development?

A: Green technologies, which are being exhibited at the Expo are not merely token green technologies, but technologies of the future, and some of them are also popular in Korea now. Green growth seeks to achieve the dual goals of environmental sustainability and economic growth at the same time, and green technologies are the foundation upon which both of these goals can be achieved.

In January 2009, the Korean government drew up a Comprehensive Plan for the Research and Development of Green Technologies. In May 2009, a Strategy for the Development and Commercialization of Major Green Technologies was established.

The Korean government has increased investment for the Research and Development of green technologies. In 2012, about two billion dollars will be invested in order to secure original technology and ease market entry. In addition, the Korean government is making further efforts to facilitate, disseminate and commercialize green technologies.

It also endeavors to establish the foundations for green technology industries while simultaneously promoting active international cooperation.

Q: How do you view the government’s recent announcement to allow whaling for scientific research against the backdrop of the 2012 Yeosu Expo geared towards protecting the world’s oceans?

A: The Korean government understands concerns expressed by the international community on the issue of scientific whaling.
The Korean government will soon make its decision on whether to submit the proposal on scientific research whaling after thorough consultations with domestic fishermen’s associations and environmental organisations, and discussions with concerned International Whaling Commision (IWC) Member States.

Even if the Korean government decides to submit a proposal on scientific research whaling, its decision to conduct scientific research whaling in accordance with international regulations and procedures will be fully committed to the recommendations of the IWC Scientific Committee.

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U.N. Chief Recounts Poverty and Plenty in South Korea Sat, 28 Jul 2012 11:19:42 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a former foreign minister of South Korea, is visibly emotional whenever he speaks about the striking political and economic achievements in his home country.

The secretary-general will be at the closing ceremonies of one of the biggest events in Korea this year: the international exhibition Expo 2012 in the coastal town of Yeosu. Credit: Bomoon Lee/IPS

In an interview with IPS, just after he was re-elected the world body’s chief administrative officer for a second five-year term last January, he said there has been some criticism as to whether he was more inclined towards “Western values”.

“But the values are the same,” he said, “whether they were eastern, western, north or south. And when it comes to human rights, there is no difference.

“I have lived in such circumstances and I have seen how Korean democracy evolved” – from authoritarian regimes and military dictatorships to a full-fledged democracy.

“The poverty was terrible,” he said, recounting the days when Korea was still recovering from war in the late 1950s.

Now, several decades later, a democratic South Korea is one of the world’s fastest growing economies, with symbolic Samsung smart phones outselling Apple I-phones, with a 35-percent to 18-percent share of the world market.

With education and elbow grease, he said, Korea transformed itself – all but destroyed by war and almost totally dependent on outside aid – to be a “proud donor”.

Korea is a case study in how countries can re-write their own history – by investing in people.

Come Aug. 12, the secretary-general will be at the closing ceremonies of one of the biggest events in Korea this year: the international exhibition Expo 2012 in the coastal town of Yeosu.

The United Nations is playing a key role in Expo, whose primary theme is the protection of the world’s oceans and the maritime ecosystems.

On International Day for Biological Diversity last May, Ban warned that marine biodiversity has not fared well in human hands.

“Commercial overexploitation of the world’s fish stocks is severe,” he said. “Many species have been hunted to fractions of their original population. And more than half of global fisheries are exhausted, and a further third are depleted.”

In advance of his visit, Ban said Yeosu Expo highlights “the invaluable services provided by oceans and coasts – from the food we eat to the oxygen we breathe”.

“I hope all who visit the U.N. Pavilion will come to feel more connected with these indispensable ecosystems – and with the United Nations, too.

“Let us work together – in Yeosu and around the world – to build the future we want,” he said, recalling the global plan of action adopted by world leaders at the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development at Rio de Janeiro last month.

Meanwhile, speaking at the University of Luxembourg last April, Ban went on a nostalgic ride down memory lane – as he does, off and on.

“I come from a very small town in rural Korea. Much of it had been destroyed in the war. We did not have any modern appliances. We used the stove to heat our house. I studied by candlelight. My classes were held under a tree, out in the open,” he told the university audience.

“Thanks to that education and thanks to the many friends from around the world who came to help Korea in its time of need, I began to see beyond my country.”

He said: “I knew that by learning a different language I could enter a broader world.”

So, he entered an English essay contest and won. The prize: a trip to the United States.

“It was a life-changing experience; from the dirt roads leading out of my hometown, I went to the capital, Seoul. Then I got on an airplane, for the first time.

“I was so thrilled, I felt like I could grab the stars right out of the sky,” he recalled.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

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Expo 2012 Moves from World’s Oceans to Law of the Sea Tue, 24 Jul 2012 13:52:17 +0000 Thalif Deen A fishing boat in the Bay of Bengal, the site of a maritime boundary dispute between Myanmar and Bangladesh. Credit: CC by 2.0

A fishing boat in the Bay of Bengal, the site of a maritime boundary dispute between Myanmar and Bangladesh. Credit: CC by 2.0

By Thalif Deen

As part of its overall theme to educate the public about the state of the world’s oceans, the international exhibition Expo 2012 will shift its focus next month to what has been described as “possibly the most significant legal instrument” of the 21st century: the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The United Nations, in conjunction with South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Korean Maritime Institute, will host an international conference to discuss “Asian perspectives” of UNCLOS.

Coincidentally, the conference follows the first ever decision in a maritime boundary dispute, and an “unprecedented advisory opinion”, by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) last March.

The dispute in the Bay of Bengal was between two Asian nations, Bangladesh and Myanmar (Burma), and the judgement has been described as “fair, equitable and balanced” by both parties.

The three-day conference is scheduled to take place Aug. 11-13 at the sprawling exhibition site in the Korean coastal town of Yeosu, in cooperation with the Organising Committee of Expo 2012.

Amina Mohamed, deputy executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) and co-commissioner-general of Expo, told IPS that from the U.N.’s perspective, the seas form part of what is referred to as the “global commons” and “as such any threat to this global resource ought to be addressed.”

She said visitors to the U.N. Pavilion in the Expo site will have the opportunity to learn all about UNCLOS.

The 30th anniversary of the landmark 1982 U.N. treaty will also be commemorated at a high-level meeting of world leaders at the General Assembly in December this year.

“It is a well-known fact that more than 70 percent of the earth’s surface is covered by water,” says Under-Secretary-General Patricia O’Brien, the U.N.’s Legal Counsel and head of the Department of Legal Affairs.

“I believe that we have all shared a sentiment of awe the day we contemplated, for the first time, a picture of the earth taken from space, and we came to the realisation that ours is a blue planet: a planet of oceans and seas.”

Running parallel to the Expo 2012 theme, the Law of the Sea has articulated a set of rules that covers essential aspects of human life: maritime trade and transportation; the preservation of the marine environment and biological diversity; fishing; and the exploitation of natural resources in the seabed.

At the same time, the law also stipulates rules that govern the placement of submarine cables, including those that allow broadband internet connections, and the safety of navigation and the fight against piracy.

With the United Nations as one of the key partners of Expo 2012, the focus on the Law of the Sea will provide a new political dimension to the exhibition which is due to conclude Aug. 12.

While 162 countries are state parties to the convention, there are still about 34 countries which have opted to remain outside the treaty – either not signing or ratifying it.

These include the United States, Israel, Iran, North Korea, Syria and Libya.

In March, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent letters to all 34 member states urging them to join the treaty during its 30th anniversary this year.

The treaty established three institutions: the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, the International Seabed Authority, and the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

During a visit to Yeosu last month, O’Brien said UNCLOS lays down a comprehensive regime of law and order in the world’s oceans and seas.

Comprising 320 articles and nine annexes, it governs all aspects of ocean space, such as delimitation, marine environment, marine scientific research, economic and commercial activities, transfer of technology and the settlement of disputes relating to ocean matters.

“A fundamental notion enshrined in the Convention is that all problems of ocean space are closely interrelated and need to be addressed as a whole,” she said.

O’Brien also pointed out that as far as territorial rights are concerned, coastal states may, under UNCLOS, establish the breadth of their territorial sea, up to a limit not exceeding 12 nautical miles.

She said each state exercises sovereignty over its territorial sea, while foreign vessels are allowed what is known as “innocent passage” through those waters.

“I believe it is quite fitting to mention that a 30th anniversary is traditionally called a ‘pearl anniversary’, an anniversary that is celebrated through a gift from the oceans, that has come to symbolise something unique, delicate and precious as our marine ecosystem,” she said.

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South Korea Offers Marine Technology to Developing Nations Wed, 18 Jul 2012 18:28:56 +0000 Thalif Deen Part of the international exhibition Expo 2012 in the coastal town of Yeosu. Credit: Expo 2012

Part of the international exhibition Expo 2012 in the coastal town of Yeosu. Credit: Expo 2012

By Thalif Deen

When South Korea inaugurated a U.N. Office for Sustainable Development last October, the new research and training facility was designed to help the world’s poorer nations “accelerate economic growth, improve quality of life and protect the environment”.

And nine months later, after showcasing the protection of marine ecosystems at its international exhibition Expo 2012 in the coastal town of Yeosu, the Korean government is in the process of transferring advanced technologies to the developing world.

The primary objective of the give-away: “The preservation and sustainable development of the marine environment.”

The countries benefiting from the ‘Yeosu Project‘ include Fiji, Tuvalu, Nauru, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Guatemala, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Grenada.

Ju-hoon Ahn, deputy director, Overseas Management Division of the Organising Committee for Expo 2012, told IPS the Yeosu Project is a grant aid programme to provide R&D (research and development) and training and education programmes to developing countries.

The aim is to address the urgent challenges faced by oceans and coasts – in line with the theme of Expo 2012.

For example, she said, “We helped Guimaras Province in the Philippines develop a framework for the provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management.

“We trained the provincial officials for the development of the plan, and built collaborative relationships between experts of Korea Maritime Institute and Guimaras Province to guide them through.”

The ongoing projects include case studies such as “The Climate and Ocean in Vietnam – Integrated Management of the Shrimp-farm and Mangrove Forestry in the Southern Mekong Delta” and strategic help such as “Marine Ranching Project” in the South Pacific Islands.

The Yeosu Project has been described as “fully embodying the concept of the Expo as an international cooperation programme aimed at supporting developing countries in their efforts to cope with marine environmental issues.”

The Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), a government institution that manages the country’s international assistance programmes, has been commissioned to implement the Yeosu Project, a spillover from Expo 2012.

The Korean government has earmarked 10 billion won (about 8.7 million dollars) for investments in pilot projects through 2012.

The areas and projects of priority include:

Firstly, the preservation of the marine ecological system, reducing pollutants contaminating oceans, and realising advanced marine technology;

Secondly, advancing the developing world in environmentally respectful marine resource development, especially in the areas of commercialisation and utilisation of marine organisms, and in the exploration of ocean mineral resources;

Thirdly, cultivating the marine industry, including projects related to environmentally-friendly fishing technologies, restoration of fish species, cutting edge farming techniques, port logistics technologies and marine equipment.

In May, Korea launched Expo 2012 in a sprawling Disney-like park in Yeosu which, among other things, has highlighted the achievements of the 21st century in marine science technology.

The exhibition, which has drawn hundreds of thousands of visitors since its opening May 12, is scheduled to close Aug. 12.

With a projected budget of 1.9 billion dollars, the exhibition includes a marine forest aimed at restoring eco-friendly fish farms, a large-scale sea water desalination plant, and buildings powered by solar power and ocean thermal energy.

These advanced technologies will eventually be transferred to the world’s poorer nations battling marine pollution, climate change and rising sea levels.

A longtime developing nation, South Korea is one of the few countries to graduate to the status of a developed country (along with Mexico and Chile) switching its role from an aid recipient to a donor.

Meanwhile, the U.N. Office for Sustainable Development (UNOSD), a joint effort of the United Nations, Korea’s environment ministry, the city of Incheon and Yonsei University, is based at the university in Incheon.

Sha Zukang, the secretary-general of the recently-concluded U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), said the establishment of the UNOSD 20 years after the 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development (Earth Summit) in Brazil “underscores the fact that the world’s commitment for sustainable development is as strong as ever.”

The Office will be managed by the U.N.’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and will serve as a training and research institution, and a centre for pooling sustainable development knowledge, according to the United Nations.

Sha said that in the longer term, the new office will contribute to advancing the implementation of the outcomes of the Rio+20 Conference which took place in Brazil Jun. 20-22.

He said the centre will also organise training programmes for national representatives and major groups from developing countries to advance the sustainable development agenda.

In addition, “it will undertake policy research and seek synergies through mobilising sustainable development research institutions and universities.”

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OP-ED: World’s Ailing Oceans Find a New Dawn at Expo 2012 Mon, 09 Jul 2012 18:55:10 +0000 Samuel Koo By Samuel Koo
YEOSU, Korea, Jul 9 2012 (IPS)

Gazing over the ocean somehow puts a human being at peace with the world. To build a home with a view of the sea is the dream of many. The expanse of water, the beach, and tide magically draw us to them.

Courtesy of Sam Koo.

One hundred years ago a stroll along the shoreline almost anywhere in the world would have been a pure experience, clean and invigorating whether the ocean was calm or crashing with waves. Today, the same cannot be said.

The world’s coasts, oceans and the creatures that inhabit them are suffering, and man is the irresponsible culprit. A beachcomber today is less likely to discover seashells washed up on the shore than he will shards of plastic.

Pollution, whether from enormous oil spills or the casual dumping of garbage, has spoiled the ocean bottom and formerly pristine regions where the sea meets the land.

Vast stretches of coastline have been dredged and reengineered to create arable land, destroying the habitats of birds, shellfish and other coastal life in the process. Industrial fishing fleets with nets laid for kilometres scoop up fish, driving them to the point of extinction.

The list of how the oceans are exploited goes on and on. It’s not too much to say that we face a fundamental ecological crisis that threatens our very lives.

And while we crave a quiet walk along the life-giving sea and the moment for reflection it offers, how much thought do we give to what is at risk?

The Korean government, along with 104 countries and the United Nations, are confronting this great question and much more at a three-month-long world’s fair in Yeosu on the south coast of the Korea peninsula.

You would be hard pressed to find a better place to hold an international exposition on the importance of the ocean. Yeosu, once an unheralded port city of 300,000, unfolds from a small harbor.

Along the waterfront sprouts a futuristic Disney-like park that has been welcoming millions of visitors from around the world to explore exhibitions pointing up the delights of the oceans and the dangers they face.

The United Nations has been playing a central role at Yeosu Expo 2012 sponsoring an array of educational programmes to highlight crucial issues such as climate change, the rising sea levels and marine pollution among many others.

Rising sea levels will challenge the very life of coastal communities – rich and poor – across the globe. Before long, small island countries may simply disappear into the water.

Without adequate research and education about the nature of tsunamis, thousands of people will continue to perish as they did following the powerful undersea earthquakes in the Indian Ocean basin and off the east coast of Japan last year.

And security on the seas affects all nations that are dependent on the free passage of trading vessels. International cooperation, with the U.N. as a facilitator, is critical if countries are to safeguard oceans today from criminals on the high seas.

In addition to the exhibits from many countries, the Expo is an “edutainment” site for young and old. The grounds are expansive and fun-filled.

At the heart of the complex is a 12-story-high structure in the shape of an “O,” which spews water, laser lights and beams. It can emit a thin sheet of water upon which videos can be reflected. “O” of course stands for oceans, but also zero, symbolising a beginning in a collective effort to restore the health of the seas.

In the nearly two months since the Expo opened, the “Big O” has become the most popular destination of the visitors.

This centrepiece at Yeosu grounds stands above a massive 60-million-dollar fountain that can be raised and submerged in the surrounding water, all orchestrated by computers. In the public thoroughfare leading from the main entrance, a canopy of digital lights develops the themes of the Expo: ocean conservation and recognition of the perils of climate change.

Whales appear to swim overhead. Two large industrial silos on the grounds, which once stored cement, have been “recycled” and turned into what organisers call the world’s largest pipe organ. Another popular attraction is an enormous aquarium, which will survive after the Expo ends.

Korea’s best-known companies – Hyundai, Samsung, LG, Daewoo and steelmaker POSCO – have invested heavily to promote the ideals of the Expo and to showcase their products, and their advanced design and gadgets have turned out to be very popular too.

The range of activities taking place at the fair is startling: lectures to raise public awareness on the importance the oceans are nearly continuous, singing and dancing groups perform daily, from ballet to symphonic concerts to daily K-pop shows.

The United Nations itself holds a permanent exhibition as well as changing exhibitions involving 24 U.N. agencies and international organisations. It also has fielded attractive stars including Seohyun of the Girls’ Generation.

Achim Steiner, the executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme, states the overall goal of the Yeosu Expo well: “Managing and protecting the ecosystem services of our blue world are part of the transition towards a global Green Economy that will ultimately ensure jobs, eradicate poverty, help us adapt to climate change and maintain the health of our oceans.”

And informal surveys show the Expo, helped by the blanket media coverage, has successfully managed to instil in many the important messages of protecing the oceans and furthering the knowledge of the marine ecosystem.

On the other hand, despite the strenuous efforts to stage an environment-friendly Expo, the result seems mixed at best.

Thousands of plastic water bottles and lunch boxes, and the heaps of promotional brochures, leaflets and souvenirs get thrown into trash bins daily, prompting some to question the wisdom of staging a massive modern-day expo like Yeosu.

At end of the Expo on Aug. 12, dignitaries from around the world, including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, will gather to proclaim the Yeosu Declaration, spelling out concrete action plans to safeguard our seas for posterity.

We know the path of neglect we are on leads to further ruin and the destruction of one of our most important relationships with the planet. Preserving the oceans ranks with the fight to insure there is clean water for all and preserving the rainforests.

Mr. Ban observed recently that the Yeosu Expo highlights “the invaluable services provided by oceans and coasts – from the food we eat to the oxygen we breathe. I hope all who visit the UN Pavilion will come to feel more connected with these indispensable ecosystems – and with the United Nations, too. Let us work together – in Yeosu and around the world – to build the future we want.”

*Samuel Koo, a former international journalist, UN official and cultural diplomat, has spent a career fostering humanitarian ventures in music and the art as well. He serves as United Nations Commissioner-General for Yeosu Expo 2012

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“No Future We Want Without the Ocean We Need” Fri, 06 Jul 2012 14:16:48 +0000 Thalif Deen At this Bonaire reef, the olive-green coral is alive, but the mottled-gray coral is dead. Credit: Living Oceans Foundation/IPS

At this Bonaire reef, the olive-green coral is alive, but the mottled-gray coral is dead. Credit: Living Oceans Foundation/IPS

By Thalif Deen

When South Korea, one of Asia’s rising economic powerhouses, decided to host the international exhibition Expo 2012 in the coastal town of Yeosu, it picked a theme high on the agenda of the just-concluded Rio+20 summit on sustainable development: the living ocean.

The entire focus of Expo 2012, which completes its three month run Aug. 21, is on the protection of the world’s maritime resources, including overfishing, chemical pollution and warming oceans.

And by accident or by design, the protection of the world’s oceans was one of the few key success stories to come out of the Rio+20 summit in its final plan of action titled “The Future We Want” adopted by world leaders last month.

Nathalie Rey, political advisor on oceans at Greenpeace International, told IPS one of the few concrete things on the table at Rio that went beyond business-as-usual was an agreement to launch an “Oceans Rescue Plan” to protect the high seas.

“Despite the alarm bells ringing by scientists on the need to protect the oceans, Rio pressed the snooze button on agreeing to initiate a new agreement under the United Nations that would protect high seas marine life,” she said.

However, the overwhelming support from the majority of countries – including Brazil (the host country), South Africa, Argentina, the Pacific Islands and members of the European Union (EU) – to give the green light for action was not enough to throw off the opposition from a handful of countries, she added.

With the United States leading the charge, and closely backed by Canada, Russia, Japan and Venezuela, these countries successfully blocked progress, Rey told IPS.

Instead of launching the agreement in Rio, governments postponed a decision for another two and a half years, booting the issue back to the U.N. General Assembly.

“Every day that we delay an oceans rescue plan, we bring our oceans ever closer to tipping points, jeopardising the health of the oceans and the future of the millions of people that depend on them for food and jobs,” Rey said.

Those countries that stood in the way of progress at Rio must stop defending short-term economic interests and join the rest of the world in supporting high seas protection to benefit future generations, Rey added.

At the Expo 2012 U.N. Pavilion in Yeosu, about 20 U.N. agencies and international organisations are showcasing their collective work in helping to protect the world’s oceans and maritime resources.

Under the theme “Oceans and Coasts: Connecting Our Lives, Ensuring Our Future”, the United Nations is highlighting the various contributions made by marine life to humans, including biodiversity, food security and renewable energy.

“What we know is that oceans are fragile and that there are many signs that marine ecosystems are experiencing unprecedented environmental change driven by human activities and climate change,” warns the United Nations.

A visit to the U.N. Pavilion ends up at a virtual “Pledge Wall” where visitors make a commitment to protect the world’s oceans and coasts.

Meanwhile, in a statement issued at the end of the three-day summit in Rio Jun. 22, members of the High Seas Alliance (HSA) said the ocean received “an unprecedented level of attention during the Rio+20 Conference becoming one of the most high visibility issues and the last piece of text to be resolved”.

In contrast to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, attention on the ocean was significant and led to protracted and heated debate within the negotiations.

“Some of the ocean outcomes were positive, while others fell a long way short of what marine scientists and campaigners had hoped and worked for, it was, nonetheless, a breakthrough year for the cause of conservation of 70 percent of our planet,” HSA said.

Although much of the text is a re-affirmation of existing promises and commitments, Susanna Fuller, coordinator of the HSA said, “If Rio+20 achieves nothing else, it should mark the end of empty promises and the beginning of strong ocean action.”

If it catalyses actual change, along with implementation of and compliance with the measures already promised, she said, then it will have achieved something.

The HSA identified six clear areas for international and national action:

Fulfillment of the U.N. resolution to end deep sea bottom fishing; an end to overfishing, including the suspension of fishing in some cases until stocks have recovered; requirement that regional fisheries management bodies be accountable to the United Nations; national action to eliminate harmful fisheries subsidies; closure of ports to illegally obtained fish; and the establishment of national and high seas marine protected areas, including reserves.

Professor Alex Rogers of the marine science body, International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO), said: “There will never be the future we want without the ocean we need.”

“We have to use Rio+20 to draw a line under the talking and start the doing. These decisions are all urgent, important and game changing measures which should be immediately implemented by governments as a direct response to the oceans text,” he added.

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‘It Should be Named Planet Ocean, Not Planet Earth’ Fri, 22 Jun 2012 05:31:09 +0000 Manipadma Jena

Manipadma Jena interviews WENDY-WATSON WRIGHT, executive secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC).

By Manipadma Jena
YEOSU, South Korea, Jun 22 2012 (IPS)

Oceans, seas and coasts provide over 200 million jobs globally, while 4.3 billion people get 15 percent of their intake of animal protein from the seas. Travel and tourism, ports and energy production use oceans and seas to create jobs and economic and social benefits for millions of people.

Wendy Watson-Wright, executive secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC). Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Over the last century a multitude of threats has eroded the ocean’s ability to sustain the benefits it can provide for present and future generations.

Poorly managed human activities have also eroded oceans’ resilience, particularly to climate change. Sustainable management of marine ecosystems has not been accorded the priority it urgently deserves.

At the Earth Summit currently underway in Rio de Janeiro, however, many hope these issues take centre-stage.

On the sidelines of Expo 2012, Yeosu, South Korea, whose theme this year is ‘The Living Ocean and Coast’, IPS correspondent Manipadma Jena asked Wendy Watson-Wright, executive secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), what steps need to be taken to manage the challenges facing oceans and how much of this to expect at Rio+20.

Excerpts of the interview follow.

Q: What is IOC’s view on the present state of ocean acidification and what are the mechanisms for controlling it?

A: Ocean acidification is definitely one of the most important issues facing the planet today.

The oceans are now 30 percent more acidic than before the industrial revolution and as one of my colleagues says, ‘Oceans are already hot, sour and breathless’ – meaning, currently with climate change and absorption of carbon dioxide, the oceans are becoming warmer, more acidic and more hypoxic – with more dead zones in them now.

If we continue with business-as-usual oceans will be 150 percent more acidic by the year 2100. Already we are seeing the impact on marine organisms, their reproductive functions and mortality, which is most evident in the coral reefs. While we need to stop emitting as much as we are currently, we also need to know more about acidification’s impact on sea organisms. We need more observation.

We do have a global ocean observation system, but there is no observation network for ocean acidification which needs to be incorporated.

Q: We need more science, we need more research – how plentiful is funding for such activities?

A: Funding is forthcoming in those countries dependent upon the ocean, like the Small Island Countries – they do not have a lot of money, but are concerned and acting already. So are Monaco, Australia, Canada, the U.S. and Korea.

By hosting Expo 2012 (with the theme) ‘The Living Ocean and Coast’, (South) Korea is successfully directing world attention to the oceans. As land creatures we tend to think primarily in terms of land; oceans remain out of sight, out of mind. In most national capital cities where decisions are made, oceans do not figure in day-to-day activities so funding is that much (harder) to come by.

Q:  What is UNESCO doing about increasing awareness levels on oceans at the policy-making level and particularly at Rio+20?

A:  At Rio+20 we are trying to heighten awareness that if we do not have sustainable development of the oceans we cannot have sustainable development of the planet. The only reason we are here on the planet is because of the ocean.

I think that (our) planet is misnamed: it should be called planet Ocean and not planet Earth. Ahead of Rio +20, IOC – the ocean knowledge, data exchange and ocean services arm of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) – led an inter-agency paper, ‘Blueprint for Ocean and Coastal Sustainability’, translated into five languages including Korean.

The IOC has also been hosting side events, including talks in the European Parliament on oceans in the Rio context.

Q: Where do you see the Yeosu Declaration in the context of Rio+20?

A: The Yeosu Declaration will be adopted on Aug. 12, 2012, after Rio+20 and it is probably good timing. I am hopeful that Rio will come up with something very strong on oceans and then countries sign the Yeosu Declaration saying we must look after oceans if we are to look after humanity – it will bring more attention to the crisis currently facing (the world’s) oceans.

Q: In the midst of the debate on oceans, are we adequately addressing the issue of fisher communities?

A: In our work at UNESCO-IOC we try to involve the local people, particularly in capacity building on coastal issues, for example in the tsunami warning system.

We are also giving importance to getting the oceans into the school education system; we teach the children and they teach the rest when they grow up. But I think all of us could do much better.

Q: Where do we stand on the Blue Carbon issue?

A: We are at the very beginning. Outside the scientific community few know that coastal ecosystems like mangroves and sea grass are much more efficient at sequestering carbon; this knowledge needs to be brought in to the ocean science community, to policy makers and most importantly, to communities who look after these ecosystems. Blue carbon holds a lot of promise.

Q: What, currently, is your most passionate project within IOC?

A: Right now, working towards creating awareness at Rio+20 about the fact that the global oceans observation system is critical. In order to make good science, so necessary for good policy, we need good observation. This, and ocean acidification, marine litter – including the major concern on micro-plastic litter in the marine environment – are my other interest areas.

Q: Will Rio+20 reach a sufficient conclusion on the issue of oceans?

A: I am very hopeful; and there is a lot going on. The World Bank launched its very inclusive global partnership for oceans. The U.N. Secretary General will announce at Rio+20 the Oceans Compact (a strategic vision for stakeholders, including the U.N., to collaborate and accelerate progress towards the goal of Healthy Oceans for Prosperity).

The focus of Rio+20 is civil society. The Brazilian government has launched a wide-reaching web-based dialogue on all thematic including oceans. I am very interested to see the outcome of these (efforts).


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Expo 2012 Shadows Rio+20 on Sustainable Oceans Thu, 07 Jun 2012 01:38:58 +0000 Thalif Deen A bird's eye view of the Expo site. Credit:Courtesy of 2012 Expo

A bird's eye view of the Expo site. Credit:Courtesy of 2012 Expo

By Thalif Deen

When the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) takes place in Brazil next week, it will be closely shadowed by another event thousands of kilometres away in the South Korean coastal town of Yeosu: Expo 2012.

The theme of Expo – the protection of the world’s oceans and its marine ecosystem – will be a subtext at UNCSD where world leaders will approve a plan of action for a greener economy and a sustainable future, including a new U.N. agreement to protect high seas marine life.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last month singled out “the protection of our oceans” as one of the key priorities of UNCSD, also known as Rio+20, scheduled to take place in Rio de Janeiro Jun. 20-22.

“Oceans cover almost three-quarters of the surface area of the globe. They are home to the largest animal known to have lived on the planet – the blue whale – as well as billions upon billions of the tiniest of microorganisms,” Ban said.

Still, he lamented, marine biodiversity, despite its importance, has not fared well at human hands.

But there is hope, he added, because a scientific review conducted in 2011 showed that, notwithstanding all the damage inflicted on marine wildlife and habitats over the past centuries, between 10 and 50 percent of populations and ecosystems have shown some recovery when human threats were reduced or removed.

“However, compared to land – where nearly 15 percent of surface areas is under some kind of protection – little more than one percent of marine environments are protected,” he added.

Ambassador Samuel Koo, U.N. commissioner-general Expo 2012, told IPS that participants in the three-month Yeosu Expo, dedicated to oceans and coasts, are determined to give the theme a full airing, with Rio+20 very much in mind.

“There is a widespread recognition that without healthy oceans and coasts, sustainable development and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will not be possible,” he warned.

“Our hope is that by raising awareness on these issues through creativity and popular appeal that make up the Expo, we can help generate a momentum going into Rio.”

Koo said serious efforts by government officials and experts are underway to produce a set of “action plans” with which the Expo will close on Aug. 12 in the presence of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a former foreign minister of South Korea.

Natalie Rey, Greenpeace International’s political adviser on oceans, told IPS that after last week’s negotiations, “We are one step closer to making a giant leap forward on stopping the Wild West on our oceans.”

Following tough discussions in New York, she said, a large number of developing countries and the European Union (EU) were successful in ensuring that a new U.N. agreement to protect high seas marine life is still on the table as a key outcome on oceans at Rio.

And this, Rey pointed out, despite strong opposition from a handful of countries such as the United States, Canada and Japan.

“Given the crisis that is facing our oceans, business-as-usual is not an option,” she added.

It is critical that those governments blocking progress stand aside next week and ensure that Rio becomes a critical milestone in safeguarding our oceans for now and future generations, said Rey.

At a press conference last month focusing on oceans, the United Nations said that overfishing and conservation of marine biodiversity are among key issues to be tackled in Rio next week.

About 85 percent of the world’s fish stocks are “overexploited, depleted or recovering from depletion”.

And according to U.N. estimates, the world economy can gain up to 50 billion dollars annually by restoring fish stocks and reducing capacity to an optimal level.

Andrew Hudson, head of the Water and Ocean Governance Programme at the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), told reporters that fisheries are a major piece of the global economy and a major source of jobs for people both in the developed and the developing world.

“We have to pay close attention to this issue if we want to maintain healthy and productive oceans going forward,” he added.

Last year, four U.N. agencies – UNDP, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) – released a plan to limit the degradation of oceans. The plan, titled “Blueprint for Ocean and Coastal Sustainability”, focused on several issues related to the oceans, including overfishing, pollution and declining biodiversity.

Calling on member states to set up more effective institutional mechanisms to protect the oceans and coastal areas, the report said that oceans also absorb close to 26 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere, increasing acidification, which affects plankton.

These, in turn, affect the entire food chain, significantly increasing the impact oceans have on all ecosystems.

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Korea Takes the Spotlight with Yeosu Expo Thu, 31 May 2012 13:46:46 +0000 Ian Williams By Ian Williams

The Yeosu Expo 2012 exemplifies how the Republic of Korea (ROK) has made its debut on the world stage.

With one national, Ban Ki-moon, embarking on an uncontested second term as U.N. secretary general, Jim Kim Yong, a Korean American taking office in July as the new president of the World Bank, and a Korean President Judge Sang-Hyun Song of the International Criminal Court, the Expo shows the engagement of the Republic with the rest of the world.

The latter is especially significant: Seoul signed the Rome Treaty establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2000, when some sections of Washington were bitterly opposed, and Ban, then foreign minister, was forthright in his support for the court, even when running for the secretary general’s position with support from ICC-hating John Bolton as U.S. acting permanent representative.

The support for the ICC showed that Korea had emerged from the shadow of its neighbours. For years, its foreign policy outlook had been overshadowed by the U.S., China, Russia and North Korea – none of them friends of the ICC – and former occupier Japan.

Understandably, with such neighbours looming on all its horizons, South Korea found it difficult to rise above the event horizon to become an active member of the world community as befits its economic stature. It has certainly overcome that reticence now and its principled support for the ICC is emblematic.

In times past, Korea was known as the Hermit Kingdom. And in their different ways, both North and South lived up to their reputation. Both halves ignored the advice of the Washington consensus, each conducting a real time experiment in methods of development, neither of them in the early years factoring much democracy into the equations. In this real time experiment, Seoul won hands-down.

The fall of the dictatorship in the South accelerated its economic development, and demonstrated to cheerleaders for so-called free-market authoritarian regimes like Pinochet’s Chile that democracy and civil rights were entirely compatible with, indeed possibly inextricable from,increasing growth and prosperity.

The South now is one of the world’s most highly developed countries, according to the UNDP Human Development Index, where its ranking is 15th – above most European countries. Most other indicators of GDP and economic rankings put it in that ballpark as well.

Indeed, the ROK has not only joined the developed world on most financial market indices, for the last 20 years it has had universal health care – making it in some ways more advanced the world’s biggest economy.

Ironically, the World Bank and the MSCI index still count South Korea as an “emerging market”, one almost suspects in revenge for the temerity of Seoul’s government and industry in pursuing its own route to development, but also because along with the other Asian Tigers, like Taiwan, they form such a large part of of MSCI’s emerging market index that their official emergence to developed market status would leave it without customers.

Interestingly, MSCI’s objections to Korea’s “emerged” status invoke some of the very reasons that South Korea has developed on the scale that it has. That is state direction and protection of sectors such as aviation, telecommunication, utilities which have limits on foreign ownership and alleged manipulation of the currency.

Rather than confront the “Washington Consensus” directly, however, Seoul tends to use the security situation with the North as the excuse for behaviour that until a few decades ago was regarded as entirely desirable and normal for developing governments.

With bitter memories of the conditions the International Monetary Fund (IMF) imposed during what the rest of the world called the Asian Currency Crisis, but in Korea is known as the IMF crisis, it is understandable that South Korea does not give full faith and credit to advice from the institution. Indeed, since the crisis it has more than tripled its GDP – in spite of the IMF conditions.

There are indeed issues with the Chaebols, the interlinked business groups that dominate Korean finance and industry. They do not make for the market “transparency” so beloved by Wall Street and the IMF, but more pertinently their stranglehold on the economy can work against the interests of consumers and workers alike.

However, the South Korean government and society have the means and willingness to tackle such issues.

Additionally, those companies have become major players in the world economy, 14 of them in the world’s top 500 companies. Nor have they grown in isolation, with Samsung for example, having the majority of its business, its employees and even its shareholders overseas.

Which brings us back to the Yeosu Expo, which draws together all these strands, domestic and foreign. Ignoring the neoliberal calls for austerity across the world, Seoul has put billions of tax dollars not only into the Expo, but also into a “stimulus” package for a region that had not totally shared the prosperity of the growing economy: infrastructure investment in roads, rail, airports and associated development not only brings a short term stimulus but lays the foundations for future growth and investment in the area.

The Expo aims to “Raise the status of marine science, the new frontier for science,” and the theme “The Living Ocean and Coast” is in keeping with the traditions and history of the region.

Korea’s shipbuilding industry, the world’s biggest, has now been joined by the offshore plant industry in terms of revenue, while Korean ports are ranked fifth and its shipping industry 10th in the world.

But one would be naive to expect corporations to voluntarily sacrifice profits for ecological reasons, so another emphasis of the Expo is the need for national and international regulation and standard setting on pollution and energy efficiency, which harmonises with Korea’s attested support for global governance, whether from the U.N., the ICJ or the International Law of the Sea.

Add to that Seoul’s promotion from being a recipient of OECD aid to being a donor: in connection with Yeosu, it is stepping up its overseas development aid, targetting environmental projects above all.

The Expo does mean South Korea is joining the world with a symbolic splash.

*Ian Williams is a senior analyst at Foreign Policy In Focus, and columnist, Tribune.

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Q&A: A Green Economy Without a Pricetag on Nature? Sat, 26 May 2012 10:58:18 +0000 Manipadma Jena

Manipadma Jena interviews ACHIM STEINER, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

By Manipadma Jena
YEOSU, South Korea, May 26 2012 (IPS)

As thousands gear up for the 2012 Earth Summit, Rio+20, scheduled to kick off in Brazil on Jun. 20, questions on the viability and adequacy of a ‘green economy’ abound.

Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Experts, activists and policy makers are divided on what is needed to solve the deadlock on carbon emissions agreements and tackle global warming. Some believe a complete paradigm shift, away from the neoliberal freemarket ideology, is necessary to turn the massive tide of climate change, while others believe a market-based approach to the crisis still has merit.

Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), believes a healthy mix of both frameworks will be the key to success.

An environmental guru whose career quite literally grew alongside the idea of sustainable development, which came into being twenty years ago at the first Rio Earth Summit in 1992, Steiner has negotiated for years within the tumultuous arena of global environmental crises.

Against the backdrop of Expo 2012, currently underway in South Korea’s port city of Yeosu, whose primary theme is the protection of the world’s oceans and marine resources in the face of rapid climate change, IPS correspondent Manipadma Jena interviewed Steiner on the various intersecting solutions to the climate crisis.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: What, in your opinion, has been the state of the global environment since the 1992 Earth Summit?

A: The balance sheet in overall terms remains a negative one. We have not managed to achieve what we set out to in 1992, which is to introduce a greater degree of sustainability into the global economy.

We have more people consuming more, there is biodiversity loss, an unfolding crisis of overfishing; emissions continue to go up, the notion that we could somehow decouple resource consumption and societies’ pollution footprint has not succeeded.

Still, it is not as if we are confronted with an unsolvable dilemma. We have an extraordinary array of examples of how development can be sustainable. It is not a coincidence that the scheme of the green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication has emerged on the scene. The challenge we face, wherein also lies the importance of Rio+ 20, is: how do we scale up these good lessons, because we know we can do it.

Q: Would it be faster if change came from the top?

A: (It would be helpful) if the top didn’t stand in the way. What we (see) today is that the architects of our economic policies are sometimes of the corporate outlook. They are very often also an obstruction or a constraint on innovation because they don’t allow green technologies to emerge or new policies to be tried out.

Q: Rio+20 will likely see a discussion on expanding and strengthening UNEP’s mandate. What role do you see UNEP playing in coming years to maintain the health of oceans and livelihoods of fisher communities?

A: It is critical that we address three major drivers that are currently affecting the future health of our oceans.

Pollution is the first, not just land-based but also through the shipping trade. Over 75 percent of our world trade travels though the oceans. Pollution through new forms of resource exploitation, oil exploration, deep-sea drilling and deep-sea fishing are all affecting the functionality of oceans.

The second issue is fishing and marine biodiversity. We are mining the very stock of protein that is available to us as a growing population to a point where fish stocks are collapsing.

Governments are subsidising fisheries in the world’s oceans at 27 billion dollars a year of which we estimate that 20 billion are actually fuel subsidies. They are encouraging over-exploitation. We have to change the way we see the subsidy regime. We have to reduce industrial fishing capacity and stop illegal fishing.

We have to restock and restore fish supplies, particularly for traditional fishing communities. It’s the only way in which we can achieve both the environmental objective of maintaining fish stocks and also the social objective of maintaining the livelihood of millions of fishers.

Also we all must understand how protected areas can be a critical building block for nations. Marine protected areas account for less than one percent in terms of the coverage. We want to get to a point of having 10 percent coverage.

Q: Critics of the Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) scheme say monetising nature and valuating forests could be used as collateral for debts by poorer countries and eventually risk being lost to creditors. What are your views?

A: Certainly the risk is there but it is diminishing as forests increasingly become a public issue and societies see forests as a national asset, economically as much as ecologically. In every society and every economy there is a temptation to exploit natural resources for short term gains. But to link the notion of payment of ecosystem services as something that might threaten forests because it could lead to the credit-collateral phenomena is like saying we should not introduce money as a way of transacting because people could use it for corruption purposes.

Does such valuation equal monetisation? Not necessarily. We in most contexts today sell our labour for money. It is the way in which we transact. Why would we draw this imaginary line around ecosystem services as not being part of this reality today?

Q: If the world does make a paradigm shift away from the current basis of calculating gross domestic product (GDP), what components should ideally go into estimating GDP?

A: We need a more sophisticated indicator. Most people today would acknowledge that the GDP growth in itself is extremely crude and not a legitimate indicator of economic and development progress, because it does not acknowledging that a society has a natural stock of wealth, alongside the services that nature provides us.

Current GDP may not disappear but it will not retain this exclusive monopoly on which a country’s economic success or failure is determined. Many governments are in fact on the verge of doing a more inclusive kind of accounting.

And finally we also need to look at how economics is often being used in terms of pricing. The price of energy used to be defined as most successful when it was cheapest. Yet we know today that renewable energy technologies will increase employment by more than 30 percent compared to the current business-as-usual model. Is it not a vital consideration to pay a few more cents per kilowatt of power, when you can create jobs for these armies of unemployed youth in our societies?


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Can ‘Blue Forests’ Mitigate Climate Change? Mon, 21 May 2012 01:47:04 +0000 Manipadma Jena By Manipadma Jena
YEOSU, South Korea, May 21 2012 (IPS)

Fifty-five percent of global atmospheric carbon captured by living organisms happens in the ocean.

The theme pavilion at the Expo 2012 Yeosu Korea is built over the sea to represent this year’s theme: ‘Living Oceans and Coasts’. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Between 50-71 percent of this is captured by the ocean’s vegetated “blue carbon” habitats, which cover less than 0.5 percent of the seabed, according to a 2009 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report entitled ‘Blue Carbon – The role of healthy oceans in binding carbon,’ one of the first documents to demystify the term.

These recent discoveries – of the efficiency of ocean vegetation in mitigating greenhouse gases and ocean ecosystems’ ability to store atmospheric carbon dioxide for millennia – has sent scientists running to probe the potential role of ‘blue forest’s in global efforts to lessen climate change.

An international symposium on the effects of climate change on the world’s oceans, at the Yeosu Expo 2012 being held here from May 12-Aug. 12 under the theme ‘Living Oceans and Coasts’, brought together scientists and researchers to discuss the carbon management of blue forests.

“Carbon stored and taken out of the atmosphere by coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, seagrass and salt marsh is called blue carbon,” explained Nairobi-based Gabriel Grimsditch of the UNEP.

“Blue carbon is important because it allows investment in protection of coastal ecosystems. These ecosystems are important for more than just carbon sequestration and storage – they provide food through fish and protect coastal populations from storms and tsunamis,” he added.

Wendy Watson-Wright, executive secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) and assistant director-general of UNESCO, told IPS, “In order to make good policy we need good science. Not much about blue carbon is known outside the scientific community but it is of crucial importance that its huge benefits be known to policy makers and particularly local communities who take care of and derive their livelihood from this ecosystem.”

In a paper presented at the symposium, ‘Vegetated Coastal Habitats as Intense Carbon Sinks: Understanding and Using Blue Carbon Strategies’, Nuria Marba Bordalba, a scientific researcher at Spain’s Mediterranean Institute of Advanced Studies, claimed that there is more carbon stored in the soils of vegetated marine habitats than the scientific community had hitherto accounted for.

An important aspect of blue carbon is that most of it is found in the soil beneath the ecosystems, not in the biomass above ground. Carbon can be stored for millennia due to sea level fluctuation, as opposed to terrestrial forests that reach the carbon saturation point earlier.

But there are risks. The flip side to blue carbon is that if these ecosystems are degraded or destroyed, the huge amount of stored carbon – sometimes accumulated over millions of years – is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide due to oxidation of biomass and of the organic soil in which carbon may have been stored.

In fact, some key questions on the table at the symposium were: how vulnerable are coastal carbon sinks to climate change habitat degradation? And, if the habitat is destroyed, how do carbon stocks react?

“The rate of carbon emission is particularly high in the decade immediately after disturbance but continues as long as oxidation occurs,” Grimsditch told IPS.

“When a wetland is drained, carbon is released, first slowly, then (at an) accelerated pace,” said San Francisco-based Stephen Crooks, co-chair of the International Blue Carbon Science Working Group.

“There is now a growing realisation that we will not be able to conserve the earth’s biological diversity through the protection of critical areas alone,” said Gail Chmura, associate professor at the Canadian McGill University’s Department of Geography.

The East Asian Seas region of the world has lost 70 percent of its mangrove cover in the last 70 years. A recent publication, ‘From Ridge to Reef’, by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) warned that if this pattern continues the region will lose all its mangroves by 2030.

This would be a disastrous scenario, since the region’s coast is comprised of six large marine ecosystems and supports the livelihoods of 1.5 billion people.

“On the global scale, mangrove areas are becoming smaller or fragmented and their long-term survival is at great risk. In 1950, mainland China had 50,000 hectares of mangroves. By 2001, it was down to 22,700 hectares – a 50 percent loss,” Guanghui Lin, professor of ecology at the Centre for Earth System Science in Beijing’s Tsinghua University, told IPS.

Researchers currently estimate loss of mangroves, seagrass beds and salt marshes at between 0.7 to two percent a year, a decline driven largely by human activities such as conversion, coastal development and over harvesting.

“Ecological restoration is a critical tool for biodiversity conservation and sustainable development,” Chmura stressed.

During the last three decades China has established 34 natural mangrove conservation areas, which account for 80 percent of the total existing mangrove areas on the mainland, according to Lin.

“One of the replicable regeneration policies is a mandatory funding from the real estate sector for mangrove regeneration,” Lin said.

“The cost of seagrass restoration may be fully recovered by the total carbon dioxide captured in 50 years in societies with a carbon tax in place,” Bordalba suggested.

“Seaweed production as a climate change mitigation and adaption measure (also) holds great promise because it will (contribute to) global food, fodder fuel and pharmaceutical requirements,” said Ik Kyo Chung from the oceanography department of the Pusan National University of South Korea.

While acknowledging the considerable uncertainty surrounding estimates and a lack of concrete data, the UNEP report suggests that blue forests sequester between 114 and 328 teragrammes of carbon per year.

Luis Valdes, head of Ocean Science at IOC-UNESCO told IPS, “There are two sides to the blue carbon issue, one is the scientific aspect of how much carbon is actually sequestered, technology transfers and so on; the second facet is political – identifying and negotiating with developing countries, collaborating and funding for blue carbon projects.”

“Socialist countries in South America like Venezuela or Cuba are skeptical of blue carbon. They are often opposed to market-based solutions to climate change,” said Grimsditch.

Mexico, Senegal and Bangladesh are already trying out blue carbon sequestration through demonstration projects. Senegal is using mangroves for carbon credits and REDD+, something the UNEP is pushing in other countries’ policies too.

UNEP and GEF with Indonesia have initiated a Blue Forests Project, which seeks to standardise methodologies for carbon accounting and ecosystems valuation.

“We also need to better understand the economics of blue carbon, and whether it is possible to pay for ecosystem management through carbon credits,” said Grimsditch.


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Private Sector and Conservationists Meet on a Big Date Mon, 14 May 2012 17:04:54 +0000 Manipadma Jena By Manipadma Jena
YEOSU, May 14 2012 (IPS)

As schools of whales move to music undersea at image definitions of 6.54 million pixels on the giant ceiling mounted LED screen, 218 X 30 metres in length and width, expectations run high from the International Exposition Yeosu Korea 2012 at harbour town. The expo showcases 104 participating countries’ visions and achievements on the Expo theme: ‘The Living Ocean and Coast: Diversity of Resources and Sustainable Activities’.

The Expo is a modern marketplace where unlikely bedfellows are meeting – the private sector, usually demonised as the exploiter of natural resources for profit, and conservationists.

“The marine realm is facing multiple challenges – from over-fishing and climate change to pollution from hazardous materials. The Expo and the UN Pavilion can inspire people, business and governments to greater awareness and more decisive action,” said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, through UN press briefings.

Expo 2012 which opened May 11, aims to enhance the international community’s understanding of the function and value of oceans and coasts, share knowledge on sustainable use of marine environment and enhance cooperation in the sector.

An estimated 11 million and targeted 8.3 million footfalls are expected over the three months that the Expo runs.

The Expo’s second largest pavilion is a telling example of the many layers of interaction between conservationists, the public and the business sector.

“The message of One UN – a group of 24 UN organizations – is one of edu-entertainment, more on the lines of imparting information on not commonly known or ignored facts about the oceans, and the resources it provides humans,” UN Commissioner-General, 2012 Yeosu Expo, Samuel Koo told IPS.

The UN Pavilion pitches its conservationist message through the Expo theme expanded to ‘Oceans and Coasts: Connecting our Lives, Ensuring our Future, the Choice is Yours.’

The UN pavilion offers information-packed quizzes, simulated digital coasts that visitors help clean up and other exhibits that depict the wonders of marine ecosystems and the challenges of climate change and pollution.

“Like the Shanghai Expo in 2010, the Korean government has chipped in with a 50 percent or 1.5 million dollar funding partnership,” Koo tells IPS. Part of the private contributions comes from Korean Green Fund, a national level non-governmental organisation which has a track record in building environmental cooperative networks between the government, corporations, civic organizations, and individuals

“The Expo is a happening of many different actors, a stage to present national and corporate development to an international community. It is the conversation that people will begin to have when they go around and when they go home, that will be change-making,” says Achim Steiner, Executive Director UN Environment Programme (UNEP) that is co-ordinating the UN Pavilion.

“It is the informed people’s demand and their choice of new entrepreneur with an environment friendly product or technology that will ultimately drive change,” Amina Mohamed, UNEP Deputy Executive Director told IPS. “For instance the State of California in the United States is investing heavily in renewable energy infrastructure, not waiting the federal government to take the lead,” Mohamed added.

According to a UNEP report, ‘Green Economy in a Blue World’, released January 2012, there is huge potential for economic growth and poverty eradication from well-managed marine sectors.

“We have all the policies and technologies we need to sustainably manage these extraordinary assets. Yeosu 2012 can contribute towards a positive outcome at Rio+20 in June and help us build the future we want,” said Ban Ki-moon.

“We have only tapped into 5 percent of marine resources,” said Steiner. “After land, marine resources may hold the potential to sustain human kind,” said Yeosu’s Member of Korea national assembly, Kim Sung- gon at the UN Pavilion opening on May 12th.

“Ocean is the destination of everything and has enough to provide our needs if we understand its fragile nature,” said Lee Bae-yong, Chair of the Korean Presidential Council of Nation Branding.

According to information from the UN Pavilion, fish products supply over 4.2 billion people with 15 percent of average protein intake. However in 2009, fisheries supported livelihoods of 540 million or eight percent of the world population. Over 30 percent of world fish stocks are overexploited or depleted and 50 percent are fully exploited.

“While one cannot generalise among all businesses, it is undeniable that there are business concerns that are taking the long view”, Raphael P.M. Lotilla, the Executive director of Partnerships in Environmental Management for Seas of East Asia (PEMSEA), told IPS, adding that this coastal country is serious about sustainable management of its marine resources.

Underscoring his point that management of some businesses are taking on greener hues, Lotilla cites an example in the Philippines where 19 corporations led by Petron Corporation have organised the Bataan Coastal Care Foundation, Inc. which provides financial and other support to the Bataan Provincial Government’s Integrated Coastal Management Programme and oversees Bataan’s Land and Sea-Use Zoning Plan.

Another example is Thailand’s Chonburi province’s Oil Industry Environment Group, which is working to formulate an oil spill contingency plan with the national and local government, Rotilla said.

“Business is not some homogenous interest group; there are companies here at the Expo with hi-tech solutions to environmental problems and the fact that Korea chose this theme of oceans, has in fact brought all the exhibitors here, with at least a need to express, what is their contribution to the challenge of sustainable use and management of oceans. And this is as high you should put the threshold, beyond that is expecting too much,” Steiner told IPS. (END)

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Q&A: Protecting Oceans Equals Protecting Our Planet Wed, 09 May 2012 10:30:00 +0000 Thalif Deen Amina Mohamed Credit: UNEP

By Thalif Deen

The U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP), whose mandate includes the preservation and protection of the world’s fast-degrading oceans, will play a pivotal role in Expo 2012, an international exhibition to be formally opened later this week in the coastal town of Yeosu in South Korea.

“From the U.N.’s perspective, the seas form part of what is commonly referred to as the ‘global commons’, and as such, any threat to this global resource ought to be addressed,” Amina Mohamed, a U.N. assistant secretary-general and UNEP‘s deputy executive director, told IPS.

She pointed out that the largest creatures in the world live in the oceans (blue whales) as well as the smallest (bacteria).

“Protecting our oceans is tantamount to protecting our planet and is critical for long-term sustainable development,” said Mohamed, who is also co-commissioner-general of Expo 2012 and a former Kenyan ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva.

The primary theme of Expo 2012, which runs May 12 May through Aug. 12 – is “the living ocean” and the protection of the world’s marine ecosystems.

The U.N. Pavilion located in the exhibition site will bring together more than 20 U.N. agencies and international organisations, primarily to showcase their collective efforts at the sustainable use of oceans and coasts.

The participating agencies include the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the International Seabed Authority, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the International Ocean Institute and the World Food Programme (WFP).

In an interview with IPS, Mohamed said that UNEP, as the lead U.N. agency, will coordinate the preparatory work of the agencies, as well as their participation.

She pointed out that coasts and ocean resources are key to economic development and growth, and therefore offer the potential for transitioning to a green economy and a sustainable future, as envisaged by the upcoming Rio+20 summit of world leaders in Brazil in June.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: How important is the protection of marine resources in the context of the global environment? A: Protection of marine resources, and specifically oceans, is extremely important for a number of reasons. Oceans comprise more than 70 percent of our planet, are crucial to sustaining the Earth’s life- supporting systems, especially in regulating our climate, and provide food and income to the billions of people who depend on marine ecosystems for their livelihoods.

Indeed oceans, coasts, and islands are vital suppliers of diverse resources and ecosystem services that are essential for the survival of human civilisation. We must remain deeply aware of the importance of the oceans, coasts and islands so that they continue to serve as a source of prosperity for humankind.

Oceans, coasts and islands have also functioned as foundations for cultural development throughout human history. Consequently we must increase our efforts to protect and develop maritime cultures in order to help them conserve marine resources sustainably and ensure the equitable sharing for present and future generations.

In addition, oceans constitute a conduit for trade and exchange that connect the economies of the entire world. In light of the oceans interconnectedness, all nations of the world should strive to make it a place of safe navigation and welfare for all mankind. People depend on all of these for their wellbeing. And every second breath we take comes from oceans’ oxygen.

Q: Will Expo deal with related issues such as the rise in piracy and also the Law of the Sea (which was essentially the creation of the United Nations)? A: Visitors to the U.N. Pavilion will have the opportunity to learn about the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea.

However, the theme of the expo may not address the issue of piracy directly but we are keen to deliver the following key messages, namely that oceans are the heart and lungs of the planet and determine every form of life that inhabit them.

Q: What specific messages do you plan to convey regarding the world’s oceans at Expo 2012? A: Coasts and oceans are resilient but have their limits, and so if millions of tourists enjoy them every year and if limited fish stocks are over-fished, we need to give them time to recover. Care and sustainable use can make a difference.

Additionally, land-based activities such as agriculture and industries have a significant impact on the overall quality of our oceans. Poor use of resources leads to the generation of pollution loads through wastewater discharges and air pollution emissions. To this end, we must remember that removing pollutants is more expensive than avoiding them in the first place.

Oceans and inland water resources also provide important sources of food, nutrition and income for billions of people.

Q: Will protection of marine resources be on the agenda of Rio+20, billed as one of the biggest summit meetings on the global environment? A: Protection of marine resources will be on the agenda of the Rio+20 conference. Under this item, discussions will focus on various matters, including the role of oceans in sustaining Earth’s life support system; sustainable exploitation of the oceans and their resources; conservation, sustainable management and equitable sharing of marine and ocean resources; economic, social and environmental contribution of coral reefs to island and coastal states; significance of the Global Marine Assessment process; impact and prevention of ocean acidification, restoration of global fish stocks, conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity.

In addition to this prominent feature of oceans in the Rio+20 text, there will be an ‘Oceans Dialogue event’ in Rio on Jun. 16 at the Rio Conventions pavilion. And arrangements have been put in place to celebrate ‘Oceans Day’ (during the summit).

Q: Regarding the impact of oceans on humans, how threatening is sea level rise on the world’s smaller island nations such as Maldives, Tuvalu and Solomon islands? Does UNEP have a role here? And can the Expo provide any guidance to these countries? A: The rise in sea level poses serious challenges to the whole world. It is estimated that sea levels have been rising at an average rate of 2.5mm per year between 1992 and 2011. This scenario clearly supports the view that small island nations remain a special case for sustainable development in view of their unique and particular vulnerabilities.

The vulnerability of small island nations has worsened over the last two decades if the rate of rising sea level is anything to go by. There exists therefore a strong basis for increased efforts to assist small island nations to deal with this global challenge including the need to convene a third international conference for the sustainable development of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the very near future.

UNEP is uniquely placed to provide information that would assist the Small Island Nations deal with their vulnerabilities. We have for instance published a report titled “Green Economy in a Blue World” which sets out several options that address challenges faced by these countries. These options range from transition to green growth in fisheries to developing a sustainable tourism sector.

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Expo 2012 Aims to Protect World’s Endangered Oceans Fri, 04 May 2012 14:35:00 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

Come May 12, South Korea will host its largest single landmark event for the year – an achitecturally-glittering Expo 2012 – continuing a 161-year-old tradition going back to the first Great Exhibition in England in 1851 showcasing the steam engine.

Expo 2012 is expected to attract nearly 11 million domestic and international visitors during the three-month fest. Credit: Courtesy of Expo 2012

Expo 2012 is expected to attract nearly 11 million domestic and international visitors during the three-month fest. Credit: Courtesy of Expo 2012

The world fairs that followed included the 1876 international exhibition in the U.S. city of Philadelphia, which focused on the telephone as its thematic centrepiece, and the 1885 exposition in Antwerp, Belgium, highlighting the automobile.

The primary theme of this year’s international exhibition, hosted by one of Asia’s leading economic superpowers, is “the living ocean” and the protection of the world’s maritime resources.

According to the United Nations, 60 percent of the world’s major marine ecosystems are either damaged or overexploited.

The last world expo, held in 2010 in Shanghai, China, was based on the theme “Better City, Better Life” and the next expo, scheduled to take place in Milan, Italy in 2015, will focus on the cultural heritage of that city.

Located in the coastal town of Yeosu, home to Korea’s major ports, industrial complexes and national marine parks, Expo 2012 will showcase the achievements of the 21st century in marine science technology.

Described as a “green expo”, the exhibition’s environmental theme runs parallel to the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development (also known as Rio+20) scheduled to take place in Brazil mid-June.

The United Nations, which has set up a giant pavilion, the second largest after Korea, is playing a key role in Expo 2012.

With more than 70 percent of the earth’s surface covered in oceans, says the United Nations, the lives of human beings are intimately linked to oceans.

“Oceans are the heart and lungs for our planet, producing 40 percent of the earth’s fresh water and 75 percent of the oxygen we breathe.”

And the world body aims to advance the sustainable management of oceans, coasts and small island developing states which face the threat of being wiped off the face of the earth due to sea-level rise and the degradation of the global environment.

The Expo organisers say they have established environmental guidelines for the first time in the long history of world exhibitions: carbon-neutral, eco-friendly buildings powered by solar and ocean thermal energy.

The government of Korea has invested over 1.9 billion dollars on the exhibition, which runs May 12 through Aug. 12 this year.

At the same time, it is also spending nearly 11 billion dollars constructing new roads, installing a high-speed train service between Seoul and Yeosu and building a massive tourism infrastructure in the coastal city.

The event is expected to attract nearly 11 million domestic and international visitors during the three-month fest.

Ambassador Samuel Koo, the U.N. Commissioner-General for Expo 2012, told IPS, “For a country which has hosted the Olympics, the World Cup and G20 Summit, the Expo represents another big opportunity to showcase its image as a major economic, high-tech and cultural powerhouse.”

This, he pointed out, will spur tourism, promote employment and upgrade Korea’s least developed region, the site of the exhibition, located at the centre of the south coast abundant in marine resources.

The event will bring the public and private sectors together, with the participation of some of Korea’s leading industrial companies, including Daewoo Shipping and Marine Engineering, with Korean traditions linking the latest technologies.

“Most importantly,” said Ambassador Koo, “it brings Korea closer to the international community in the spirit of cooperation and a shared sense of responsibility for marine protection and development.”

The Expo has attracted 105 countries, 24 U.N. and other international organisations and Korea’s top conglomerates which all have built their own state-of-the art pavilions.

All the major cities and provinces of Korea are also represented at the three-month exhibition.

At least 50 countries, including the United States, China, Japan, Germany, France and Spain will have individual pavilions.

Also, 50 developing nations have designed joint national pavilions classified into three clusters: the Pacific Pavilion, the Atlantic Pavilion and the Indian Ocean Pavilion.

France will focus on “desalination of sea water”; Germany on “achievements in oceanic and coastal related science and technology; Russia on “Ocean and Person – Path from the Past to the Future”; and the United States on “Diversity, Wonder and Solutions.”

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Q&A: Expo 2012 to Focus on Protecting World’s Marine Resources Fri, 16 Mar 2012 10:40:00 +0000 Thalif Deen

U.N. Bureau Chief Thalif Deen interviews Commissioner General SAM KOO

By Thalif Deen

The United Nations, which is hosting a major international summit on the global environment in Brazil in late June, points out that while the world’s oceans account for 70 percent of the earth’s surface, only one percent of this area is protected.

Sam Koo Credit: Courtesy of Sam Koo

Sam Koo Credit: Courtesy of Sam Koo

“Sixty percent of major marine ecosystems (are) either damaged or over-exploited…having negative effects on mangroves and coral reefs,” the world body warns.

The growing degradation of the oceans, including overfishing, pollution and loss of biodiversity, will be high on the agenda of the Rio+20 summit of world leaders Jun. 20-22, a follow-up to the historic 1992 Earth Summit in the Brazilian capital.

Touching on many related issues will be Expo 2012, scheduled to take place May 12 through Aug. 12 in South Korea’s coastal city of Yeosu, which will focus on the protection of the world’s oceans and coastlines.

Titled “The Living Ocean and Coast: Diversity of Resources and Sustainable Development”, Expo 2012 will also shed light on the advances in technology concerning the ocean and coastlines – and ways to resolve the challenges facing these great resources.

Ambassador Sam Koo, commissioner general of Expo 2012, told IPS, “Oceans indeed are the new frontier for international cooperation, and man’s harmonious coexistence with the marine environment is of utmost importance if countries are to work together internationally to preserve the planet.”

A former senior official of the United Nations and president of the Seoul Tourism Organisation, Koo is an ex-newspaperman with a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University in New York.

In an interview with IPS U.N. Bureau Chief Thalif Deen, Koo said a total of some 106 countries and 27 international organisations are expected to participate in the 2012 Yeosu Expo, as it is known in Korea.

South Korea is expecting more than 10 million people to visit the Expo, including half a million foreigners, mostly from China.

Koo described Expo “as by far the biggest event in Korea this year.”

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: How important is Expo against the backdrop of the continued environmental degradation of the oceans and the coasts? A: The Expo will play a crucial role simply because so many visitors will carry away an indelible message that urgent policy changes are needed to care for our oceans. The Yeosu Declaration, which aims to strengthen developing countries’ capacities in dealing with the marine-related challenges, is expected to be signed by most countries present at the World Expo.

Key topics in the declaration will be understanding the value of the seas and coasts; restoration of the marine ecosystem and biological resources being damaged; sustainable use and preservation of the marine environment and resources; promotion of knowledge and fact- based understanding about climate change.

Other topics in the proposed declaration include achieving an increase in the use of marine resources based on the “green growth” principle; focusing on achieving sustainable development without harming or misusing natural resources; participation of citizens in pursuing marine cooperation; and international cooperation to use the seas as a space for co-existence of mankind.

Q: How can the Expo help resolve some of these issues? How can the oceans become new frontiers for international cooperation? A: The Expo is a platform for communicating an important message to people often difficult to reach. In educating visitors on what they can do to help preserve our planet, the Expo hopefully will contribute to new ways of thinking. Lectures and demonstrations at a variety of pavilions will address the Expo’s themes.

Q: Since the Law of the Sea is primarily the creation of the United Nations, what role will the U.N. play in the Yeosu Expo? A: The Law of the Sea defines the rights and responsibilities nations have in their use of the world’s oceans, thereby establishing guidelines for businesses, environment and the management of marine resources.

The United Nations will be at the World Expo with a 1.400-m2 pavilion. Through the combined efforts of 24 U.N. agencies, the pavilion will demonstrate the U.N.’s work and efforts related to oceans and coasts. The pavilion will show visitors in an entertaining way their choices to influence our planet’s most important recourses and how they can help ensure the sustainability of our oceans and coasts.

Q: What are the primary themes and main goals of the Yeosu Expo? A: The main theme has been split up into three sub-themes.

Development and preservation of the ocean and coast. This sub-theme aims to inspire a new level of cooperation in the international community to combat climate change and create an environment where development and preservation find a better balance.

New resources technology. Illustrated will be the progress and future prospects of marine technology, a new growth driver for the advancement of humankind.

Creative maritime activities. The relationship between the oceans and humankind through culture and art will be explored. Additionally it promotes the new ideals of people and societies living in harmony with the ocean.

In addition, the Yeosu Expo will be an important forum for public education on these diverse topics. This is an effort to create programmes that will change the way we look at responsible development of the oceans. We are sure visitors will return home impressed and better informed.

Q: In seeking international commitments on the oceans, what key outcomes from the Expo do you expect? What are the next steps after the Expo? A: As mentioned, most participating countries are thought to sign the Yeosu Declaration, which aims to strengthen developing countries’ capacity to deal with the changing marine environment. After the declaration has been signed, the Yeosu Project will come into force.

This project is the practical element that translates the spirit of the Yeosu Declaration and Expo theme into action. These actions include assistance to developing countries in the form of education and training programmes and sharing of knowledge between nations.

At the end of the Expo, part of the facilities will remain for ocean research and marine-related organisations. In this way, the Expo will continue to play a role in keeping our seas healthy for generations to come.

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