UN officials push for creation of monitoring system for marine environment

31 August 2009

Significant gaps exist in the understanding and management of the complex processes and trends at work in the world’s oceans and seas, which cover 70 per cent of the Earth’s surface, warned senior United Nations officials today as they urged governments to approve expert recommendations establishing a system that plugs the holes.

At the opening of a week-long governmental session tasked with considering proposals for the creation of a mechanism that monitors oceans and seas worldwide, Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro called for “a continuous, comprehensive and integrated review of the problems facing the marine environment, including socio-economic aspects.”

UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Achim Steiner said that declining fish stocks and land-based sources of pollution are some of the persistent challenges facing the marine environment, while the emergence of ‘dead zones’ and the impacts of climate change – including acidification – are among the more rapidly emerging challenges.

“A systematic assessment process is long overdue,” said Mr. Steiner. “This meeting in New York represents a tremendous opportunity for governments to put the best marine science at their service in order to make the best management choices over the coming years and decades.”

If the General Assembly’s special working group, meeting from 31 August to 4 September, reaches agreement, the first globally integrated UN-backed assessment of the oceans could be delivered by 2014, according to a joint news release issued by UNEP and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura underscored concerns in the Assessment of Assessments report – the first-ever comprehensive overview of scientific marine assessments – which also considers socio-economic issues.

“The report is a clear signal that the world needs a more inclusive approach on its oceans and resources,” said Mr. Matsuura, adding that it “provides a framework and options for how this can be done.”

UNEP and UNESCO noted that despite the central role oceans play in the economic, environmental and social affairs of the world’s 6.7 billion people, not enough is known about their processes from the global climate system, the water cycle and circulation of nutrients, to changes affecting marine habitats.

The clearing of mangroves and coastal wetlands, the over-exploitation of fish stocks and rising tides of pollution are affecting the marine environment’s ability to sustain livelihoods and life itself, while climbing concentrations of greenhouse gases – equal to a third or more of annual carbon dioxide emissions – are being absorbed, as well as untold amounts of heavy metals, triggering mounting concern over the marine food chain.

To deal with this situation, improved monitoring and observation practices, regular assessments to provide a deeper understanding of the status and trends of environmental changes, and the know-how and ability to prevent, mitigate and adapt to these changes are urgently required, said the agencies.

This week’s meeting of the Working Group will consider the establishment of a management oversight body, a new expert group, and secretariat support mechanisms, which could cost between $4 million and $5.6 million a year.


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