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We Are Mismanaging Our Precious Oceans – Why You Should Care

Editor's Note: As the world community gathered on Monday to celebrate Earth Day, PolicyMic advisor and Pundit Cameron Bell spoke with the honorable David Miliband, former foreign minister for the United Kingdom 2007-2010, about our global responsibility to protect the planet’s oceans. Mr. Miliband has taken great interest in protecting this vital resource as co-chair of the Global Ocean Commission, an impressive new body of leaders and stakeholders from politics, business, economics, law and development, who have joined together to improve the management of the high seas. Read their interview below.

Cameron Bell (CB): Amid all of the global challenges today, why have you pledged your commitment to protecting and improving the management of the world’s oceans? Why do the high seas matter?

David Miliband (DM): For the services they provide. The global ocean generates every second breath of oxygen we take and absorbs a quarter of our carbon dioxide emissions, and gives us 80m tons of seafood each year. And the high seas constitute two-thirds of the global ocean – therefore they matter.

CB: The high seas, the waters that lie outside the control of individual governments and the focus of the Commission, are officially governed by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Why is this 30-year-old statute insufficient to oversee today’s challenges and burgeoning demands? Why is change needed?

DM: Four main reasons. Currently the ocean’s primary output is fish, but our woeful management means we are producing much less of it than we could and not maximizing the economic return from fisheries. The cost of that mismanagement is estimated at $50 billion per year. Poor countries are substantially disadvantaged in the flow of goods from the ocean. The ecological health of the ocean is being damaged through loss of important habit and biodiversity, overfishing, climate change, and the slow acidification of seawater, producing grave consequences for human society that we are already experiencing. So the problem is one of economics, equity for the developing world, environment, and governance. No one in the 21st century can argue that it is right to leave a framework in place that is failing us on all these grounds.

CB: What’s the good news?

DM: Based on discussions we have had so far in the Commission, change is eminently feasible. The impacts of destructive fishing, for example, can sometimes be reversed with improvements in management – we’ve seen this happen in coastal waters from New Zealand to Norway, and there is no reason it can’t happen on the high seas too. In what I hope will become an equation for our times, good governance = good economics + good ecology.

CB: How can the Global Ocean Commission affect change?

DM: There are three things we can do now: sound a warning, develop a set of practical and cost-effective recommendations for change, and build a coalition that can move the levers of power until we get that change. Something that is win-win-win is not, of course, without any losers at all, and there is a whole flotilla of vested corporate and state interests around which we will have to navigate. However, a body such as ours has never previously attempted to tackle these issues. When I look around the table at my fellow Commissioners and think about everything they have achieved in their political lives to date, I’m confident about our potential to finish what we’ve started.

CB: Why does this problem personally speak to you?

DM: Many reasons, but here are three. A governance gap affecting nearly half of the world’s surface is bound to attract the attention of anyone with an abiding interest in government. Multilateralism has had a difficult time in recent years, but this is one of many issues that we cannot solve without working in a genuinely multilateral way and taking the interests of every society into account. Finally, everyone with children has a vested interest in a prosperous and peaceful future, and I’m no different.

CB: David, thank you for your time.

For more information on the Global Ocean Commission, please visit: http://www.globaloceancommission.org/

Follow Mr. Miliband on Twitter: @DMiliband.

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