Approval of Open Ocean region assessment remains open at IPBES-3?

[From the floors]

By Katrin Reuter, NeFo-Team

At IPBES-3 the Plenary discusses five regional assessment reports to be initiated. These reports are part of deliverable 2(b) adopted at IPBES-2 last year in Antalya (IPBES2/5) [pdf]. The aim of this deliverable is, amongst others, to “assess the impact of biodiversity and ecosystem services and threats to them on human well-being” (IPBES2/5) [pdf].

During 2014 scoping reports for the five regional assessments were carried out, one of them considering the so called Open Ocean region. The Open Ocean region includes marine areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ). Accordingly, an assessment of these regions would focus on these areas and areas beyond territorial or exclusive economic zone (EEZ) waters (IPBES3/6/Add.6). As oceans cover 70% of the Earth´s surface and contain a large amount of habitat types and biological diversity, the oceans are crucial for the ecological conditions of our planet and, therefore, the conditions of human well-being.

Despite their ecological importance, the oceans are increasingly threatened through human activities. These include overfishing, destructive fishing practices and deep sea mining, to mention just a few. Correspondingly, strong economic interests are in play when it comes to questions related to the regulation of the use of these natural resources. A first step to develop responses to the threats put on the oceans through human activities and to establish rules regarding the exploitation of natural resources provided by the Open Oceans would be a proper assessment of the impact of current policies and practices on marine biodiversity.

From the very beginning of IPBES-3, several countries uttered that they are critical about an assessment of the Open Ocean region. These countries included Norway, the USA, New Zealand, Canada, Argentina or Peru, for example. The main argument of those countries was that an assessment of the Open Ocean region would mean a duplication of efforts since currently the UN World Ocean Assessment is carried out and the reports will be fulfilled soon.

Nevertheless, during the interventions in the Plenary Portugal uttered that the draft version of the World Ocean Assessment already shows gaps that have to be addressed. Several EU countries expressed their support for a full assessment of the Open Ocean region, but since the decision whether to carry out such an assessment or not does not depend on the EU, the chances for approval do not seem to be good. On Wednesday evening, Norway suggested to postpone the decision about the full assessment of the Open Ocean region one year to IPBES-4 and to have a look at what is missing in the UN World Ocean Assessment before. This suggestion was immediately supported by Canada.

However, the countries opposing a full assessment of the Open Ocean region did not made clear why a full assessment of the Open Ocean region and the World Ocean Assessment should not be carried out in parallel and complementarily. Since the World Ocean Assessment builds on the Drivers-Pressures-State-Impacts-Response (DPSIR) framework, it already can be assumed that it would not cover the full range of issues related to the Open Oceans, like the question of the inclusion of indigenous and local knowledge and the inclusion of non-Western worldviews, knowledge and value systems, for example.

Especially since the regional assessments within IPBES explicitly build on other sources and aim at supporting other relevant processes, parallel and complementary efforts might be fruitful. Therefore, one can also assume that not cost effectiveness and duplication of efforts, but economic interests regarding the exploitation of marine natural resources prevent countries from approving the assessment of the Open Ocean region within IPBES, at least at IPBES-3.