The climate crisis, with its rising temperatures, sea-level rise, and unpredictable weather patterns, is exacting an increasingly heavy toll on vulnerable archipelagic and small island nations. Now more than ever, the world’s oceans, and the small island states that rely on them, stand at a critical juncture. The solution is quite simple: for effective and equitable ocean governance, world leaders must lend their ears to the impassioned pleas and innovative solutions emanating from the younger generation.
The importance of Oceans for Small Island States
Small island states have cultivated a symbiotic relationship with the ocean that transcends geography. The ocean, once considered an inexhaustible source, has been a reliable provider for generations, offering not only sustenance but also anchoring much of our cultural identity.
However, this delicate balance is under unprecedented threat. According to the latest marine assessments, over 90% of global fish stocks are either fully exploited or overfished, posing a severe risk to the primary source of protein and livelihood for island communities. The once-thriving marine ecosystems, integral to our way of life, now face the compounding challenges of climate change, marine pollution, and overfishing.
Economically speaking, the fate of small island states is intricately tied to the well-being of their oceans. Fisheries, which sustain countless families and contribute significantly to national economies, are grappling with the impacts of climate change. As of the latest data, the global trade of fish and fishery products reached a record $164 billion in 2020, with island states playing a significant role as both producers and consumers. However, the sustainability of this trade is increasingly precarious, necessitating urgent action to ensure the longevity of these crucial economic lifelines.
The frequency of extreme weather events has increased by 35% in the past four decades, disproportionately affecting small island states and its most vulnerable communities. Rising sea temperatures, another consequence of climate change, have led to the bleaching of coral reefs – the vibrant undersea habitats that harbor biodiversity. Climate change not only jeopardizes marine life but also threatens the socio-economic fabric of these island nations. Recently, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that the current trajectory of global warming could lead to a sea-level rise of up to 1 meter by the end of the century, endangering the very existence of low-lying island states. In this case, we are not talking about losing an acre of land, we are talking about losing a nation, a cultural history and an identity. This isn’t just a statistical projection; it is a stark reality that demands immediate and sustained attention.
Navigating the Waters of Good Ocean Governance
This is why the call for effective governance rings louder than ever for small island states. Good ocean governance is the compass guiding nations toward sustainable practices that balance ecological health with economic prosperity. At its core, it entails agreement upon actions and deliverables such as: responsible and equitable management of marine resources, a commitment to conservation, and fostering international collaboration.
Discussed earlier, the specter of overfishing, driven by increased demand and advancing technologies, threatens the equilibrium of marine ecosystems. Implementing and enforcing science-based quotas, promoting selective and eco-friendly fishing methods, encouraging capacity-building sessions for women and children, and establishing marine-protected areas are pivotal measures which must be taken if the right regulations and frameworks are put in place. Not to worry, success stories from regions with robust fisheries management, such as Iceland and New Zealand, underscore the potential for sustainable practices to revive fish stocks and fortify the economic foundations of island communities.
Effective ocean governance extends beyond fisheries and embraces comprehensive marine conservation initiatives. Preserving biodiversity-rich areas and minimizing the impact of human activities on delicate ecosystems are paramount. Notably, the expansion of marine protected areas (MPAs) has emerged as a beacon of hope. A landmark achievement in this realm is the Seychelles’ commitment to protect 30% of its exclusive economic zone. Such initiatives not only safeguard critical habitats but also enhance the resilience of marine ecosystems, reinforcing the interconnectedness of healthy oceans and the well-being of small island states.
Last but not least, the interconnected nature of oceans transcends political borders, hence why international collaboration is a necessity. Good ocean governance relies on efficient cooperative frameworks that extends beyond national interests. Organizations like the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provide a platform for states to negotiate and establish guidelines for responsible ocean management. For island states, participation in regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) is crucial, as it fosters collaboration and ensures collective action in preserving shared marine resources. However, the effectiveness of these collaborations hinges on equitable representation and the recognition of the unique challenges faced by small island states, hence why collaboration at the local, national and regional level is as important as the international level.
The Archipelagic and Island States Forum’s High Level Meeting :
the youth’s role
In this era of global interconnectedness, where the consequences of climate change are felt far beyond national borders, the importance of good ocean governance cannot be overstated. This is not merely an environmental concern but a matter of survival for island communities. However, as the urgency of the situation grows, there is a crucial missing element in the discourse on ocean governance – the voices of young people. As the bearers of our planet’s future, we – the youth of archipelagic and island states – carry a unique perspective that needs acknowledgment.
During the Archipelagic and Island States (AIS) Forum’s First High Level Meeting, 26 youth delegates, representing the Carribeans, the Pacific, and the Indian Ocean, united their voices to represent the youth of archipelagic and island states and agree upon the first-ever AIS Youth Declaration.
This declaration is a landmark document that will serve as a historic achievement for island states. Four main strategic themes are discussed and agreed upon: (1) Supporting ocean-based climate action; (2) Fostering a sustainable blue economy; (3) Eradicating marine pollution; and (4) Integrating inclusive and intergenerational ocean governance.
In terms of good ocean governance, we proposed innovative solutions which must be heard. Amongst them, we emphasized the significance of a revitalized approach to ocean management, comprising independent communities, regional/ national youth advisory groups, and a national consultation platform; an optimized transparent, bottom-up public participation, capacity building initiatives that respect local culture, and the promotion of comprehensive youth-led actions in policy design, implementation, and evaluation while recognizing the different contexts.
In the face of these multifaceted challenges, the urgency of implementing effective ocean governance strategies becomes irrefutable. It is not solely a matter of safeguarding marine life but a critical endeavor to ensure the resilience and survival of these island states.
Us young people should be a part of the solution, and our involvement to achieve tangible results from our ocean advocacy should be increased. In addition to that, it is crucial that the youth in archipelagic and island states plays a significant role in fostering economic and social development in our respective regions.
What one needs to understand is that the opportunity that the AIS Forum gave us in October, we – as young people – utilized it to be involved meaningfully and emphasize our voice. Not only did we participate, and sat at the same table as high-level diplomatic peopleofficials, but we delivered and agreed upon a declaration in which we are all proud of to defend and protect our oceans. The initiative that we created is the living proof that when you invite us to the table, we will always deliver.
By YUV SUNGKUR, Mauritian Climate Advocate
Yuv Sungkur is a Mauritian climate advocate. He is passionate about climate change issues and fighting its impact on Small Islands Developing States. He delivered a TEDxTalk in 2022, and spoke alongside UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September 2022. He is currently part of the Youth Engagement Group of the Climate Overshoot Commission, where he advises former prime ministers, presidents and United Nations’ Special Envoy on climate-related topics. He recently represented Mauritius as a Delegate in Bali, Indonesia, to agree upon the first ever AIS Youth Declaration.