18-01-2006 4:00 pm Some 350 experts will examine developments in the planet’s increasingly threatened marine and coastal ecosystems and their implications on human life during the Third Global Conference on Oceans, Coasts, and Islands at UNESCO Headquarters, 23 to 28 January. The Global Forum on Oceans, Coasts, and Islands, which was launched at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg in 2002, is organizing the conference which will bring together experts from United Nations agencies, international and nongovernmental organizations, as well as the donor and scientific communities, and the private sector.*
The experts will examine progress made in achieving the objectives set by the international community during WSSD to improve conservation and management of the marine environment that makes up 72% of the surface of our planet. Particular emphasis will be placed on stemming the erosion of biodiversity and the depletion of fish stocks.
Participants will take part in a survey through which they will communicate their perception on how much progress is being made towards achieving the WSSD targets and Millennium Development Goals for oceans and coasts. The data gathered will become part of the recommendations that will be issued at the close of the conference.
Alongside the gamut of other marine management and conservation subjects, two unresolved issues that will be addressed during the conference are governance of the high seas and climate change. High seas governance is particularly important as 64% of the world’s oceans lie beyond the limits of national jurisdictions and are subject to considerable stress, notably due to fishing. The debate on oceans and climate will focus on the problems of acidification, carbon dioxide sequestration and Arctic change. Climate change is expected to emerge as a major cause for the loss of biodiversity by the end of the century and to increase the vulnerability of coastal communities through erosion and flooding.
The conference agenda features 12 panel debates, side meetings and special presentations, including addresses by more than 25 environment and marine affairs ministers and senior officials from developing and developed countries. It will pay particular attention to two major goals set at the World Summit on Sustainable Development:
• Guiding the sustainable development of small island developing States (SIDS), focusing on possible short-term actions.
• Progress in the implementation of the 1995 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Global Programme Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities (GPA) and preparations for the review of the programme, scheduled to be held in Beijing, China, in October 2006.
The conference will also examine lessons learned from the tsunami disaster of December 2004 whose impact was worsened due to the erosion of the natural protection provided by, for example, mangroves and coral reefs.
The opening session of the conference - Tuesday 24 January, 8.45 a.m. to 9.50 a.m. - will feature a welcome address by Patricio Bernal, Executive Secretary of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, and an address by France’s Environment Minister Nelly Olin. Biliana Cicin-Sain, Co-Chair and Head of the Secretariat of the Global Forum on Oceans, Coasts, and Islands will outline the purposes and goals of the conference. Veerle Vandeweerd, Director of UNEP’s Regional Seas Programme, and coordinator of the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities will then take the floor.
*The major organizations and sponsors behind the Forum are: the Global Environment Facility, GEF International Waters Learning Exchange and Resource Network (IWLEARN); Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, UNESCO; UNEP Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities; Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans; U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Gerard J. Mangone Center for Marine Policy, University of Delaware; World Ocean Network; International Coastal and Ocean Organization; SeaWeb.