The National Sea Grant Law Center


  • A Closer Look at the High-Level Ocean Panel’s Plan to Protect Marine Environments

  • March 11th, 2021 — by Sierre Anton — Category: Miscellaneous

  • Members of the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (the Ocean Panel), an initiative by 14 nations striving to protect ocean environments, signed onto a pledge in November 2020 to take intensive action to reduce marine environmental degradation over the next ten years. The primary objective of the Ocean Panel’s plan is to commit 100% of the members’ respective ocean waters to be sustainably managed by 2025. They intend to do this by focusing on five major areas of general importance: 1) Ocean Wealth, 2) Ocean Health, 3) Ocean Equity, 4) Ocean Knowledge, and 5) Ocean Finance. Each of these focus areas have their own priorities and policy proposals that are intended to help plot the course to the Ocean Panel’s ambitious 2030 goals.

    The initiative presents a vital opportunity to preserve a huge swath of the world’s coastlines and waters. The Ocean Panel is made up of countries responsible for 40% of the world’s coastlines, 20% of the world’s shipping fleet, and 20% of the world’s fisheries. The bloc is co-chaired by Norway and Palau, and its members include Australia, Canada, Chile, Fiji, Ghana, Indonesia, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Namibia, Norway, Palau, and Portugal.

    The first and most thoroughly detailed focus area in the Ocean Panel’s plan is Ocean Wealth. The Ocean Panel highlights the economic importance of marine industry, citing the Food and Agriculture Organization’s recent $24 trillion asset valuation of ocean resources. In recognizing this value, the Ocean Panel has put forward plans to address ocean food resources (such as aquaculture and fisheries), ocean-based alternative energy, eco-tourism, shipping, and trade.

    One of the ocean’s primary assets, according to the Ocean Panel, is low-cost, high-yield animal protein, which is extremely important for less developed and island countries. The Panel’s goals for 2030 include sustainably restoring and harvesting wild fish stocks, growing aquaculture to meet global needs, and minimizing waste throughout the production process. Some of these goals can be met only through policy solutions implemented at the national level, such as requiring bycatch reduction devices on fishing boats, establishing meaningful consequences for exceeding quotas, and eliminating illegal or unregulated fishing through the use of digital traceability and other technological solutions.

    The Ocean Panel also emphasizes the importance of renewable ocean energy sources, such as wind and hydro-power. The Panel wants to see ocean-based renewables become the leading energy source in the world by 2030, which they intend to achieve by investing in research and demonstration projects to make sustainable energies cost-competitive and accessible to all. They further aspire to integrate sustainable energy sources with other marine activities, such as ecotourism and aquaculture. This ecotourism is expected to be sustainable, resilient, and regenerative, with an emphasis on reinvestment into local and indigenous communities.

    Members of the Ocean Panel also intend to leverage their influence on the world’s shipping industry to encourage sustainable ocean transportation, specifically by investing in zero-emission and low-impact marine vessels. Their overarching goals in this regard are decarbonizing vessels, establishing low-carbon ports, and promoting quiet vessel technology. Additionally, the Panel has called for a ban on the transport and use of heavy oil in the Arctic, which would be implemented through the International Maritime Organization.

    While the aspirations identified above are primarily related to the Panel’s Ocean Wealth focus area, there are some policy proposals of note from the other focus areas too. The highlights include goals of:

    • Reducing plastic waste in the ocean through stricter enforcement of pollution laws, public awareness, and reducing production; incentivizing alternatives to plastics; and phasing out single-use and unnecessary plastics.
    • Incorporating indigenous and local community knowledge and interests in planning and decision-making processes; enhancing domestic revenue through modernized, progressive tax systems; and combating child-labor and forced labor in the ocean economy.
    • Promoting open and transparent sharing of ocean data; making use of local and indigenous populations knowledge of environments; and filling major data gaps in ocean research.
    • Directing public sector financing and assistance with crafting Sustainable Ocean Plans; reducing the risk involved in ocean-related investments by helping to diversify industry in developing countries; and increasing the resilience of island and coastal countries' economies more generally.

    The Panel is ultimately a non-binding agreement, which may prove an obstacle to achieving its goals in coming years as parts of this initiative begin to come into effect. For more details about the Ocean Panel’s plan, visit the “Transformations for a Sustainable Ocean Economy: A Vision for Protection, Production and Prosperity” page on the Ocean Panel’s website:

  • Sierre Anton
    NSGLC Research Associate

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