This is a big year for oceans governance in Fiji and the Pacific. The Fiji government has just published Fiji's first National Ocean Policy (NOP) online and has announced that the NOP will be “enshrined in law” as part of its proposed Climate Change legislation. Fiji will then move towards designating 30% of its 1.2 million km2 of ocean within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as marine protected areas (MPAs) with 100% sustainable management of its EEZ by 2030. These ocean initiatives are line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG 14 - Life Below Water), and Fiji’s long standing commitments on the world stage.
Fiji’s goal to designate 30% of its EEZ as offshore MPAs presents significant challenges for the Fiji government because - to put it bluntly - this is an expensive initiative. In 2021, more than ever before economies everywhere, and particularly in the Pacific, are suffering. In this context designating MPAs that will alter and limit existing rights and activities, including but not limited to existing fishing practices that contribute to Fiji’s economy, requires both significant political will and long term funding. This funding is essential to undertake a proper process of designating MPAs but more importantly to assist the longer term government burden of regulation of those designated MPAs. This regulatory burden includes the ongoing monitoring, control, surveillance and enforcement of Fiji’s EEZ and MPAs across a vast area of Pacific ocean.
In February 2021, the Office of the Pacific Ocean Commission (OPOC), established under the Pacific Ocean Commissioner, Dame Meg Taylor launched an excellent “suite of Ocean reports” with a focus on ocean finance. This focus on ocean finance is well timed to assist PICs to address the major challenge of finding a way to make the protection of its ocean ecosystems both politically and economically viable.
In this bulletin we consider OPOC’s paper “Funding Marine Protection At Scale” and make some respectful recommendations in relation to how to increase the funding within Fiji to assist Fiji's government, acting on behalf of the State, to fund the designation and regulation of MPAs.
In accordance with the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS) Pacific Island Countries (PICs) have the use and management rights to the resources within and under huge areas of Pacific ocean. These rights include the exclusive sovereign rights to use and manage all of the resources in these ocean spaces and on and under the seabed. However, there remains disagreement between some PICs over where the maritime boundaries should be drawn as well as a lack of a unified position in relation to how the resources should be exploited.
As the world goes through unprecedented change due to the Covid-19 pandemic, renewed cooperation among PICs is more important than ever to secure better governance, more effective fisheries management and more benefits from the resources flowing back to Pacific Islanders.
Dr Transform Aqorau has recently published an insightful article that explains some of the resilience more Pacific based tuna operations are experiencing in the face of Covid-19. This is available here.
In this legal bulletin we set out an explanation of the law and governance context that we hope explains why and how more regional cooperation to implement a shared plan with more transparency at regional and national levels will benefit Pacific Islanders.
Seabed mining is a new industry that seeks to exploit the value of metals on or in the seabed. The drivers for this industry include the rising demand and costs for the metals in question. Many of the potential mining sites are found under the Pacific Ocean in areas beyond the national jurisdiction of any State. This area of deep seabed beyond national jurisdiction is defined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ("LOSC") as “the Area”.
This new industry is intended to be regulated pursuant to LOSC by the International Seabed Authority (a body created by LOSC). The International Seabed Authority will issue licences to Applicants that are sponsored by nation States (sponsoring States). The licences will be issued subject to conditions that are intended to protect the marine environment, however, sponsoring States are themselves subject to duties under international law and amongst other things are required by LOSC to have their own legislation in place to regulate the mining companies that they sponsor. If this legislation is not in place or is inadequate then sponsoring States will not meet their international law duties, will incur legal risk, and this new industry will not be properly regulated.
In this bulletin, we set out what is known from a legal and governance perspective about seabed mining in the Area, describe how the international regulatory framework is supposed to work and review the results of a recent legal analysis that demonstrates the legal framework is not yet in place to meet various requirements under the international legal framework. We respectfully suggest that this legal analysis supports the view that seabed mining is not, as yet, ready to proceed as an effectively regulated industry in accordance with international law.
Although not yet an operational industry, seabed mining is a trending topic in the Pacific. This is because the exploration of the seabed beneath the Pacific ocean is revealing or has revealed potential mine sites for valuable minerals that are in global demand particularly for new technologies.
Proponents of seabed mining suggest, amongst other things, that mining of seabed minerals will ease demand for, and have less negative social impact than, terrestrial mining, will assist in the development of new greener technologies, and will provide economic benefits to those who participate in the mining ventures. Those who oppose seabed mining question, amongst other things, the potential environmental effects of or from the activity of seabed mining, the resultant damage to other uses or users of the ocean, whether developing nations will benefit from the mining ventures, and whether it will, in fact, ease pressure on terrestrial mining.
This legal bulletin considers the international legal framework of seabed mining and how it is regulated or intended to be regulated. This legal framework is important for Pacific Island Countries (PICs) because the 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC) has granted to PICs sovereignty or exclusive sovereign rights to extract (explore and exploit) resources from the seabed within vast ocean areas. The legal framework may assist PICs as they decide how to balance potential adverse environmental impacts of seabed mining against the value of their exclusive rights to, and benefits from, other living resources within the oceans.
Pollution of the oceans and marine environment is an important issue for Pacific Island Countries (PICs) because it damages natural resources, reduces the economic value of PICs' legal rights to those resources, and negatively impacts fishing communities as well as income generating activities like tourism.
A significant challenge is that marine pollution comes from many sources and most of those sources are land based, including but not limited to, careless discard of plastics. For more information on plastic pollution in the Pacific ocean please see here
This legal bulletin examines the overall international legal framework for the protection and preservation of the marine environment set out in the the 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC) and suggests other actions that PICs, regional organisations, and CSOs may take in accordance with LOSC to address marine pollution in the Pacific ocean.
Pacific Island Countries (PICs) have legal rights to and within enormous ocean areas. These legal rights are, to a large extent, provided by operation of international law and are codified in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC).
The LOSC is often referred to as a “Constitution for the Oceans” because, amongst other things, it sets out and regulates the recognised legal rights that the international community agree that all nations have on or in the ocean to undertake or benefit from various activities that include but are not limited to navigation, fishing and other extractive industry. The LOSC also allocates the legal rights to PICs over and within ocean “zones” that includes the large Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). However, fisheries and marine scientists suggest that the sustainable use and management of the PICs’ valuable marine resources can only be achieved by Integrated Oceans Management based on eco-systems and not ocean zones.
In this legal bulletin we set out why the Pacific Island Countries have sufficient legal rights to build and implement effective oceans integrated management systems to support the development of their national and regional blue economies in a way that best suits them and based on an ecosystems approach. However, to meet good governance outcomes (successful, equitable, sustainable) those management systems must be suited to the context of PICs which means that the collective process to create those systems must be inclusive, practical and carefully undertaken.