Rising ocean waters are threatening the survival of Kiribati, a tiny Commonwealth Pacific Island country, and throwing doubts on its future existence, a recent article in the Guardian reported
Rising ocean waters are threatening the survival of Kiribati, a tiny Commonwealth Pacific Island country, and throwing doubts on its future existence, a recent article in the Guardian reported.
Its plight is similar to other countries around the world, many of them within the Commonwealth, and recent information released by the World Economic Forum paints a bleak picture.
Kiribati is among the top ten countries with the highest percentage of oceans as part of their total sovereign area, alongside other Commonwealth countries Mauritius, Tuvalu, Seychelles and Tonga.
According to the World Economic Forum, 83 countries around the world are more ocean than land and 54 countries are more than 80% ocean following the 1982 UN Law of the Sea.
The law, which came into force in 1994, formally designated one-third of the planet as `exclusive economic zones’, giving the rights to 200 miles of ocean to coastal countries.
This meant that an oceanic area equivalent to the world’s total land area and 35% of its whole surface came under the jurisdiction of nation states, and several countries, particularly small island states, were now 90% underwater.
Creating Ministries of Oceans in these vulnerable countries would significantly change the way ocean resources are managed and used, enabling new thinking and tools for universal ocean governance, says the World Economic Forum.
A similar recommendation was made in a recent study by the Global Ocean Commission (GOC).
It called for regional ocean management organizations to form and for governments and heads of state to appoint ocean envoys or ministers, in order to prompt a review of how UN divisions engage with these governments and build more collaborative thinking on high seas governance.
As also proposed by the GOC’s report, the first UN Special Envoy for the Ocean, Ambassador Peter Thomson, was appointed by the UN Secretary-General to build on the momentum begun by the creation of Sustainable Development Goal 14 and the UN Summit on the Ocean SDG held in June, 2017 and to explore a more holistic approach.
Many governments have not kept up with this evolution in global ocean thinking and organised themselves as `ocean states’, and many departments holding responsibility for the oceans remain isolated within individual ministries or agencies, such as fisheries, shipping, and tourism, with little coordination on ocean strategies.
Located within 100 kilometres of the equator, the 33 islands of Kiribati form a thin strip of land that is extremely shallow, often rising just a few metres above sea level.
Rising sea levels are threatening to shrink its already small land area, destroy crop-growing lands and eventually displace its population of around 100,000.
Climate change has already affected the country, with an ever-increasing lack of fresh water, caused by polluted “water lenses” underneath the islands, an immediate problem for residents and their crops.
Opposition MPs have criticised Kiribati’s new government for focussing inward on education and poverty reduction, rather than directing its attention to the rising oceans surrounding them.
Some countries, however, have started establishing more coordinated Ministries of Oceans to better cooperate with users of the oceans.
The government of Mauritius, for example, a commonwealth country in tenth place on the ocean state list, has founded a Ministry of Ocean Economy and National Ocean Council for stronger public-private collaboration.
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