Lucy Underwood: Buzz Words

Today was the first day of the ocean conference and I suppose as anything, being fresh to a new crowd and a new framework for thinking (for me anyway), there tends to emerge some frustrations in the process and the status quo, some which I was told would be true prior to attending.

I’m not talking mechanically, although being turned away from rooms for not having the right security pass, or continually googling acronyms to keep up with the at least 70 newbies that were thrown around, yet rarely explained during meetings was definitely frustrating … however that’s a digress.

The main point I wanted to make was on buzz words or common themes that were continually addressed throughout most talks in one way or another, and have also been very common environmental management tools that have been around for many years. I will explain a few examples below.

Multiple stakeholders and multi disciplinary collaboration for effective outcomes and implementation - I think we can all agree and realise that this is logical and necessary. If you are ever going to get a consensus and a joint movement in appropriate sustainability you need all the players on board. However, I didn’t witness any country actually showing a tangible example of where they have successfully achieved this. Yes there are partnerships, yes there collaborations, but if we are supposed to be using this system in most of our environmental management practice then we need a more clear understanding on how to implement this.  

Almost every talk stated we know the science but WE NEED MORE DATA and more understanding on cumulative impacts and larger scale dynamics!! And yes I agree with this, but in my understanding the common trends, flow through effects and impacts that larger scale changes to the environment are having in all realms (culturally, socially, environmentally and economically) is already enough for now. Yes, more data and more scientific understanding is crucial however unfortunately in lots of these issues we do not have the luxury of time to wait for these data sets. Whatever we know needs to be more strongly implemented into policy now. If the science is uncertain then this is where adaptive management can come into play to allow for variability in the chosen management process to be able to adapt to any new science that is found or if the management system isn’t working as effectively as first thought.

Cooperation. There was rightly a strong consensus on the need for countries to be working together at both a regional and global scale. This is because the oceans are all connected and so if there is any hope for successful sustainable use of marine areas into the future, then we need cooperation at an international level and a sharing of ideas and strategies. I was yet to hear of any really successful cooperations, and the general statement was ‘that we are working on it’. There was however some interesting partnerships happening with either research institutes, UN led organisations or other groups to assist small island developing states (SIDS). An example of this is the NDC (nationally determined contributions) Partnership aiming to provide knowledge portals on how to best implement and create action plans, and gain appropriate funding for these tasks. It is great that countries are voicing the need for cooperation however how will we achieve it??

The 3 R’s- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle for an effective way to combat plastics collecting in our oceans. Hasn’t this philosophy been around since before I was born?? I seem to recall Tina and Tane the pollution heroes coming to our school saying the exact same thing- reduce, reuse, recycle that’s the waste wise way! Yes it is a simple mechanism that is logical and easy for everyone to understand. So why is it not being put into the policy and management context more effectively, to stop current predictions that by 2050 there will be more plastics in our oceans than fish (this was a crowd pleaser statistic and rightly so). The Japanese government eluded to their lengthy and strong legislative framework for waste management, and the European Union indicated also their much stronger goals for up to 55% of plastic packaging to be inputted into recycling systems. The idea of a ‘circular economy’ in terms of a regenerative system not a ‘take, make, dispose’ economy was interesting, and perhaps I will explore this in a separate blog.  

These are just a few examples of what we have come to see as ‘buzz words’ those that people say in public events as they know it is the right thing to say or do. I am not saying that we shouldn’t be implementing these ideas as they are right, however what I am concerned about is the lack of ACTION and tangibility attached to these themes. When choosing my programme for day one, I thought I was choosing talks of inspiration and action based solutions, but there were only glimmers of this through clouds of fluff and back patting.

I realise the above seems a bit dire, however THERE ARE POSITIVES :) It was still a great day. I think I need to take a step back and realise how amazing and important it actually is that there's a whole conference at an international scale that is dedicated to purely oceans! Finally within the international community there seems to be more of an urgency and understanding that the oceans are vitally crucial to the future of our world, ‘no blue no green’. From the talks that I attended there was no bickering on the science itself, I think everyone could agree that the science was real and that these issues are happening or will happen. The fact that most countries have enforced voluntary commitments and agree to a general call to action is a big step in the right direction. Most importantly there are hundreds of some of the smartest minds on ocean governance and science in one building, that can collaborate and hear about new opportunities for partnerships and successful action. These issues are horrendously complex and challenging, all the more reason for them to be taken seriously.     

My task now is to just figure out how to navigate this crazy world of international relations and politics, for some real talk.

Posted on June 6, 2017 and filed under UN Ocean Conference 2017.