• Simon Upton

Chair Of The Seventh Session Of The Commission On Sustainable Development

To The Acops/Unep/South African Government Conference On Cooperation For The Development And Protection Of The Coastal And Marine Environment In Sub-Saharan Africa

Cape Town

Mr Mokaba, fellow Ministers, representatives of the sponsoring agencies - ACOPS and UNEP - , distinguished delegates:

It is with great pleasure that I speak to this conference today. This is not only because of the vitally important issues that you are addressing, but also because it has given me the opportunity to meet the impressive range of participants and to visit the beautiful country of South Africa for the first time.

This conference, coming as it does towards the end of the International Year of the Ocean, is ideally timed to make a significant contribution to international progress on the protection of the coastal and marine environment. Oceans and Seas is the key sectoral theme for the seventh session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development in April next year, which as you know I will be chairing. I am committed to ensuring that the seventh CSD focuses on actions, not words, in addressing the crucial issues facing the oceans. I am here to learn how the deliberations of this conference can assist in that task.

The importance of the coastal and marine environment needs little introduction to you. Making up approximately 71% of the world's surface, the oceans and seas are vital to our lives, our future and the future of the generations that follow us. They provide us with food, energy, and water and they sustain the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people. They are the main highway of international trade as well as the stabiliser of the world's climate.

Coastal activity is increasingly important to communities across world. 37% of the world's population live within 100km of the coast. Population rates in coastal communities are increasing at a higher rate than the general population. Protection and sustainable development of the coastal and marine environment- the goal universally agreed to at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992- is more important now than ever.

The Commission on Sustainable Development was established following the Rio Summit to oversee the implementation of Agenda 21. Thus the CSD is a big-picture body whose aim is to help identify and recommend ways forward in the quest for sustainable development

In the five years following UNCED the CSD reviewed the 40 chapters of Agenda 21. The 1997 Special Session of UNGA was held to take stock of the situation and found that progress with implementation of Agenda 21 was not as good as had been hoped for. Although "Rio + 5" also fell short of developing countries' expectations it did result in a renewed commitment of the various stakeholders to a programme of further implementation of Agenda 21.

One of the major outcomes of last year's Special Session was the rationalisation of the CSD's efforts - instead of trying to deal with all 40 chapters of Agenda 21 the focus of the CSD's work was narrowed down to a much more focussed programme of work over the period 1998 - 2002, with which I am sure you are all familiar. As I noted, Oceans and Seas is the sectoral theme for the seventh session.

I understand that at the opening session of the Technical Segment of this Conference, South Africa's Minister for Water Affairs & Forestry, the Hon Prof Asmal, said that he had found the last session of CSD on fresh water issues a complete waste of time - a futile exercise in lengthy banalities. The consultations I have already undertaken in preparation for CSD 7 have already revealed that Minister Asmal is not alone in holding this view. A number of other ministers from both developing and developed countries have told me that the CSD is in danger of slipping of ministerial radar screens. They do not want to waste their time on a forum that can only produce lengthy, laboriously negotiated texts that are all words and no action.

It will happen again if Ministers do not take hold of the process and insist that it yields something useful. The Commission on Sustainable Development needs to provide clear, practical guidance to governments, UN agencies, international organisations, the private sector and NGOs alike. Pages of dense negotiated text without a clear message will simply leave the status quo unchanged. The CSD needs to identify clearly the key sustainable development issues - those areas in which Agenda 21 is not being implemented or could be implemented more effectively - and to formulate recommendations for concrete action - at global, regional and national levels.

If the Commission on Sustainable Development is to do this - if CSD7 next April is to do it - it first needs effective input from national and regional agencies. This is the challenge that is before us in the next few months.

All the available information points to the fact that there are two major threats to our oceans, which unless seriously and effectively addressed will continue to overshadow all issues, and ultimately destroy the sustainable development of oceans and the communities that rely on them. These two issues are overfishing and marine pollution and habitat degradation from land based sources. In turn these issues give rise to the challenge of greatly improving the coordination and governance of oceans at all levels.

Fisheries management efforts continue to fall short of protecting the resources from being over-exploited. The FAO has reported that worldwide 60-70% of all fish stocks require urgent intervention to control or reduce fishing to avoid further decline of fully exploited or overfished resources and to rebuild depleted stocks. Fishing activities continue to take place in contravention of the applicable regional conservation regimes and States are not meeting their obligations under the Law of the Sea to control the activities of their flag vessels and nationals. I know that many of you are only too well aware of this.

The evidence is that the international community's efforts are also failing to keep in check problems of pollution of the marine environment, in particular those caused by land-based sources, which are responsible for over three-quarters of all marine pollution. The oceans are being ravaged by an ever-increasing amount of pollutants, including: persistent toxins in the form of industrial discharge, wastewater and pesticides; sediment caused by erosion from mining and coastal development; nutrients as a result of run-off from sewage, farming and forestry; oil from industry, shipping and off-shore oil drilling; and plastics discarded from fishing vessels, cargo ships and cruise liners. The recent report of the UN Secretary-General on oceans notes the conclusion of a recent expert meeting on the scientific aspects of marine environmental pollution that despite some localised successes, degradation of the oceans continues on a global scale. Sound sustainable management of the oceans and coasts remains the exception rather than the rule.

So what is our response to be to these critical issues? We can think about them at local, regional and global levels. Since this is a regional gathering, let me start with the regional level.

The importance of addressing sustainable development issues at the regional and sub-regional level is obvious to us all here today. It is, of course, why we are here. Apart from climate change, ozone depletion and persistent organic pollutants, most oceans related environmental

issues are felt most critically at the regional or sub regional level where ecosystems are more easily defined. This makes conferences such as this all the more important as they can clearly define regional problems and solutions.

There is a lot of good work being undertaken by a variety of organisations, particularly at the sub-regional and regional level, to address these issues. However we have to acknowledge that there has been limited progress on some critical issues. Given that there is certainly no shortage of conventions, agreements and declarations there are some important questions we must ask:

Do states and their national level policy makers and managers know where to obtain the support they need, technical and financial, to deal with the problems they face? Does the support that is available assist them in responding to their problems in an integrated way? Does it help them to identify all the national ministries and local authorities that may be engaged with particular oceans problems and coordinate their work through well integrated strategies? Does it support the development of harmonious approaches and priorities where the scale of the problem is region or sub-region wide?

Questions of this kind lead directly to the more general question of whether the laws and institutions we have erected to deal with the governance of oceans are sufficiently integrated to be effective.

The complexity of oceans arrangements at the regional and global level is almost frightening. This is apparent to even the most casual observer who attempts to draw together the conventions, treaties and implementing agencies that are under the umbrella of the Law of the Sea. This diagram gives you some idea of the complexity. As you can see, not only is the picture of oceans governance complex: there are many areas where the implementation of key arrangements has not been followed through.

It is not the role of CSD to provide a blueprint for re-arranging this diagram, but there is a chance to provide some added coherence to the arrangements as we move forward to the new millennium. What is needed is a flexible, dynamic system of oceans governance that ensures the sustainable development of resources. This will not be achieved when there is fragmentation of information, knowledge and action.

There is an array of UN specialised agencies operating at the regional level together with non-UN bodies, multilateral development banks and bodies associated with various environmental conventions. It is a major challenge for governments to come to grips with the mandates and capabilities of these various bodies and find ways of utilising their resources. These resources include academic institutions, bilateral donors, foundations, the private sector and NGOs, all of whom have the capacity to assist with particular problems. Their potential needs to be utilised in accordance with a strategic assessment of the problems and priorities. In short, there is no use having all the pieces of the jigsaw if governments can't make sense of the picture.

There are a number of questions to ask about coordination at the regional level. Have we found yet the best mechanisms for coordination on regional problems? Do they enable all regional governments to participate, but with no particular government ministry or specialised intergovernmental body predominating?

There are many options open to improve regional coordination. In my own region, the small island developing states of the South Pacific have derived real benefit from the critical mass that an organisation like the South Pacific Regional Environmental Programme (SPREP) can provide. I applaud the initiative of this Conference in investigating mechanisms for re-vitalising the regional Conventions of Nairobi and Abidjan and developing a path towards a partnership conference with donors and stakeholders. This approach has the potential to reach out to all parts of society so that legal, environmental, developmental and economic interests are brought into play.

The preparation for a partnership conference will, I hope, embrace several features that I believe are essential for lasting success. May I suggest five:

clearly spelt out objectives that leave donors and implementing agencies in no doubt about the priorities you want;
properly trained and equipped enforcement and monitoring personnel: it's all very well having technical experts if their plans are ignored or, worse still, undermined through lack of enforcement;
ensuring that any project or plan is designed to leave local self-sustaining human skills behind when donor involvement has come to an end;
ensuring that at the national level, economic ministries are fully signed up to any plan that is advanced in the name of sustainability;
bringing on side, educating and involving the private sector.
This regional initiative you are taking is, I believe, very important and not just for Africa. I urge you to report on your progress to CSD 7. It will be of wide interest, indicating as it does, a way forward at the regional level.

At the global level there is the question of whether the annual one day discussion of ocean affairs at the General Assembly is enough. Does it provide an adequate opportunity for states to monitor, assess and coordinate the priorities of the various agencies within the UN framework? Can it ensure that legal instruments being developed at the global and regional levels avoid duplication or inconsistency?

This is not to suggest that the international legal framework set up by the Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is itself weak or inadequate. The legal order for the oceans established by UNCLOS is balanced, sound, and comprehensive. However the creation of the legal order is only the first step. To be effective it must be implemented uniformly and enforced consistently, its institutions must be supported, and the subsidiary processes envisaged under UNCLOS must be elaborated and implemented.

Ministers need to be able to consider these issues in an appropriate forum. I'm not convinced that we have such a forum at this time.

Finally, there are the responses we can make at the local level. In terms of the health of the immediate coastal environment where over one third of the planet's population live, this is as important as the global level. And in terms of building strong public awareness of the vital importance of the health of the oceans it is the most important level. One of the principles of Agenda 21 is the proposition that environmental issues are best tackled with the participation of all concerned citizens. Or to sharpen the familiar slogan, we've got to act locally if we're going to get people to think globally.

There's little point in me advising you about what to do locally. That is something that's within your knowledge and experience. Instead, I thought you might be interested in something very local that's going on in my country, not far from where I live. It concerns Raglan or Whaingaroa Harbour (as the indigenous Maori people know it). Raglan Harbour has a surface area of around 30square kilometres. It is a shallow network of small valleys that must have been drowned by rising sea levels after the last ice age.

Although the harbour is small, its catchment is some 525 square kilometres. Prior to European settlement, which commenced in the middle of the nineteenth century, the catchment was heavily forested. The harbour was a rich source of seafood for Maori and settlers alike. By the mid-1980s, 78% of the catchment area had been converted into pasture for sheep and cattle grazing. The catchment is mainly hilly country that is geologically young and unstable. The inevitable result of extensive forest clearance has been extensive soil erosion. Every time it rained, the harbour turned brown.

Effluent from farming contributed over 80% of the pollution but the small Raglan township added to the problem with only rudimentary (and overloaded) oxidation ponds. A worse culprit still was the town landfill that leached an unknown cocktail of contaminants into a small stream that led directly into the harbour.

But by the early 1990s, the harbour was showing signs of real decay. The diversity of life in the harbour and its estuaries was estimated to have halved. Local people estimated that the amount of seafood available to them was down to about 10% of what it had been many years ago. The beaches I used to run along as a child ­ some stony, some sandy ­ were becoming coated with a brown slimy film of sediment.

This wasn't a dramatic problem that happened over night. It was gradual and insidious. Either people didn't notice the slow changes or grew used to them. And even those who recognised that something was wrong found it hard to point the finger. After all, there was no easy and obvious target like a big industrial plant to mobilise against.

When action was finally taken, it didn't come from central or local government agencies. Rather, it came from a small dedicated band of local people who decided to take their future into their own hands. They established a small nursery to raise native plants from seedlings and set out to plant trees and shrubs along the stream banks and harbour margins to prevent silt and animal effluent reaching the harbour. That was easy enough on public land. But they also set out to persuade landowners to do the same, and to educate contractors who moved soil with bulldozers and excavators.

Their enthusiasm has been infectious. Now there are landowners fencing off coastal strips and raising trees themselves. The group calls itself Whaingaroa Harbour Care and in addition to raising seedlings in its nursery it has held information days, involved the local school children in planting young trees and provided work for young unemployed people. Just three years after the group started, I was invited last month to plant the 100,000th tree. The target is at least 50,000 trees a year from here on. A simple but effective low-tech wetland filter has been installed to trap leachate from the landfill. And there are already signs that the harbour is recovering.

Now I'm not telling you this because it's a solution that can necessarily be transplanted to anywhere else. Raglan's problems are minor compared with the challenges that face much more heavily populated and much poorer regions. Raglan's people are privileged to live in a developed country with all the infrastructure that implies. So this is not a fairytale. I'm recounting this story for a human reason and it's this: if people try to take control of their own problems and can find a way to galvanise their own communities, it's amazing what they can do.

Raglan is not an affluent area by New Zealand standards. The support they have received from (mainly local) government agencies though valuable has been extremely modest. The money itself would have caused nothing to happen. It was the dogged commitment of a small team of local people that made it happen. Here's how they see themselves:

"We recognise and acknowledge that Whaingaroa Harbour Care can be a pain in the side of local and regional councils. Where necessary, when activities are occurring that jeopardise what we're trying to achieve, we can become obnoxious ­ but it is all in a good cause. We just want to leave our grandchildren clean air and sparkling waters! Rather than endlessly battling with Councils, it is our policy to offer solutions to problems, such as working with Councils to restore Raglan's closed landfill. We'd rather work than whinge."

There's no doubt that more could be done with more resources. But this has not been a hi-tech, high cost solution. The crucial ingredient is the human commitment and vision that has been awakened in the community. And when that happens, horizons expand. Raglan's people could see what was going wrong locally. So they acted locally. But having acted locally and become committed, the big, invisible, global problems cease to be abstractions. They become the local problem writ large. Thinking globally is, in my view, only possible if we are acting locally.

So as I set out on the road to CSD 7 with its vast agenda and the undoubted difficulty of finding a way ahead with the jungle of conventions, agreements and agencies not to mention nearly 200 sovereign states, I find it's necessary to keep firmly in touch with the vision of the local people in places like Raglan around the world who want to make their homes a better place.

The CSD cannot seek to be a catalyst for a global debate if it starts with the global level in mind. It has to start with the practicality of local and regional action that will then empower people to demand that we think globally ­ not about texts or institutions or structures or power plays; but about practical, achievable, enforceable action. To those Ministers who will be working with me at this year's CSD, please don't let it be a triumph for negotiators, diplomats, analysts or journalists. I'm looking to my fellow ministers to insist on commonsense and achievable goals.