Friday, May 20, 2011

Remarks to the International Oceans Institute Class of 2011

This is my seventh year in a row having the privilege to address the International Oceans Institute class. As with your predecessors you have arrived on our shores from around the world. Arrived with different backgrounds. With the shared goal of a better future for your countries, for the world, and for the oceans. Each of you recognizes the importance of the oceans in the prosperity of your own countries and in addressing the needs of your fellow citizens.

Addressing concerns related to the oceans has become even more critical, and your role is much more urgent today than it was even seven years ago when I first spoke in this room.

A 2008 article in the journal Science titled “Coral Reefs Under Rapid Climate Change and Ocean Acidification” said that with climate change, the temperature and carbon dioxide levels in the oceans will increase to “values that significantly exceed those of at least the past 420,000 years during which most extant marine organisms evolved.” The article commented that “Under conditions expected in the 21st century, global warming and ocean acidification will compromise carbonate accretion, with corals becoming increasingly rare on reef systems. The result will be less diverse reef communities and carbonate reef structures that fail to be maintained.”

This issue matters. It impacts world protein levels, the ability of the ocean to absorb increasing carbon dioxide emissions. It impacts the ability of species to react to other environmental changes like overfishing, oil spills, ocean waste disposal, growth of invasive species, and so forth. Coral reef systems can collapse as ecosystems as climate change and other environmental factors put pressure on the delicate balance of life under the oceans. This reduces biodiversity around the world, and could result in a catastrophic collapse of some species. Each of these impacts very directly impacts humans in every part of the world.

Reading over the summaries you each wrote about why you have each chosen to come to Dalhousie University and the International Oceans Institute many of you said you wanted to contribute to sustainability. The sustainability of fisheries, of resources, and of transportation on the oceans. Some of you talked about the importance of fairness in international relationships when it comes to ocean governance. It is environmental issues that will define each of these issues as they relate to the ocean. Issues from property rights, to transportation, to species decline, and growth. Each will be measured by how we change our thinking in terms of ocean management, ocean law, and international cooperation.

As those who, like me, have attended annually will know, I was a student of the institute’s founder Dr. Elizabeth Mann Borgese during my own days at Dalhousie University. I recall sitting and speaking to her at length on many occasions about how the oceans are something that links countries and people around the world. Her ground breaking work recognized injustice as it relates to ocean management. You will learn more about that work in the coming days and weeks. Mann Borgese’s commitment to fighting to ensure that the Law of the Sea convention was premised on the principle that ocean resources are the Common Heritage of Mankind and equally belong to those who live in land locked countries in sub-Saharan Africa as they do to people who live here in Nova Scotia or in Sri Lanka has lasted as an important guiding principle that could and should be copied in further international treaties, whether regarding the ocean or not.

As you go forward in your studies, and more importantly as you return home with the warmth of the hundred thousand welcomes I hope you will experience during your time in Nova Scotia, there are many things you can remember about why your work, and the work of the oceans is so important.

I hope you will experience that here in Nova Scotia, at places like Dalhousie and Bedford Institute of Oceanography, and in provincial and local governments, we are beginning to recognize the need for change. The need to develop meaningful coastal and environmental strategies. But we are only beginning. Here too we need to take a massive step forward in our collective understanding of the importance of the ocean that nearly surrounds this province. I hope too we will learn from your understandings and experiences.

Seventy-one percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by ocean, and yet while we’ve been to the moon and to Mars, 95 percent of the underwater world remains unexplored. No matter where you live, the oceans play a critical role in regulating our environment, and specifically impacts like climate and weather. Nearly 50 percent of all species on Earth are sustained by the oceans, and a full fifth of the world’s animal protein comes from the oceans.

Yet despite all of that we continue to treat the oceans as a dumping ground. As a world community, we continue to face challenges in recognizing the impact of unsustainable harvesting practices. And we continue to find difficulties in reaching a global consensus on the breaking point of the oceans in absorbing our own environmental impacts. The oceans have been kind to us and we must begin to be kind in return.

My friends, welcome to Nova Scotia. Welcome to Halifax. We are greatful to have you here in our province just as we are grateful and thankful that you show such keen interest in issues of governance, law, and sustainability, and recognize – just by being here – that issues as complex as ocean governance cannot be solved by individual nations in isolation. They are only solved through cooperation and understanding.