EU decision-makers and stakeholders gathered in the European Parliament last November to discuss the project Sea for Society and the ‘blue society’ concept, which envisions a new governance model aimed to make the ocean an integral part of society.

Blue society Copyright Amit Liber copy

 Photo: Amit Liber

 Hosted by Ricardo Serrão Santos MEP and Co-Chair of the Working Group, the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services conference concluded with recommendations to further promote and implement a blue society. Stakeholders also endorsed the concept by signing the Blue Society Stakeholder’s Commitment, advocating the transition towards a ‘blue society’.

Ricardo Serrão Santos MEP presented the outcome to the stakeholders which included policy-makers, the scientific community, youth organisations and others and outlined the recommendations of a three-year ‘mobilisation and mutual learning action plan’, funded by the Commission/DG Research & Innovation FP7.

Climate regulator

The meeting highlighted the importance of the ocean as it provides a multitude of services (e.g. oxygen, food, raw materials) as well as being an important climate regulator. Manuel Cira, Nausicaá explained that the project included consultations across Europe that involved over 500 stakeholders and young citizens, and that mobilisation activities so far had reached 200,000 people.

A Blue Society Expert Group was also established to analyse the outcome of the consultation phase and has made recommendations for improved ocean governance and research. “Common responsibility and common heritage is the guiding principle of a blue society,” remarked Francois Simard, IUCN Global Marine and Polar Programme as he outlined the backdrop for the Blue Society goals.

The need to increase education, outreach awareness and better basic knowledge of the ocean among the public, industry and decision-makers was agreed by all participants.

Tiago Pitta e Cunha, Cabinet of the President of Portugal, added that the health of the oceans was underestimated whereby “humans live in a world separate from the Oceans”.

Participants called for ‘ocean literacy’ to be included in curriculum and the need to effectively communicate research results to decision-makers and to promote behavioural changes. Philippe Galiay, European Commission, said Horizon 2020 recognised that science and society were “interlinked” and required in order to have a systemic approach.

“Responsible research and innovation is needed, working with science for and with society”.

Niall McDonough, European Marine Board, said that science was a “critical component of the evidence base” that we do have to manage our oceans. “There is a need for a more system-oriented interdisciplinary approach”.

‘Partnerships and collaboration’ were underlined as ‘essential’ to achieve a new ‘ocean global governance system’. Puri Canals, MedPAN, highlighted their success in identifying the gaps hindering organisations from working together, and how to overcome these by building trust and working in a systemic manner.

Participants also called for more effective enforcement as well as integrated policies, and encouraged the creation or reinforcement of ‘adapted mechanisms’ and ‘dedicated agencies’ that would foster marine research and innovation, and better maritime governance at regional, national and European level.

It was suggested that the EU should be at the forefront of creating a ‘blue society’ and must put more emphasis on the contribution of ‘natural capital, economic deterrents and cross-sectoral collaboration across policy sectors’.

The Sea for Society project also involved youth groups, whose representative said they wanted to see a system of governance that respected the “imperative needs of human society and our planet; a system [that] encompasses the blue society”.

The need to recognise the role of the ocean at COP21 was stressed. Francis Vallat, European Network of Maritime Clusters said politicians and scientists “must acknowledge at a global level the oceans’ pivotal role as the most important climate regulator in the world”.

The meeting concluded with the signing of the Blue Society Stakeholder’s Commitment in support of the vision of a ‘blue society’ and the need to continue to work in dialogue and partnership to improve human-ocean dynamics globally.