Time for a strategy on ocean development and Indian maritime security

05 Aug 2019

The United Nations has called for 2021-2030 to be marked as the 'Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development'

Ocean development
According to a UN report, 90% of global trade is conducted through sea lanes.

Covering over 70% of the earth with average depth of 4,000 metres holding 1.3 billion cubic metres of water (97% of the water on earth) oceans are the vital to addressing climate change and sustainable development goals (UN, 2016). According to the First Global Integrated Marine assessment (2016), with seven billion people on earth, each one of us has only one fifth of a cubic kilometre of ocean as our share. The assessment report highlights how this share is the source of half of the annual production of the oxygen that each of us breathes, a major food source, and the key source for fresh water. Sea level rise, increasing ocean acidification, and increasing deoxygenation have been recognised as some of the top changes occurring due to climate change. Increasing human activity in the ocean is rapidly and adversely affecting the health of the ocean. Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) has been a significant challenge for preserving and conserving ocean-based living resources. Increasing marine litter and pollution is dangerous to both the ocean and the marine biodiversity.

The role of the ocean in growth of the global economy is immense. According to UNCTAD 2018, in 2017, 10.7 billion tonnes of goods were loaded for seaborne trade and 90% of global trade is conducted through sea lanes. Asia was the largest trading region in 2017 with 41% of the global maritime trade originating in Asia and 61% destined for the region (UNCTAD, 2018). Maritime trade is essential to transport food, oil and gas and is also the cheapest form of transport that can be utilised for bulk transportation. According to the State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2018, 88% of total fish production in 2016 was for direct human consumption, up from 67% in the 1960s. Around 59.6 million people were engaged in the primary sector of capture fisheries and aquaculture in 2016. The economic importance of the oceans is significant and a healthy ocean is critical for food security, livelihoods and economic growth globally.

The health of the ocean is at the heart of preserving and protecting the global environment. This is evident in the call by United Nations to mark 2021-2030 as the 'Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development'. The focus would be on preserving and ensuring ocean health by enhancing and promoting ocean science. As highlighted by Unesco, this would enable policymakers to undertake 'adaptation strategies and science-informed policy responses' for sustainable development of the ocean. UN and its institutions have been gearing up to focus on fulfilling the agenda and the purpose of the ocean decade. The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) has been asked by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) to coordinate and develop a plan of implementation for the decade during its preparatory phase from 2018-2020. A decade roadmap has been developed by IOC that would enable and guide the process of developing an implementation plan. In this regard, the first global planning meeting to chalk out the implementation plan for the Ocean's Decade was held in May 2019 and the plan is to be submitted to UNGA by autumn 2020.

These global measures and steps indicate the urgent need to align national and regional maritime policies to address ocean health. Sustainable development of oceans is an amalgamation of maritime trade, security, livelihoods, environment and biodiversity challenges that need to be addressed simultaneously.

India with its vast coastline and maritime reach, is well placed both geographically and geopolitically to focus on sustainable development of the ocean. Globally, the focus on oceans has been through a traditional security lens that limits the discourse to strategic presence of a nation and the strength of its navy. In the past few decades however, this traditional approach has expanded to focus on securing high seas for trade, livelihoods, tackling piracy, curbing IUU, providing support during humanitarian crisis, and disaster management. This new approach is also essential to addressing the health of the oceans and to preserve marine biodiversity. There is a vital need for a traditional security apparatus that also has the capacity to deal with and manage illegal trade and fishing, safeguard bio-diverse regions, and ensure compliance and adherence to international maritime treaties and agreements. India has been moving in this direction by adopting a holistic definition of maritime security and by pushing forth the agenda of a Blue Economy.

India is focusing on the Blue Economy initiative that interlinks economic growth and maritime security with sustainable development. Climate change, environmental degradation, access to resources and expanding sea lanes, and the evolving international ocean regime highlight the need to focus on sustainable development of oceans. With nations committed to fulfilling Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), addressing the strategic, environmental and ocean ecosystem concerns is one of the greatest challenges for the world.

Ocean development
Discussions at the TERI-KAS Resource Dialogue V, held in Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu.

To discuss and elaborate on sustainable development in maritime security challenges, TERI with the support from Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), organised the TERI-KAS Resource Dialogue V- Global Maritime Order- India's Strategy that aimed to understand the changing nuances of the high seas and the evolving definition of maritime security that moves beyond the realm of traditional security approaches. The two-day conference began with an inaugural session on 7th March 2019 in Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu followed by a day and a half of intensive panel discussions.

The major focus areas of maritime security discussed were -

  • Global maritime order and the changing strategic environment
  • India's status as a global maritime power
  • Accessing resources - strategic, economic and scientific challenges
  • Blue Economy and its significance for India
  • Health of the ocean - role of climate change and environmental degradation
  • Ocean governance - role of polar regions and significance of international law
  • India's maritime governance architecture and the future needs
  • Non-traditional security and maritime order
  • Global maritime order: Opportunities and challenges for India

The conference focused on understanding the global maritime concerns in the context of threats such as climate change, environmental degradation, biodiversity, and increasing human activity in the high seas. The conference was the second in series of conferences on maritime issues.

The following are some of the concrete recommendations that emerged from the conference:

  • Coordination among all governmental and non-governmental agencies working on maritime issues as a prerequisite to addressing non-traditional security threats
  • Technological collaboration among different countries to harness Blue Economy potential
  • A Augmenting research in technology, policy, and oceanic sciences in relation to Blue Economy. The critical need is to gather statistical data, define Blue Economy, and create an information repository from a transdisciplinary framework
  • Further cooperation to share scientific technology and to develop tools and mechanisms to address the challenges of climate change and environmental degradation that are critical issues for the success of sustainable development of the oceans
  • Adoption and implementation of a singular Indian maritime policy that encompasses security, economy, environmental sustainability and social impacts of the ocean in an integrated framework to address non-traditional threats
  • Increasing the level of coordination among local, national and international maritime agencies. Establishment of single unified agency on maritime policy would be critical for India to implement the Blue Economy agenda
  • Partnerships and coalitions with private players in the maritime sector to ensure more coherence in maritime policy adoption and implementation
  • Capacity building and training beyond scientists and technologists in the maritime sector. Stakeholders from the finance and insurance sector, academia, think tanks and business entities need to be made aware of the changing ocean ecosystem and should be well placed to contribute to the Blue Economy discussion and its implementation.

Find out more about the conference here.