Tue, 03 October 2017
Address to the 6th MIMA South China Sea Conference
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 5-6 October 2017
By James Alix Michel, Former President of the Republic of Seychelles
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you all for providing this opportunity to address one the world’s greatest challenges that affects us all: how to use our oceans sustainably. We are a Blue Planet. Our destiny is dependent on our ability to harness the enormous potential of the oceans, and to do so in a way that protects the interests of our children and their children in turn.
In some respects there are general principles to guide our actions, equally applicable to all the oceans. But, while there is much in common from one part of the world to another, there are also important differences. If we are to successfully address the challenge of sustainability, we must first take account of our unique physical and geopolitical features. And take account of what we mean by “ocean governance”.
Whilst we all recognise that oceans are the common heritage of humankind there is no single, universally accepted model of ocean governance. State actors to non-state actors, including pirates from different regions of the world, have their own definition of it. However, the closest definition of ocean governance, which encompasses issues such as the extent of maritime zones and boundaries, the exploration and exploitation of maritime resources, international navigation on the high seas, is to be found in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. (UNCLOS).
Whilst it has its inherent weaknesses – among them, governance of the high seas – it does provide us with an international and institutional framework for ocean governance. We can improve on it. We need to show goodwill and demonstrate political will and statesmanship. This is the only way forward. Governance of our oceans demands this of us. It demands dialogue and cooperation. The international community must establish overarching principles of ocean governance.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Citizens of those countries bordering this important sea, will, of course, be more familiar with what is different from other parts of the world. They will be only too aware that it is largely surrounded by a ring of populous and dynamic nations, with great entrepreneurial spirit, which all want access to the riches that this relatively small sea can offer. They will also know that it serves as one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes; a vital link between East and West, meaning that governance and maritime security are key considerations.
As an outsider from the Indian Ocean, allow me to bring to the discussion my own experience of more general principles. These are bound together in what is now widely known as the Blue Economy. It embodies the core principle of “sustainability”.
The Blue Economy is a relative newcomer to the world stage but it is already playing an important role. At first, people would ask me what the Blue Economy is and what is different compared with past uses of the oceans. Within this short period it is my belief – especially in an informed gathering like this – that we now share an understanding of the concept and that lengthy definitions are no longer necessary. Suffice to say that the Blue Economy embraces not one set of activities but many. It is also not confined to any one part of the world. There is something of interest to all nations, large and small, north and south, landlocked as well as maritime. Certainly, not all nations will approach it in the same way, but different aspects will appeal more in different circumstances. There is a common core of ideas but also the potential for numerous variations.
But there is one characteristic that is common to all. The Blue Economy is not simply about making greater use of the sea but about making better use of it too. And the way this will be done is by recognising the importance of sustainability. That is why I think that everyone engaged in work on the Blue Economy should have a framed copy of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14 above their desk:
Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources
Without the inclusion of this key concept the Blue Economy would be incomplete; with it the future is bright, an approach that has the potential to benefit future generations as well as our own.
As a development model, the Blue Economy is about more than extending economic activity into the sea. Instead, it calls for a new approach to development. In common with the principles underpinning the Green Economy, it rests on the belief that development and respect for the environment need not be in conflict.
It is no coincidence that island nations, such as my own, were among the first to appreciate the lifeline offered by the Blue Economy. Indeed, important initiatives have originated in small island states, where the challenge is most acute. It was time for us to speak up, to let the rest of the world know what was happening. Small though we are in ourselves, the collective voice of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) is increasingly being heard in the international corridors of power. Increasingly, nations in other parts of the world are being persuaded of what the Blue Economy can mean to them too. However, no matter how good the ideas and arguments, in the end the success of the Blue Economy will all come down to the ability and will of national and international jurisdictions to manage the oceans. Unless there is strong commitment amongst the world’s powers, its full potential will never be realised.
Let us now see how the concept of the Blue Economy is relevant to the challenges facing the South China Sea. In doing this, I will refer to some of the innovative measures that we have introduced in Seychelles. This will show that sometimes there will be opportunities for collaboration but at other times, in advance of more general agreement, individual nations must be prepared to take a lead.
(a) Bring the Blue Economy into the Centre of Government
One action I took as President was to create a separate department for the Blue Economy. Even though it is a small department it helps to ensure that all of the ministries incorporate the Blue Economy in their own thinking and policy decisions.
(b) Work with Neighbouring Nations
Seychelles has secured a unique agreement with our southern neighbor, Mauritius, to jointly care for and develop a submerged feature known as the Mascarene Plateau, which connects our two nations. Launched in 2012, Mauritius and Seychelles undertook to jointly manage, explore and exploit some 400,000 square kilometres of seabed. The very fact that two nations are willing to work together in this way is a source of encouragement and shows the importance of cooperation.
(c) Keep Our Seas Safe
We can never take for granted the security of our shipping lanes and fisheries, and sometimes we must take direct action to protect them. In Seychelles, over most of the past decade we have faced an ongoing threat from pirates, emanating from the lawless regions of Somalia. Given that the twin pillars of our economy are tourism and fishing, at its height, the direct cost of piracy to my nation was equivalent to 4% of our GDP. As part of our own efforts and as part of international effort, we are now able to contain piracy in our waters.
(d) Find New Sources of Investment
Investment can be attracted in different ways. In Seychelles, I was able to broker a unique deal, known as the Debt-to-Adaptation Swap – whereby repayment of an international debt of some $30 million was cancelled in exchange for our investment in Blue Economy measures. Through this mechanism, for instance, we have been able to fund an innovative exercise in marine planning, as explained next.
(e) Zone the Use of Designated Waters
Seychelles has a very extensive area of designated waters, and this is now the subject of a plan designed to achieve a balance between conservation and development. Following extensive consultation with stakeholders, a marine development plan is being prepared to distinguish between areas where fishing and other activities can be maintained and extensive reserves that will be left as they are. The main goal is for 30% of the territorial sea and EEZ to be zoned in high and medium biodiversity protection areas.
(f) Issue Blue Bonds as a Further Source of Finance
A further example of a local initiative is through our plan to issue Blue Bonds, a device that is based on the well-tried international example of Green Bonds. Guaranteed by Government and supported by international financial institutions, this offers a means of attracting private sector funding through public-private partnerships.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In these various ways, I have illustrated how one small nation can make a difference. Just imagine how much more your own very much larger nations can achieve. The possibilities are as extensive as the oceans themselves. Beyond the horizon there are infinite possibilities.
Earlier this year I launched my own Foundation, focusing on the related issues of the Blue Economy, Climate Change, and Sustainability. It is already proving to be a hub in a burgeoning network of ideas to realise the potential of the world’s oceans. We are in the process of linking up with many other hubs around the world dedicated to ignite change in the use of the oceans, to liberate their potentials and sustain them.
Within this region, as in other parts of the World, there will be individuals, governments, organizations, enterprises, universities and a new generation of researchers to take things forward. It is time to step forward. Let us join forces. The Blue Economy is the new frontier whose time has come.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, the world awaits.