Thursday, May 31, 2007

Crisis in the IOC

June has been proclaimed by President Bush as National Oceans Month, 2007.

The oceans are obviously central to the health of the planet earth. A large part of the world's population lives in coastal zones. We are only beginning to understand the enormous resources that the oceans can provide, and how those resources might be exploited. On the other hand, the oceans and coastal zones are already experiencing major environmental problems, including overfishing and pollution; global warming will put still more stress on ocean systems. Moreover, the oceans and the atmosphere are so intimately linked that we will not understand global warming if we do not understand oceanography.

It seems ironic therefore that the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), which the United States helped to create nearly half a century ago, is facing severe problems. Two years ago the assembly of the IOC considered a report titled "FINANCING AND OWNERSHIP OF IOC’S PROGRAMMES: 'WE HAVE A PROBLEM'”. It stated:
Given the reduction of 20% of UNESCO’s contribution to the IOC Regular Budget, Member States will have, as soon as possible, to collectively reflect on possible future scenarios as a possible basis for the reformulation of the Commission's medium- and long-term plans. To start that process, this document was prepared by Officer J.
Valladares, for the consideration of the Assembly at the present session; it assesses the overall funding for IOC, analyses the existing, and proposes new funding mechanisms including extrabudgetary contributions from Member States through a voluntary pledging system.
The Assembly of the IOC meets in June, and will consider a report which includes the following alternatives and recommendations:
Member States could elevate IOC to the status of a technical specialized agency within the UN. This would require an intergovernmental negotiation and the adoption of a protocol or convention that would include an agreement on assessed contributions. This option would be a major step forward in consolidating the mandate of IOC and in the commitment of Member States in support of its current mission.

Alternatively, or as a first step, arrangements could be considered in UNESCO to secure a more stable financial horizon. Options include either an agreement negotiated with UNESCO setting the long-term budget, or a new commitment from Member States. The latter may be done through a Convention or similar instrument.

We the Member States of IOC must make a careful assessment of these various options.

Member States should realise that the option of continuing with the present structure at the present level of funding can only be viable if expectations and demands of IOC are viewed in a stable and steady context and commensurate with the expected outcomes.

As Officers we ask the Member States to agree that fundamental structural changes are needed and to accept the challenge of identifying and committing to more effective future arrangements.
As we celebrate National Oceans Month, let us consider the alternatives proposed by the IOC, and let us encourage our government representatives to take vigorous action to assure that there are adequate funds to support the programs of the IOC, and an adequate intergovernmental mechanism to carry out its charter with an ambitious program!

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