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Common Oceans - A partnership for sustainability in the ABNJ

Looking ahead to strengthen governance in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ)

19 December 2018

Rome, Italy, 5-7 December 2018. Five years from the start of the Common Oceans ABNJ Program, funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), some of the partners, donors and beneficiaries gathered for a workshop at FAO headquarters in Rome in an initial step to scope out and discuss a possible second phase of the Program.

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Workshop facilitator Patrick Kalas instructing the participants © FAO

As the GEF rolls out its new four-year investment cycle (known as GEF-7), close to 30 countries have jointly pledged US$4.1 billion to better protect the future of the planet and human well-being. With an overall focus to safeguarding the world's forests, land, water, climate, and oceans, build green cities and protect threatened wildlife, Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ) have been identified as a priority within the GEF international waters focal area to improve governance in areas beyond exclusive economic zones.

To begin preparing for the operationalization of GEF7, the workshop looked to build on lessons learned, to scale-up successes and to enhance partnerships from the first Common Oceans ABNJ Program. This workshop is the first facilitated dialogue in a planned series of similar consultations with all relevant stakeholders to discuss the main issues affecting the ABNJ and possible ways to address such issues in a second phase. As the rounds of consultations continue, possible objectives and main components of a follow-up Program under the new funding opportunities will emerge.

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Common Oceans ABNJ Program Coordinator Jackie Alder © FAO

Opening the workshop, Jackie Alder, FAO FishCode Manager and Coordinator of the Common Oceans ABNJ Program, emphasized the need to be strategic and forward-looking. "There are governance challenges, gaps and management opportunities in the ABNJ. By leveraging and ramping up achievements from the current program, we hope to multiply our impact in a second phase to effectively manage fisheries and conservation of marine biodiversity in ABNJ. This will not only have direct benefit to those who depend on these areas, but will contribute to achieving the 2030 Agenda."

Since the Common Oceans ABNJ Program kicked off in 2014, major changes in how the international community tackles global challenges emerged, most notably with the adoption of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement. As well, in September 2018 the first session of the Intergovernmental Conference on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (commonly referred to as the BBNJ-process) was held in New York to discuss an international legally-binding instrument under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

With this backdrop and striving to be forward-thinking, workshop participants explored various options to help shape and define a new program, including forging a partnership strategy, based on the existing fishery management organizations, other inter-governmental organization, non-governmental organizations and civil-society organizations including the private sector. Such a partnership will aim to support governance improvements, including implementation of the ecosystem approach and reinforce measures to combat of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, as well as promoting coordination among users of the ABNJ.

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Workshop participants with the result of Theory of Change exercise
laid out on the floor © FAO

All in all, the workshop participants reflected positively on the meeting. "After working together on the Common Oceans ABNJ Program over almost five years, it was an excellent opportunity to reflect on what went well, what was truly making a difference; and how the partnership could increase its impact in ABNJ in to the future", said Susan Jackson, President of ISSF (International Seafood Sustainability Foundation).

Lauren Spurrier, Managing Director for Oceans at WWF (World Wildlife Fund), further underlined how the results from the workshop will feed in to the effort of continuing Program activities in the future. "The workshop was an important step toward the goal of building a conceptual model that targets our collective action to achieve impact. The challenges in the ABNJ are enormous and we need to continue building on the successes and lessons-learned during this first phase, and to work strategically as an alliance of stakeholders."

Looking to the future,Camille Jean Pierre Manel, Executive Secretary of the tuna regional fisheries management organization ICCAT (International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas) has hopes for a continuing collaboration. "The Common Oceans ABNJ Program is widening the opportunities to strengthen our capacities to work collaboratively at the global level for a more effective management of the resources. Building on current efforts, I hope that a second phase will provide more tangible results for all the stakeholders in their contribution for healthier ABNJ".

Aiming to continue inclusive consultations with all key stakeholders, a series of such workshops is planned through 2019.

Learn more about the FAO-GEF partnership here, and for additional information about the Common Oceans ABNJ Program please contact: 


Global Environment Facility (GEF)