Ocean Newsletter

No.557 October 20, 2023

  • A New Phase for the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC/UNESCO) and Japan’s Role MAKINO Mitsutaku (Professor, Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute, The University of Tokyo)
  • Standardization in Maritime Radio Communications MIYADERA Yoshio (Business Strategy Group, Business Planning Department, Marine Systems Division, Japan Radio Co., Ltd.)

A New Phase for the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC/UNESCO) and Japan’s Role

KEYWORDS United Nations Decade of Ocean Science /UNESCO-IOC (Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO) / Japan’s role
MAKINO Mitsutaku (Professor, Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute, The University of Tokyo)

At the 32nd session of the UNESCO-IOC, reports were given on the various operations for which it is responsible and plans of action were discussed. A notable topic was the election of Professor Yutaka Michida as the new Chairperson, the first time a Japanese national has held this position in the 60 years since the IOC was founded. It is hoped that Japan, with its geographical characteristics and historical and cultural background as an Asia-Pacific nation, will increasingly lead discussions on marine science and sustainable use of the ocean.

Thirty-second Session of the IOC Assembly
The 32nd Session of the IOC Assembly was held at UNESCO headquarters in Paris from June 21 to 30, 2023. The IOC, established in 1960 as a United Nations organization, aims to promote scientific research to enhance knowledge and understanding of the oceans through international cooperation. It is the only organization that conducts intergovernmental cooperation, planning, and coordination on a global scale in marine science and maintains functional independence within UNESCO. Since 2021, it has been leading the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030): UNDOS1, playing a particularly vital role in formulating science-based international marine policies.
The IOC Assembly is held biennially to review the progress made since the last session and to formulate plans for the next two years. The 32nd session, the first in-person meeting in four years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, saw about 400 participants from 150 member countries, including a 15-member Japanese delegation led by Professor Yutaka Michida from the University of Tokyo and Vice Chairman Takeshi Kawano from the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC), along with the author.
Key Topics at the Recent IOC Assembly

At the Assembly, reports and activity plans were discussed for the various tasks undertaken by the IOC, including activity reports from regional sub-committees, promotion of ocean observation and research such as the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS), operation of International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange systems, development of tsunami early warning systems, and initiatives in education, training, capacity development, and technology transfer. In this article, some of the distinctive topics discussed during the Assembly will be introduced.
Firstly, with UNDOS now in its third year, reports were made on the various endorsed initiatives (Endorsed Decade Actions) that are now in full swing worldwide. As of May 2023, 47 programs, 235 projects, and 79 contributions have been officially recognized worldwide. However, examining the distribution of these endorsed activities reveals about 70% were led by Western countries. Asia-Pacific countries accounted for 14%, while Africa and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) each accounted for only about 4% and less than 3%, respectively. Correcting this geographical imbalance will be a challenge moving forward.
Personally, the summary report by Executive Secretary Vladimir Ryabinin, who will retire at the end of December 2023, made a particularly deep impression on me. In his report, Mr. Ryabinin stated, "Today, for the first time in history, we know what needs to be done for the oceans. It involves climate-smart, ecosystem-focused, ethical and equitable ocean management, on the basis of science-supported ocean planning for a sustainable ocean economy." Specifically, this involves realizing the concept of Integrated Coastal Area Management (ICAM) aimed at a sustainable marine economy, based on Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) which includes Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) within Large Marine Ecosystems (LMEs). Although these concepts are not entirely new, it could be a sign that society’s need for consensus building on new ocean usages is growing even stronger, such as offshore wind power, climate change mitigation, and seabed mineral resource development, following initiatives like the 2020 High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy2 and the Lisbon Declaration adopted at the 2022 United Nations Ocean Conference.
At the side events, information was shared about the organizational forms and activities of the UNDOS National Decade Committees (NDCs)3, which have been established in 37 countries worldwide. In particular, discussions were held regarding the composition of the NDCs and the importance of including not only government officials and researchers but also on the participation of indigenous and local community representatives, industry, civil society representatives, and the media. Discussions also focused on the need to consider gender balance and age diversity. This information was beneficial for our country's NDC as well.

From left to right: The new Chairperson Professor Michida, former Chair Ariel Troisi, and Executive Secretary Vladimir Ryabinin

From left to right: The new Chairperson Professor Michida, former Chair Ariel Troisi, and Executive Secretary Vladimir Ryabinin

Election of new Chair Michida and Budget Increase

Following the completion of two terms (four-years) by Ariel Hernán Troisi from Argentina, elections were held for the new Chair. As a result, Professor Yutaka Michida, who is also the head of the Japanese delegation, was elected. This marks the first time in the IOC's history of over 60 years that a Chair has been elected from Japan. Additionally, five Vice Chairs representing various oceanic regions were elected from France, Bulgaria, Colombia, India, and Egypt.
Another piece of good news was the increase in the IOC's budget. With the expansion of UNDOS and other international roles, budget allocations within UNESCO for IOC will be made. Furthermore, during the IOC Assembly, the Fifth Extraordinary Session of the General Conference of UNESCO was held, where the United States, accounting for approximately 20% of the contribution ratio, officially decided to return and resume its contributions. Together, these developments suggest that under the new leadership of its new Chair, the IOC has entered a phase of significant advancement.

Japan’s Role

What should Japan do, considering this significant opportunity? In my opinion, we have two main tasks. First, Japan should strengthen its contributions to the IOC. As indicated by the budget increase within UNESCO, the IOC now faces a greater demand for scientific contributions to various international ocean-related issues. Particularly, UNDOS, which began in 2021, is entering its mid-phase, and concrete results will be expected from around the world. Under the new IOC leadership of Chair Michida, Japan's human, knowledge, and financial contributions are more crucial than ever. To achieve this, it is important to clearly communicate the role and significance of the IOC within Japan and to establish an all-Japan promotional framework. The second task is demonstrating Japan's unique leadership. Japan has already played a central role in promoting marine science and international collaboration in the Asia-Pacific region, as exemplified by Dr. Kentaro Ando of JAMSTEC serving as the Chair of the IOC Sub-Commission for the Western Pacific (WESTPAC4). Japan is probably expected to lead discussions on marine science and sustainable use of the ocean, capitalizing on its geographical characteristics as well as historical and cultural background as an Asia-Pacific nation.
In the United Nations system, which tends to be Western-centric, it is crucial to consider how Japan should build relationships with countries in the Asia-Pacific, African coastal countries, and countries in Central and South America. What constitutes marine science that can truly contribute to global sustainability, and what role should Japan play in this? We must now discuss these questions to form a basic approach and strategy for Japan's marine science community. (End)

1. Mitsuo Uematsu, "The United Nations Decade of Ocean Science - What Japan Can Do" (Ocean Newsletter No. 476) - https://www.spf.org/opri/en/global-data/opri/ssp26.pdf#page=10 
Mitsutaku Makino, "Towards a 'Transformative' Decade of Ocean Science" (Ocean Newsletter No. 490) -
Yushi Morioka, "The Role of Early Career Ocean Professionals in the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development" (Ocean Newsletter No. 536) -
2. Yoshihide Suga, "Promoting Sustainable Ocean Economies and International Partnership" (Ocean Newsletter Issue No. 490) -
3. UN Decade of Ocean Science National Committee - https://oceandecade.jp/ja/ 
4. WESTPAC (IOC Sub-Commission for the Western Pacific) - https://ioc-westpac.org/

Page Top