Information Dissemination about the Ocean

【Ocean Newsletter】Back issues

No.0 July 20, 2000

Why Is an Ocean Policy Think Tank Required Now?

At the start of the 21st century, the ocean is playing an extremely important role as the basis of human existence. In the second half of the 20th century, mankind saw the earth from space for the first time and could realize that the earth is a planet covered by a vast expanse of water and dotted with many islands.
The sea is the mother of life, the source of aquatic and mineral products, a means of transportation and a place for recreation. It greatly contributes to the life and economic activity of mankind. The vast volume of water helps alleviate abrupt temperature changes on the earth. Also, water vapor evaporating from the sea falls as rain, nourishing forests and farmland, and thus contributes to the maintenance of a good living environment.
However, mankind has continued to exploit and use the ocean in the belief that there are no limits to the ocean's capacity. As a result, in the latter half of the 20th century, sea pollution, resource depletion, environmental disruption and other problems have emerged. We have found that the ocean's capacity is not as large as we thought.
This situation calls for us to change our way of thinking. The basic concept that has been accepted up to now is that the ocean, with her vast capacity and limitless resources, could be developed or used freely by anybody - the "freedom of the ocean" concept. From now on, however, the concept of "ocean governance" must replace this "freedom of the ocean" concept. "Ocean governance" means that the ocean should be governed as the base of human existence and the ocean's benefits should be passed on to future generations.
The latter half of the 20th century should be remembered as the time when mankind took a big step forward towards ocean governance. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the drafting of which took many years and required the wisdom of many people and many compromises among nations with differing interests, was put into effect in 1994. Furthermore, at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 the "sustainable development" declaration was made and the Action Plan Agenda 21 was adopted. As a result, a common framework that mankind and the nations of the world can use to develop, utilize and maintain the earth's oceans was established and ocean governance began on a global scale.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea acknowledges the sovereign right and jurisdiction that coastal nations have over an Exclusive Economic Zone within 200 nautical miles of their coastlines, while at the same time, placing an obligation on them to protect and maintain the marine environment. Nations throughout the world are working hard to manage the sea areas under their jurisdiction, including coastal sea areas; specifically, they are formulating ocean policies, unifying, abolishing and merging the administrative and research organizations responsible for promoting such ocean policies, and establishing procedures for reflecting the opinions of diverse ocean users in such policies. International conferences on ocean governance are held by government agencies, NGOs, researchers, etc., at various different levels. The Internet is also used to exchange information.
Japan is said to possess the world's sixth largest Exclusive Economic Zone and is a universally recognized maritime nation. It is a world leader in shipbuilding, marine transportation, fisheries, science and technology and many other areas. However, the level of awareness of the importance of ocean governance in the country is low, so it would have to be said that Japan falls behind other nations as far as its overall approach to maritime issues is concerned. Maritime administration still remains divided among more than 10 government ministries and agencies and the activities and research conducted by non-government organizations are overshadowed by this sectionalism.
Based on the rights and obligations specified in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Japan should take a positive approach to overall ocean governance for the vast sea area under its jurisdiction. It should also play a leading role in international conferences, technological transfer and financing regarding ocean governance. However, as circumstances currently stand, Japan has not yet established an ocean governance system, and therefore, may well be left trailing the international network for ocean governance now being quickly constructed through international conferences and via the Internet.
The bitter experience of the Second World War and the developments that took place during the cold war era may have caused Japan to shun ocean-related issues and avoid addressing them as political tasks. This may be a deep-rooted tendency. The relationship between mankind and the ocean has undergone a drastic change during the last half-century. We must become fully aware that the ocean paradigm has already changed and must quickly build our nation's ocean policies for the 21st century. The wisdom of many people must be harnessed to formulate our ocean governance policies in consideration of the wide range of areas encompassed by the relationship between mankind and the ocean.
To contribute to the formulation of Japan's ocean governance, we have established an Ocean Policy Think Tank with the cooperation of The Nippon Foundation, the Ship & Ocean Foundation and researchers at home and abroad, in order to conduct research on various issues related to ocean governance and to propose policies in Japan and to foreign countries, from a standpoint not constrained by individual administrative divisions or areas of specialization. This newsletter is issued as a hot line to inform everyone interested in ocean issues about the activities of this marine think tank as well as a forum for discussing diverse maritime topics. With the establishment of this think tank as a turning point, I sincerely hope that considerable discussion emerges regarding maritime policies in Japan.