Recast Regionalism: lofty ideals sink to the bottom of the ocean

The annual Forum leaders meeting in Palau this year released the Palau Oceans Declaration titled: “The Ocean: Life and Future: Charting a course to sustainability.” The declaration outlines lofty ideals about our ocean home, the many threats that are faced by our ocean and also provides the justification for the exploitation of our ocean resources under the disguise of sustainable management.

For too long we have treated Forum communiqué and declarations with little regard because we regarded them as not legally binding and in many cases irrelevant. Unfortunately these declarations and communiqués have a way of coming back to haunt us because these documents give at least the impressions of political legitimacy which in turn bestows a mandate. Naturally funding from developed partners follows mandate. The real winners are those that understand how to manipulate the Forum decision making process – member states, technical agencies as well as NGOs have from time to time used Forum processes to give legitimacy to their different causes.

In the past we have seen how Australia successfully used a Forum communiqué to justify the launch of the controversial PACER + negotiations without the consent of the Pacific islands parliaments, the national democratic institutions. Historically Australia has used Forum communiqué to secure compromised language on climate change despite the resistance and anger of small island states.

This year the real winner is the seabed mining industry under cover of the EUSOPAC Deep Sea Mining (DSM) project. Technical agencies such as SOPAC and in particular the EU-SOPAC DSM project have been working to ensure that their project secures the highest political mandate from Forum leaders meeting precisely because this is a highly controversial project with significant public resistance with calls to ban seabed mining. Non Government Organisations (NGOs) argue that the EU-SOPAC DSM project sets out a number of dubious and unfounded assertions about seabed mining that contravene numerous international law norms such as the Precautionary Principle, and the right to Free and Prior Informed Consent.

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