Global Forum of Oceans, Coasts and Islands

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The Global Forum on Oceans, Coasts and Islands was created at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, South Africa in September 2002. The Global Forum is intended to advance the interests of oceans,coasts, and islands including small island developing States (SIDS), which are especially dependent on the oceans. The Global Ocean Forum is composed of experts from governments, intergovernmental and international organizations, and nongovernmental organizations (environmental, scientific/technical, industry, and foundations) with the common goal of encouraging the sustainable development of oceans, coasts, and islands.

Third Global Conference on Oceans, Coasts and Islands

With the Third Global Conference on Oceans, Coasts and Islands in Paris in January 2006 the issue of climate and the oceans was considered. The goal was to explore the effects climate change may have on the world’s oceans, coasts, and islands, with an emphasis on ocean acidification, carbon sequestration, Arctic change, and sea level change. An Oceans and Climate panel was chaired by Robert Corell, Chair, Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. Panel participants included: Ambassador Gunnar Pálsson, Director, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Iceland; Halldór Thorgeirsson, Deputy Executive Secretary, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); Ambassador Enele Sopoaga, Tuvalu, Vice-Chair, AOSIS, and Permanent Representative of the Mission of Tuvalu to the UN; John Shepherd, Tyndall Centre Regional Associate Director, Southampton Oceanography Centre; Ellina Levina, Climate Change Analyst, Environment Directorate, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD); and Magdalena Muir, Research Associate, Arctic Institute of North America.

The panel summary indicated that the most vulnerable populations and some of the key vulnerabilities are oceans, coasts, and islands. Sea level rise is a significant threat for small islands, coasts, and low-lying lands. Ocean acidification is a new and looming threat that could undermine the marine food web and preclude coral development. Sea level rise and acidification will remain for the next few thousand years. Another emerging threat is the impact of high sea surface temperatures on the intensity of tropical cyclones and hurricanes. Other climate impacts include arctic sea ice reduction, cyclonic storms, changes in ocean circulation, and changes in biodiversity and fisheries.

In 2005, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change presented a special report on carbon dioxide sequestration. It found that storing captured carbon dioxide in geological formations is a mature technology. Ocean storage, or the direct release into the ocean water column or onto the deep seafloor, has been researched less. This storage option is less permanent than geological storage and significant uncertainty remains on ecosystem impacts. Oceans have slowed the build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by acting as a sink for carbon dioxide. Recent evidence suggests that this carbon absorption has its limits and is resulting in acidification of the oceans.

Areas affected by climate change

Circumpolar Arctic

The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment Scientific Report documents climatic changes in the circumpolar Arctic. One of the key findings suggests that the Arctic has been warming rapidly with much larger changes projected for the future. Increasing temperatures, melting glaciers, reductions in the extent and thickness of sea ice, thawing permafrost, and rising sea level illustrate this warming trend. In the Arctic, changes in sea ice are a key indicator and agent of climate change, affecting surface reflectivity, cloudiness, humidity, exchanges of heat and moisture at the ocean surface, and ocean currents.

The changes in sea ice have enormous economic, environmental, and social implications. There are negative impacts on ice-dependent wildlife and northern peoples, like the Inuit, with a traditional subsistence lifestyle based on hunting mammals on or adjacent to sea ice. Changes may also have positive economic effects, as they may facilitate increased marine transportation, economic development, and immigration into the region.

Small Islands

Small islands are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, sea level rise, and extreme events because of their size and exposure to natural hazards and their limited adaptive capacity. Islands represent early indicators of climate change for the rest of the world. As islands often depend on rainwater they are vulnerable to changes rainfall as well as its distribution.

Like many parts of the equatorial and tropical world, human health is impacted by climate change. Subsistence and commercial agriculture on small islands will be impacted by sea level rise due to flooding, salt water intrusion in fresh water, salination of the soils and decline in water quality and quantity. Infrastructure and development are affected by sea level rise and extreme events, which affect tourism, agriculture, and the delivery of health, fresh water, food, and other essential services. Coral reefs, marine fisheries, and marine resources will also be affected by climate change and climate variability. Small islands with a large Exclusive Economic Zone already have limited capacity to manage those zones, and these management issues will only be compounded by climate change.


Africa is also very vulnerable to climate change, with negative impacts expected for watersheds, coasts, and seas of Africa, worsening desertification in northern and southern Africa, and reductions in the development of the continent overall. The Third Assessment Report predicted that the effects of climate change would be greatest in developing countries in terms of loss of life and relative effects on the investment and economy. Africa was described as the world’s poorest region and the continent most vulnerable to the impacts of projected change, because widespread poverty limits adaptation capabilities. There has been limited scientific research on climate change in Africa, but local scientific networks for climate change are developing.

Maintaining the worlds ecosystems

Maintaining the ecosystem services of the oceans is instrumental in achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, as at least four of the eight goals are closely linked to the conservation and use of natural resources, including living marine resources. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, relying on the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, identifies fishing as the most important driver of change in the marine ecosystem for the past fifty years. It is now apparent that, aside from pollution and over fishing, climate variability and change, including acidification, may threaten the productivity of oceans.

The challenge for governments is to understand the complex processes for oceans and climate change, and to have adequate policies. On a global and regional level, climate change science and policy needs to be added to the oceans agenda, and ocean science and policy needs to be inserted in the climate agenda. Information on climate change and related policy issues for oceans needs to be included in the annual United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and Law of the Sea, as well as in the global marine assessment agreed to at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, which is now in the start-up phase of an assessment. Additionally, information on ocean and climate sciences and related policy measures should be included in meetings of the Kyoto Protocol Parties and the Convention Dialogue, beginning in May 2006.


Adaptation is not enough; mitigation is also required through the reduction of greenhouse gases and the shift to renewable energy and energy efficiencies. It is necessary to think globally, plan regionally, and act locally. Due to their complexity, climate issues require input from many disciplines and the integration of ecosystem-based and other integrated approaches. There is a need for a constant dialogue between scientists and decision-makers. Scientific data and analysis, from accurate and timely predictions of hurricanes, to improved global and regional forecasts of future sea level rise, and the impacts of ocean acidification, lay the foundation for adaptation policy discussions and the development of climate strategies. In order to be effective, this data and analysis need to be communicated to decision-makers on a timely basis and in an appropriate language.

The timing of policy development and science must be synchronized, so that the long and short-term windows for science and decision-making can be synchronized accordingly. Short-term windows for decision-making may be advantageous as they allow the inclusion of new and more detailed information and predictions. In the future, data may make it possible for scientists to accurately predict climate variability and change. The challenge will then be how to convert these predictions into adaptation policies for fisheries management, harbour development, or civil emergency planning. Global climate change scenarios need to be checked against more specific studies at regional and sub-regional levels. As policies adapt to climate change and variability, it is important to consider opportunities as well as risks. With accelerating climate change and variability, reliable scientific information becomes crucial for formulating policy on a wide variety of issues, including fisheries, marine infrastructure, and transportation. Therefore, more resources need to be devoted to ocean climate research, paying attention to the short and medium term, to the regional impacts as well as the global impacts, to monitoring and management approaches across vulnerable coastal and marine ecosystems, and to the benefits as well as the risks of climate change.


There will be common problems in adapting to climate change by Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and less developed regions and countries within Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central and South America, and the Pacific. For SIDS, there is a need to enhance economic, ecological, and social resilience in an integrated manner. Effective implementation of adaptation measures is critical to ensure sustainable development, and SIDS governments are already incorporating adaptation measures into national sustainable development strategies for infrastructure, economic development, disaster management, environment, conservation and biodiversity.

SIDS urgently need financial resources and technical support, as recognized and committed under the UNFCCC process, including funding arrangements for the development and transfer of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies as a way of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. The integration of the Mauritius Strategy for the sustainable development of SIDS in the work programme of the UNFCCC is crucial to address SIDS concerns on climate change. The appeal of the SIDS through the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) for discussion of implementation of the Mauritius Strategy should be considered. The SIDS strongly oppose carbon dioxide sequestration and nuclear power as options to address climate change.

Fourth Global Conference on Oceans, Coasts and Islands

The 4th Global Conference on Oceans, Coasts, and Islands will mobilize high-level policy and decision makers, topical working groups, analytical papers, and other contributions to provide a review of progress achieved in advancing ecosystem management and integrated coastal and ocean management by 2010 at national and regional, transboundary levels. It will focus on the 64% of the ocean beyond national jurisdiction, and on the goals of reducing marine biodiversity loss by 2010 and establishing networks of marine protected areas by 2012. These goals are considered in the context of climate change, which, as indicated in the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), will have profound effects on ecosystems and coastal populations around the world.

The conference will be held in Hanoi, Vietnam. Vietnam has made significant strides in coastal and marine management in recent years through the development of integrated coastal management, marine protected areas, and a national ocean strategy, and was chosen as the first "pilot" country in the UN's effort to unify the work of its agencies at the national level through its "One UN" pilot program.

The Global Conference is organized by the Global Forum on Oceans, Coasts, and Islands, and by the Government of Vietnam, with the leadership of the Ministry of Fisheries, and with leadership roles by the Global Environment Facility, the GEF IW: LEARN Program, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, UNESCO, and the UN Environment Programme's Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities. Key ocean-oriented governments, nongovernmental organizations, and industry will play a pivotal role in the organization of the Conference and the dissemination of its outputs.

Conference themes

The Conference will focus on three major themes related to achieving ecosystem management and integrated coastal and ocean management at national and regional levels, and in areas beyond national jurisdiction, as follows:

Theme 1. Achieving Ecosystem management and integrated coastal and ocean management by 2010

Cross-cutting issues: Large Marine Ecosystems Marine Biodiversity and Networks of Marine Protected Areas Linking the Management of Freshwater, Oceans, and Coasts Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Implementation of the Mauritius International Strategy Fisheries and Aquaculture-Sustainability and Governance Enhancing Ocean Use Access Agreements in the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of Developing Nations Tourism Maritime Transportation

Theme 2. Climate, Oceans, and Security: Addressing Impacts in Vulnerable Ecosystems and in Vulnerable Coastal Communities

Cross-cutting Issues:

  1. Vulnerable Communities (Adaptation, Environmental Refugees, Public Health);
  2. Vulnerable Ecosystems (Natural Disasters, Sea Level Rise, Ocean Acidification, Ocean Warming)
  3. Small Island Developing States and the Mauritius Strategy

A Working Group on Climate, Oceans and Security is being formed to provide information and recommendations to the Fourth Global Conference.

Theme 3. Addressing the Governance of Marine Ecosystems and Uses in Areas Beyond the Limits of National Jurisdiction

Cross-cutting issues:

  1. Overall Governance Issues;
  2. Ecosystems and Uses (Marine Biodiversity, Fisheries, Bioprospecting, Deep Seabed Mining, Tourism, Maritime Transportation)

The Conference also identifies cverarching, cross-cutting issues accross all themes: Poverty Reduction, Capacity Development, Marine Ecosystem Productivity/Services, Indicators for Progress, Compliance and Enforcement, and Public Education/OUtreach/Media


Sustainable Development Law and Policy: Oceans and Fisheries Law Issue (Volume VII, Issue 1, Fall 2007)- Oceans and Climate Change: Global and Arctic Perspectives by M.A.K. Muir

The main author of this article is Magdalena Muir
Please note that others may also have edited the contents of this article.

Citation: Magdalena Muir (2019): Global Forum of Oceans, Coasts and Islands. Available from,_Coasts_and_Islands [accessed on 28-05-2024]