Science Diplomacy Committee Hosts Ocean Diplomacy Chat

Oceans play a critical role in science diplomacy and global affairs. Lauren Wagner, a member of NSPN’s Science Diplomacy Committee, shares the key insights from a recent discussion about ocean diplomacy.

On December 8, 2021, Mr. Andrei Polejack joined NSPN’s Science Diplomacy Committee for an informal discussion on the emerging field of ocean diplomacy. The event focused on the critical role of science diplomacy in ocean global affairs, the intersection of ocean and climate change diplomacy, and the role of the United Nations in governing our seas. Mr. Polejack is a researcher at Sweden’s World Maritime University and the Former General Coordinator for Oceans, Antarctica, and Geosciences at the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Communications.

Mr. Polejack began the event with a general introduction to the ocean. Among the topics covered were the role of the ocean in climate regulation, basic principles of oceanic cartography, and the current state of oceanic diplomacy, laws, and conventions.

Although most discussions of climate currently ignore the ocean, Mr. Polejack emphasized that its role in climate regulation cannot be overlooked. Aside from acting as a major carbon sink that buffers the impact of human-made greenhouse gases, the ocean is a victim of acidification, coral habitat loss, sea level rise, and coastal erosion. Moreover, the entire ocean is connected: cold and warm currents are constantly moving across the globe, enacting a major influence on weather and climate. “It’s like a living organism,” Polejack said.

Traditional Mercator projection - a method of cartography that projects the globe with all parallels as perpendicular - tends to inflate the size of nations closer to the Earth’s poles. Because of this, most maps understate the truly vast scale of Earth’s oceans. “Who governs these vast oceans? Does it belong to everyone, or to no one?” Polejack asked. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), he said, was developed in 1982 to define the rights and duties of member states regarding the ocean. The regulations specified in UNCLOS give coastal nations certain territorial and economic rights at specific distances. When UNCLOS was enacted, the size of nations effectively expanded into the ocean, and “No Man’s Land” effectively disappeared in places like the Caribbean and Mediterranean. This has complex implications for national rights, sovereignty, wealth, and trade.

Where does science fit in? Mr. Polejack notes that science - specifically, disciplines like geology, marine biology, ecology, and climate science - were fundamental to even begin to discuss UNCLOS regulations. The UN’s Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development is the most recent and ambitious international initiative for ocean diplomacy and science. This initiative represents a concerted effort to use scientific knowledge to promote safety, equity, and resilience in the ocean on an international scale throughout the coming decade (2021-2030).

Near the end of the event, Mr. Polejack raised a critical question: “How do we make ocean science diplomacy equitable given that science is currently extremely inequitable?” Indeed, as new policies and precedents are established in the oceans, governing bodies such as the United Nations must be mindful of existing inequities both in science and in the global economic and political structure. The interested reader is directed to Mr. Polejack’s recent paper on marine technology and equity in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Mr. Polejack ended the event with a quote to emphasize the importance of science in maritime politics and diplomacy: “There is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations.”

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To learn more about NSPN’s Science Diplomacy Committee, join their page on NSPN’s website. To learn more about Andrei Polejack, follow him on Twitter: @AndreiPolejack.

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