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September 29, 2016

Responding To: Climate Change and the Oceans: Challenges Ahead

A Global Commitment Grounded in Local Stories

Paulus Bambang Irawan

During the “Our Ocean” conference, Secretary Kerry highlighted an important and urgent task for the global community: participating in a worldwide movement to protect our marine ecosystems. The Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA), among other things, is an encouraging development in international policy, which awakens our commitment to preserve marine biodiversity and confront our long history of greediness in “pillaging the resources of the sea.”

This global initiative calls for regional and local responses and efforts. In order for us to make international gains in this area, changes must originate from within regional and local areas; unfortunately this has often not been the case. In Southeast Asia, for example, illegal-unreported-unregulated fishing (IUUF) is still a hot button-issue which creates tensions among coastal regions. It is quite disheartening that the very countries who have moved to ratify the PSMA, are the ones who are violating it. More than 250 cases of pirate fishing, backed by overseas companies, have been reported near Sumatra in recent years.

However, these local realities should not be seen as the end of the story. When regional communities are struggling to upholding the application of PSMA, local communities rise up, in collaboration with non-governmental organizations, to become the frontiers for preserving “the sheer power of the ocean.” For these coastal communities, the ocean is their home, the source of their existence, and an element of their identity. Communities in the strait of Malacca refer to the ocean as their “mother,” a symbol of the life-sustaining and life-giving relationship between the ocean and humanity. From this viewpoint, NGOs help local communities analyze the problem of IUUF in its socio-economic and political contexts, pushing local governments to protect traditional and small-scale fisheries, and initiating various campaigns at local and regional levels against child labor in sea vessels.

As Secretary Kerry said, our global community has “begun to chart a new course” through ocean conferences and international rule of law initiatives. However international forums face an array of challenges including finding channels through which they can connect their agendas with those of local communities, initiating a monitoring system for PSMA at the regional level, and extending beyond state/institutional frameworks by collaborating with non-state actors. In so doing, we truly witness a global commitment grounded in local stories.

Paulus Bambang Irawan, S.J., teaches social ethics and Catholic social thought at Sanata Dharma University in Indonesia.

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