Those who follow PERMAGOV on Twitter probably noticed a deluge of posts coming from our account last month when project partners gathered in Wageningen, Netherlands, for a live kick-off meeting. With memories still fresh, we would like to share three main takeaways from the event. And while we all enjoyed delicious Dutch food, picturesque views overlooking the Nederrijn river and a state-of-the-art WUR campus, the takeaways are not about that; they concern oceans and marine governance—key focal points of the meeting’s discussions.
1) Despite their importance, oceans and the challenges they face do not get the attention they deserve. Oceans are essential to all life on the planet, including human beings. They provide everything from the air we breathe to the food we eat, from livelihoods to essential transport for goods and services, as well as being an important climate regulator. Yet despite a general consensus that oceans are essential for the health and wellbeing of our planet and all its inhabitants, ocean health seems to get less attention than equivalent challenges above ground e.g. urban pollution.
Reasons for that vary. For one, geographic distance can make it harder for people, especially those living in cities without a sea border, to connect with the topic and understand its impact. For another, some industries that are heavily reliant on the ocean (e.g. fishing, shipping) may be slow to accept solutions that aim to promote its sustainable exploitation, which delays progress in meeting biodiversity targets. PERMAGOV sets out to continue increasing public awareness and understanding of the issue, as well as advocating for policy changes and practices that can help to protect and preserve oceans for human beings and all other life on the planet, now and in the future.
2) Progress toward the European Green Deal is dependent, among other things, on transformative action in marine governance, which in turn needs to evolve to become less fragmented, more agile and collaborative. Put simply, marine governance is about governing activities at sea. It’s about shared decision making between governments, representatives of maritime sectors and NGOs where the goal is to regulate maritime activities and their impacts in a way that is optimal in some sense. Marine governance is sectorally organised, with different types of policies for fishing and shipping, for offshore wind energy, oil and gas. Contributing to fragmentation is the scale of marine governance arrangements, as some activities are organised internationally (e.g. shipping), some nationally (energy) and some at EU level (fisheries). This creates a need for a more integrated approach, especially as far as regional seas cooperation is concerned.
The main objective of PERMAGOV is to improve the performance of marine policies to support the realisation of objectives set out in the European Green Deal. The European Green Deal is an ambitious programme for sustainable Europe which requires new governance approaches in a number of areas that are closely related, such as transport, energy and food production, both on land and at sea. Realising the European Green Deal is not possible without transformative action in marine governance, and that’s what PERMAGOV is all about: understanding which barriers impede effective marine governance and improving the capacity of stakeholders to overcome them and implement more effective, cross-sectoral policies by leveraging new knowledge, data and tools.
3) The use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in marine governance is proliferating however the full potential of marine e-governance is still unknown. In the marine field, a growing variety of ICTs are deployed, ranging from the sector-specific collection of digital information, to the establishment of platform-based collaborative and cross-sectoral information databases for enhanced decision making, to the development of digital twins of the ocean. These digital transformations are usually put into practice to make workflows and processes more efficient and transparent, and are inherently focused on finding ways to make digital information more relevant, accessible and interoperable.
To understand the true potential of marine e-governance, PERMAGOV will examine whether and which ICTs can alter governance structures or processes in ways that represent a significant departure from status quo, that push marine governance towards a more agile, collaborative and data-driven arrangement, one that is in sync with wider developments taking place above and below surface. Key questions to be asked are which data and information are needed, how can they be collected, how interoperability of data and information can be ensured, and for whom and how the data is used to change behaviour and improve decision making. As part of this work, we’ll be looking at ways to enhance public trust in the ongoing digital transformation, including by providing insights into the potential unintended consequences of ICT adoption.