Assessment of Assessments

30 June 2009 | News story

A new report will be presented to the United Nations General Assembly in September which provides governments with a sound basis for deciding this fall whether and how to establish an assessment process for better understanding ocean processes through an integrated framework. 

The findings of the first phase of the Regular Global Marine Assessment Process were presented by a team of experts at a meeting earlier this week organized by IUCN and hosted by WWF. The aim of this process would be to provide a global overview of regional, sectoral and thematic marine assessments which will give marine scientists and policy makers a more complete picture of what's happening to the world's oceans and help to pave the way towards more in-depth, multi-sectoral, ecosystem-based assessments that not only address environmental risks and consequences but also the impacts of environmental changes on human society.

The report, which outlines options and recommendations for the UN General Assembly, explains how a Regular Process could inform decision-makers at all levels, alerting them to new and emerging issues or common problems found in different regions, and highlighting how to create more cost-effective, collaborative international programs to meet research, data collection and capacity-building needs for marine assessment. From one cycle to the next of the Regular Process, methods and approaches can be improved to enhance the comparability, compatibility and integration across the world's oceans.

"Examining several hundred existing marine assessment processes gives an idea of the building blocks available for the Regular Process and the best practices it should follow,” explains Lee Kimball, former Senior Ocean Governance Advisor for IUCN and co-author of the report. “It became clear that if we want assessment products to be influential with decision-makers, we need to get the process right. That means a process that enhances policy relevance and is perceived as credible and legitimate by governments and other stakeholders around the world," Kimball continues.    

Although the report found robust data on living marine resources and water quality worldwide with strong international networks, social and economic assessments for marine activities and coastal communities were clearly lacking in many areas, an analysis that is clearly of interest for policy-makers.

The start-up phase of the Regular Process consisted of an ad hoc Steering Group to oversee the process (governments and international bodies), an international Group of Experts to produce the report including Lee Kimball and Dr. Andrew A. Rosenberg, from the University of New Hampshire, plus two international bodies -- the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO -- to co-lead the start-up phase and provide support.

"After eight years of hard work by dozens of experts, it is gratifying to see the completion of this product.  Now the challenge is to find the resources and political will to implement these excellent ideas," says Thomas Laughlin, Deputy Head of IUCN’s Global Marine Programme who has been involved in the process since 2001 as part of his capacity at NOAA.

Mary Beth West, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and Fisheries chaired the meeting and was accompanied by a panel of experts including her successor, David Balton and Acting Deputy Director of NOAA’s office of International Affairs, Elizabeth McLanahan. Helen Fox, Senior Marine Scientist at WWF-US also commented on the presentations.

The establishment of a Regular Process was approved in principle by the United Nations General Assembly in 2002, following endorsement by the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development. At the end of 2005 after further international discussions and consultations, the UN General Assembly agreed on the start-up phase, which would lay the groundwork for the establishment of the Regular Process.

The summary for decision-makers and the full report are available in pre-release form at  www.unga-regular-process.org.