Ocean Equity Research

How is influential power used in ocean governance?

By Bianca Haas & Aline Jaeckel

Ocean governance is characterised by a lack of equity in terms of inclusivity and meaningful participation by diverse actors. Our Perspective paper uses four different case studies to demonstrate how the exercise of power can lead to inequitable outcomes in ocean governance. In doing so, we acknowledge and validate the experience of those who are on the receiving end of exercised power and are regularly facing the challenges described in this paper.

This paper builds on the extensive literature on power and its potential implications. Our four case studies offer examples of how the exercise of power by some countries negatively impacts other countries, perpetuating existing power roles (e.g., developed vs developing country) and systems (e.g., all the different “isms”). Specifically, we look at the issue of delegation size, regional grouping and reductionism, the use of the English language, and how the narrative of an event is decided. The following summary sets out the key findings for each of these issues.

  • Delegation size: Countries with bigger delegation sizes in international negotiations have a greater ability to exercise their power, by being better prepared and having more capacity to have bilateral negotiations and attend parallel working groups.

  • Regional groupings: Countries with smaller delegations can work together under regional groupings and while this is beneficial in some fora (e.g., the Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency in the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission concerning tuna management), in other fora (e.g., International Seabed Authority) it can reduce multiple voices to one, and thus undermining the influential power of this group.

  • English language: Most of the negotiations and discussions in ocean fora are conducted in English, enhancing the power of English-speaking countries as they are likely to be more successful in shaping agreement text in line with their position. Additionally, ‘linguistic racism’ – being marginalized because of speaking with an accent, is a known concern.

  • Narrative steering: The outcome narrative of big ocean conferences can be decided before the conference actually starts, by a small influential group of actors mainly from the global north.

These examples are only the tip of the iceberg and will not be new to those experiencing inequities in ocean governance. However, research is needed to shine a light on inequities and power imbalances in ocean governance and to support governance changes that actively address power structures such as colonialism, racism, misogyny, capitalism, or classism in ocean governance.

Access the paper here: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmars.2023.1045887/full?&utm_source=Email_to_authors_&utm_medium=Email&utm_content=T1_11.5e1_author&utm_campaign=Email_publication&field=&journalName=Frontiers_in_Marine_Science&id=1045887

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