Policy Quarterly issue in focus: Marine governance

8 May 2017


This issue of Policy Quarterly explores the governance of the least governed reaches of our planet, the open ocean. Our oceans are notoriously difficult to govern and even harder to manage for several reasons. First is their sheer scale – they cover more than two-thirds of the planet. Second is ownership – they are both everyone’s and no one’s. Social science scholarship has many bright ideas about governing common pool resources. But when the grandmother of this research, Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom, visited New Zealand in 2011, she said straight out that her models do not work in rivers or oceans.

When formal governance structures fail to fill the cracks, informal ‘soft law’ can step into the breach. This is where the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) fits in. IUCN has little formal power over the oceans, but great moral influence over the nations that govern the ships traversing and extracting from those oceans. Improving the governance of the ungovernable treasures that belong to everyone and no one at once is IUCN’s raison d’etre. New Zealand is one of 83 State members of the IUCN. The New Zealand Committee of IUCN consists of New Zealand members and representatives on expert commissions. The guest editors of this issue serve on the executive board of the IUCN national committee.

This special issue of PQ on marine issues contributes to the New Zealand national committee of IUCN’s efforts to advance the national conversation about oceans governance, addressing a range of current and future law and policy issues. Raewyn Peart leads off with New Zealand’s first marine spatial plan. This resulted from an innovative collaborative process and established an innovative governance structure for the collective resource of the Hauraki Gulf. It promises to reverse the ongoing ecological degradation of the Hauraki Gulf, where traditional management approaches had failed.

Tom Stuart and Catherine Iorns examine the conundrum of adaptive management under the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012 (EEZ Act), illustrating it with the application by TransTasman Resources Limited to mine iron sands from the seabed in Taranaki. The Act adds an extra layer of complexity to adaptive governance within the already tricky environment of a global commons.

Toni Love addresses the creation of the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary. The opposition to the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary Bill illustrates the need to follow proper processes, even for what is ostensibly a widely-recognised public good.

Morgan Watkins discusses some of the amendments to the EEZ Act that are contained in the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill currently in front of Parliament. While those concerning marine waste are reasonable, it is not entirely clear that sustainable management will be protected by the reforms to the marine consenting process. It is particularly unfortunate that such contentious reforms are being made through the use of omnibus legislation.

Greg Severinsen looks to the nature of the law needed in the future, with an examination of the treatment in law of the injection of CO2 beneath the seabed: should it be classified and handled as a form of pollution or dumping of waste, or as a beneficial tool to help mitigate climate change? Severinsen addresses these issues clearly and provides a helpful prod to regulate for such emissions mitigation tools in advance of needing them.

Oceans serve the planet as a food source, carbon sink, and biodiversity repository. Perhaps more importantly, they feed our imagination of life beyond what we know. But oceans face multiple threats – from climate change-related acidification, plastics, shipping pollution, bioinvasions, industrial fishing, and non-point source pollution from land use. Without careful governance, the services oceans offer humanity might not persist. We hope that this special issue of Policy Quarterly contributes to this conversation, and ultimately to the long-term health of the oceans.

We are also pleased that other excellent papers relevant to wider environmental policy and to regulation were selected and included in this special issue.

Catherine Iorns, Victoria University of Wellington Ann Brower, Lincoln University Guest editors

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