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31st Session of the IOC Assembly takes stock of progress in ocean science and validates new strategy

Date: 26 July 2021

From 14-25 June, the Assembly of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO held its 31st Session (virtually). IOC’s 150 Member States took stock of progress in global ocean research and the implementation of the Ocean Decade, setting IOC forward on a new medium-term strategic framework.

The two-week meeting of IOC’s top governing body yielded several key decisions enabling the IOC to continue working, from the heart of the United Nations, to building and applying ocean knowledge for sustainable development.

Lead up to the Assembly

In preparation for the Assembly, IOC Member States, observers and external partners were invited to a series of thematic webinars to receive updates on progress achieved since 2019 across IOC programmes and projects.

Held between 31 May and 11 June, these webinars gave IOC Member States, Observers and the larger ocean science and management community an opportunity to gather detailed information on IOC's programmatic activities first-hand from members of the IOC Secretariat and external speakers.

You can find all the pre-assembly thematic webinars here

New Strategy

Among the top developments coming out of the Assembly is a new Medium-Term Strategy for the years 2022-2029, encompassing much of the critically important UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030), the ‘Ocean Decade’. The new Medium-Term Strategy notably orients IOC’s mission around five “High Level Objectives” (HLOs):

Objective 1 - Healthy ocean and sustained ocean ecosystem services;

Objective 2 - Effective warning systems and preparedness for tsunamis and other ocean-related hazards;

Objective 3 - Resilience to climate change and contribution to its mitigation;

Objective 4 - Scientifically-founded services for the sustainable ocean economy; and

Objective 5 - Foresight on emerging ocean science issues.

The United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021 – 2031)

Under IOC’s global coordination, the Ocean Decade will offer an exceptional opportunity to highlight the societal benefits of IOC and its programmes. The Decade’s vision of “the Science We Need for Ocean We Want” will inspire IOC Member States and partner networks to build science capacities, mobilize, connect and engage ocean practitioners, decision-makers and the private sector in the development and use of knowledge-based solutions to manage the ocean sustainably.

The Assembly took note of the early success of the Ocean Decade since its launch on 1 January 2021, with particular praise for the first set of over sixty endorsed Ocean Decade Actions that were announced on 8 June on the occasion of the World Oceans Day celebration. The Assembly also discussed with interest and accepted the Terms of Reference for the Ocean Decade Advisory Board, for which nominations are currently open, as well as approving the process for establishment of Decade Collaborative Centres which will be key elements of the Decade coordination structure.

Key Decisions

Ocean Literacy

Ocean Literacy remains one of the main activities integrated in the IOC Capacity Development Strategy 2015-2021. The Assembly, recognized the key role of ocean literacy in the context of the Ocean Decade and greenlighted the creation of a Group of 20 experts from diverse and relevant disciplines and interested parties to provide guidance in the scoping, implementation and monitoring of the IOC Ocean Literacy portfolio of activities.

Data and Information

The Assembly also recognized the progress achieved around ocean data and information systems and established the Intersessional Working Group to review the IOC Oceanographic Data Exchange Policy in order to achieve improved global accessibility and interoperability of oceanographic data and information while staying aligned with other more recent international data principles and policies. The updated data policy will also be highly relevant for the development of a new digital ocean ecosystem, the “IOC Ocean Data and Information System (ODIS)”, which has been approved as a new IOC project. The architectural foundation of ODIS is currently under development through the Flanders' FUST funded OceanInfoHub (OIH) project. ODIS will become an e-environment where users can discover data and information, as well as data and information products and services provided by Member States, projects and other partners associated with the IOC. ODIS will become a key element in supporting and achieving the objectives of the Ocean Decade. These developments would not have been possible without the considerable financial and in-kind contributions and support to IOC and IODE received from the Government of Flanders and the Assembly therefore thanked and encouraged Flanders to continue the support and the hosting of the IOC Project Office for IODE in Oostende (Belgium).

Tsunami Early Warning and Preparedness

The Assembly approved the establishment of the Ocean Decade Tsunami Programme and a Scientific Committee to prepare the Draft 10-Years Research, Development and Implementation Plan. The Plan is dedicated to achieving transformational advances in tsunami detection, measurement and forecasting, including tsunamis generated by non-seismic sources. It will contribute to achieving the societal outcome ‘A Safe Ocean’ of the Ocean Decade with the aim of making 100% of communities at risk of tsunami prepared for and resilient to tsunamis by 2030 through the implementation of the UNESCO/IOC Tsunami Ready Programme and other initiatives. The Committee will develop the Draft 10-Year Research, Development and Implementation Plan for the Ocean Decade Tsunami Programme based on the concept paper “Protecting Communities from the World's Most Dangerous Waves: A Framework for Action under the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development”.

Elections

The 31st Session of the IOC Assembly reelected Mr Ariel H. Troisi (Argentina) as the IOC Chair, and elected its five Vice-Chairs for the biennial period: Ms Marie-Alexandrine Sicre (France), Mr Alexander Frolov (Russian Federation; re-elected), Mr Frederico Antonio Saraiva Nogueira (Brazil; ree-elected), Mr Srinivasa Kumar Tummala (India), Mr Karim Hilmi (Morocco; re-elected).

Next steps

IOC’s next governing body meeting will be the 55th Session of the Executive Council, set to take place in UNESCO Headquarters in Paris over the period of 13-17 June 2022. The 32nd session of the Assembly is planned to be held from 19 to 30 June 2023.

For more information, please contact: Patrice Boned (p.boned@unesco.org)

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Useful links:

IOC Home: http://ioc.unesco.org

31st IOC Assembly Thematic Webinars

31st IOC Assembly: Agenda and Official Documents

About the IOC of UNESCO:

The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO) promotes international cooperation in marine sciences to improve management of the ocean, coasts and marine resources. The IOC enables its 150 Member States to work together by coordinating programmes in capacity development, ocean observations and services, ocean science and tsunami warning. The work of the IOC contributes to the mission of UNESCO to promote the advancement of science and its applications to develop knowledge and capacity, key to economic and social progress, the basis of peace and sustainable development.