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UNESCO publishes a new history of international cooperation in ocean science

Date: 30 November 2021

A new book by UNESCO Press offers an intimate dive into the  history of ocean science and multilateral scientific cooperation through analytical restrospective and personal memoirs.

Authored by Gunnar Kullenberg, oceanographer and former Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO, Ocean Science and International Cooperation – Historical and Personal Recollections (UNESCO, 2021) is a comprehensive and fresh take on the role of international cooperation in navigating the complex scientific and policy dynamics of the ocean.

Ocean Science and International Cooperation aims at engaging and inspiring the ocean science community – including researchers, practitioners, diplomats, students, organisations and initiatives –, contributing to their understanding and valuing of the importance of ocean science and exploration, and the continued need for an enhanced cooperation between the marine research community, the social sciences and the developers of ocean economies through a common platform and framework.

“This book by Gunnar Kullenberg is the result of his life-long inspiration by the ocean and oceanography.  Kullenberg not only studied the history of ocean science and related international cooperation, he shaped them. This book reflects therefore his deepest mental immersion in the processes that determine the progress of science, its direction and pace, evoking memories of key programs, events and decisions and the reasons behind those decisions that have taken the ocean science to where it is now,” said Vladimir Ryabinin, Executive Secretary of UNESCO’s IOC.

Dr Kullenberg, a citizen of Sweden and Denmark, was a reserve officer of the Royal Swedish Navy and holds advanced degrees and Professorships in oceanography from the universities of Gothenburg and Copenhagen. His professional life as an oceanographer involved research, teaching and training, and long periods of time at sea on research vessels from different countries. He led UNESCO’s IOC from 1989 to 1998, during which time he enhanced cooperation between the IOC and several organizations within and outside the UN system, launched the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS), and ensured a strong IOC participation and contribution to high level ocean and climate meetings including the Second World Climate Conference (1990), the World Climate Research Programme, and the UN Conference on Environment and Development (“Earth Summit”, 1992).

He led IOC during the important moment when the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) – the “constitution” of the ocean – came into force in 1994, and led preparations for the International Year of the Ocean (1998), where mobilization started within the international ocean community to declare 8 June as the official United Nations World Oceans Day.

Through his book, Dr Kullenberg unveils detailed historical and personal recollections of these important milestone events for global ocean science, up to the more recent adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its “ocean goal” (SDG14). His chronology concludes with the proclamation and launch by the United Nations General Assembly of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030), which provides the ultimate global framework for all ocean fields, industries and stakeholders to co-design and co-deliver the science we need for a healthier and sustainably-managed ocean.

Covering more than 200 years of collaboration and partnerships in the field of ocean science, Dr Kullenberg describes how ocean research, technological developments and social change have been inextricably linked. Ocean Science and International Cooperation charts the changing drivers of ocean exploration and observations, from revolutions and wars – especially the Second World War – to globalization. Permeated with personal accounts and a rich section of historical photographs, the book offers a careful reflection on how an expanding population, a changing society, and an economy in permanent flux have increased the need of governments, industries and the public for greater knowledge of the ocean and its resources.

“International scientific cooperation is fundamental to the pursuit of knowledge on the ocean, its condition and related sustainable development issues,” argues Dr Kullenberg.

Scientific knowledge enables society, and its policymaking circles, to have a fuller understanding of the physical, chemical and biological functions of the ocean, its living and non-living resources, the impacts from human uses and abuses, and the natural and human-induced changes and environmental responses, which in turn have consequences for human security.

The book has been published as part of a year-round commemoration of the 60th Anniversary of UNESCO’s IOC, and to mark the launch year of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, which Dr Kullenberg contributed to imagine and conceptualize in conversations with the IOC Secretariat.

Access the full book:

Ocean Science and International Cooperation – Historical and Personal Recollections, by Gunnar Kullenberg (UNESCO, 2021)


About the IOC of UNESCO:

The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of 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.

About the UN Ocean Decade 2021-2030:

Proclaimed in 2017 by the United Nations General Assembly, the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) (‘the Ocean Decade’) seeks to stimulate ocean science and knowledge generation to reverse the decline of the state of the ocean system and catalyse new opportunities for sustainable development of this massive marine ecosystem. The vision of the Ocean Decade is ‘the science we need for the ocean we want’. The Ocean Decade provides a convening framework for scientists and stakeholders from diverse sectors to develop the scientific knowledge and the partnerships needed to accelerate and harness advances in ocean science to achieve a better understanding of the ocean system, and deliver science-based solutions to achieve the 2030 Agenda. The UN General Assembly mandated UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) to coordinate the preparations and implementation of the Decade.