Improving Future Ocean Governance – Governance of Global Goods in an Age of Global Shifts

By Ulf Sverdrup, Alf Håkon Hoel, Hideaki Shiroyama, Michelle Voyer, Elana Wilson Rowe, and Wrenn Yennie-Lindgren


Japan’s G20 presidency in 2019 will take the lead in promoting environmentally sustainable economic growth and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As a gathering of coastal states, under Japan’s presidency the G20 will specifically work to reduce marine plastic pollution and support marine biodiversity. This policy paper highlights how oceans are governed spaces and points to the key role of the oceans in realizing the SDGs. We argue that the G20 can and should play an important role in addressing major governance gaps in ensuring the sustainable management of oceans.

Recognizing that there are increased geopolitical tensions, and that we do indeed already have comprehensive multi-level governance systems in place to handle many aspects of the growing ‘blue economy’ and avoiding the tragedy of the commons, the G20 should primarily stress the need for full and effective implementation of existing instruments and measures at the national, regional and global levels and increased consistency across levels of governance. This would effectively address many of the challenges and make use of the opportunities of the oceans.

However, the rapidly moving horizon of technological development and insufficient progress in mitigating global climate change represent new governance challenges that require renewed effort and innovative thinking for a sustainable future for the oceans.

This policy paper provides recommendations as to how G20 states can:

  • consolidate their own capacity and assist non-G20 states in taking responsibility for strengthening marine science and implementation of existing regulatory frameworks,
  • exercise innovative global and regional leadership to address emerging opportunities and associated governance challenges and
  • facilitate the meaningful involvement of the private sector and the public in ensuring a collective governance order around oceans.