The lack of funding is hampering the development and implementation of marine research, according to the Second Global Ocean Science Report published by the UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC).
The report has been released ahead of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Sciences for Sustainable Development 2021-2030.
On an average, states devote only 1.7 per cent of their research budgets to sciences of the ocean (0.03 percent to 11.8 per cent, depending on the country), much less than they spend on other major scientific fields, the report states, adding that it was “incomprehensible” considering the fundamental role of the oceans in regulating the climate and its rich biodiversity.
The report says that the discoveries in oceanography feed almost all sectors of the economy and society with applications in medicine, in the preservation of biodiversity, and in the development of new industrial processes.
“Our knowledge of the oceans is a key element for the future of humanity,” said Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General.
Azoulay said: “The Global Ocean Science Report 2020 underlines the essential role of ocean research and international cooperation for all key issues of the 21st century.”
The report states that the budgets for ocean science vary considerably from country to country and over time. “Between 2013 and 2017, 14 countries increased their average budget, with the Russian Federation recording the highest annual growth (over 10 per cent), followed by the UK and Bulgaria, while nine countries reduced expenditure, in some cases significantly, Japan, Ecuador, Turkey, Brazil and Italy among them,” it says.
Moreover, while the international community committed to controlling the exploitation of ocean resources by 2030 in line with the Sustainable Development Goal 14 of the Agenda 2030, few have defined strategies to achieve this, the report points out.
It highlights an increase in international collaboration among oceanographers and calls for the strengthening of South-South and North- South partnerships. The report states that innovation, complemented by technology transfer, must play a fundamental role in helping developing states achieve sustainable marine and fisheries resource exploitation.
In terms of human resources, the report also highlights the crucial need for training in the various areas of ocean management. It notes the underrepresentation of women, who account for 39 per cent of all oceanographers, an increase compared to the previous report, and 6 points higher than the percentage of women in the natural sciences overall. “This average nevertheless hides great disparities between countries, for example, women make up 63 per cent of oceanographic researchers in Croatia, compared to only 12 per cent in Japan,” report says.
The report indicates that States are not sufficiently equipped to manage their information, which hinders free access. The sharing of data, as a common good of humanity, should be among the priorities of the UN Decade for Ocean Sciences, in relation to the UNESCO’s work towards an international legal instrument on open sciences, it adds.
The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO considers that the next report, due to be published in 2025, should include an evaluation of the impact of Covid on the human and technical capacities of ocean sciences.
Ocean sciences encompass all research disciplines related to the study of the ocean -from physics and chemistry to the social sciences and humanities, biology, health, geology, hydrography, and more broadly all multidisciplinary research on the links between humanity and the ocean.