Governing ocean acidification: Evaluating the international policy response

Chair: Zoë Hilton

Ellycia Harrould-Kolieb (1)

University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC, 3010, Australia

Ocean acidification poses a substantial threat to the ocean, marine wildlife and the goods and services they provide and as a result presents a great regulatory challenge at the international, regional, national and sub-national levels. In the international space ocean acidification is of relevance to many treaties and yet, does not fall neatly within the mandate of any. As a result, ocean acidification is not currently addressed by any international instrument or stand-alone agreement, nor does there appear to be any coherent regulatory framework for responding to this issue. Despite this, there are a number of international institutions, including treaty bodies and specialised UN agencies that have expressed an interest in ocean acidification and have begun to initiate an array of relevant activities.

Via an analysis of over 600 primary documents this research offers a review of the ocean acidification activities undertaken by international institutions and evaluates whether, when combined, they provide an adequate policy framework able to respond to ocean acidification.

This research finds that over 30 international institutions have initiated activities around ocean acidification in the past decade. These activities can be grouped into four main categories: minimal engagement, political engagement, knowledge production and substantive activities. Within the current policy landscape very few institutions are actively engaged in activities that could be defined as substantive, such as rule-making and implementation mechanisms. In addition, those that are largely focus on activities, that while important, are secondary to the primary need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

This research concludes that there are substantial gaps in the international governance of ocean acidification and that despite a wide array of interest in the issue the current policy responses are unlikely to form an adequate policy framework for responding to ocean acidification.