We depend on the oceans as the life source of our planet and as a foundation of social and economic development. Oceans cover 70% of the Earth's surface, are the planet's largest biosphere, and are home to 50–80% of all life on Earth.
Oceans make major contributions, many irreplaceable, to human well-being and development. More than 90% of global trade in goods and 95% of internet traffic travel by sea. Ocean environments generate 50% of the Earth's oxygen, absorb 25% of all CO2 emissions, and capture 90% of the additional heat generated from those emissions. Marine and coastal ecosystems regulate water quality, attract tourism, protect cities and communities from storms and flooding, and support the livelihoods of many millions of people globally. Nearly 3 billion people obtain almost 20% of their annual protein from fish. And increasingly we look to oceans and coasts for new sources of raw materials, medicines, biotechnology, and renewable energy.
Many of the benefits and opportunities that depend on oceans are being missed or lost. Marine and coastal ecosystems are being rapidly degraded as a result of pollution, overfishing, climate change, and habitat destruction. The global ocean economy has entered a historic period of structural transition, where the importance of established sectors (e.g. oil and gas, fisheries) is declining relative to emerging sectors (e.g. aquaculture, offshore renewable energy, and biotechnology). Sustained growth of the ocean economy is expected until 2030, with growth prospects beyond then being severely limited if current environmental trends continue.
Statistical and governance challenges
There is a rapidly growing body of scientific evidence that clearly indicates the critical importance of oceans in general terms. However, many context-specific relationships between economic prosperity, social wellbeing and oceans (and how these change over time) are inadequately documented and understood. This knowledge gap limits our ability to make effective and inclusive decisions about oceans, and deliver on the long-term commitments recognized in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Our ability to account for the social, economic and environmental implications of oceans is also undermined by the pronounced isolation of relevant knowledge and evidence-which remains scattered across many different countries, institutions, and specialist expert communities. There is an urgent need to interlink different types of data, statistics and other evidence concerning oceans, and embed use of this connected evidence in laws, policies and development planning.
Considerable progress towards addressing these challenges has already been achieved through development of the UN System of Environmental Economic Accounting (SEEA). SEEA sets out internationally agreed standard concepts, definitions, classifications, accounting rules and tables. It is designed to follow a similar accounting structure as the widely used System of National Accounts (SNA) in order to facilitate the integration and international comparability of environmental and economic statistics. SEEA is now being implemented in 50+ countries, however its application to ocean environments has been limited to date and presents a range of conceptual and technical challenges (e.g. concerning the classification of ocean ecosystems and associated benefits, across large and dynamic spatial scales). These are further complicated by the practical importance of interlinking environmental and various socioeconomic statistics (e.g. concerning ocean livelihoods, poverty, disaster risk and climate change), and structured information about the status of characteristics of oceans governance, that fall beyond the core scope of the SEEA framework.
Objectives and purpose
The Global Ocean Accounts Partnership responds to the above challenges by establishing a coordination and communication structure for diverse member institutions, who have a common interest to ensure that the values and benefits of oceans are recognized and accounted for in decision-making about social and economic development.
The Partnership will achieve this objective by developing a shared technical framework for ocean accounting, coupled with collaborative capacity-building activities that support the development, maintenance, and ongoing use in decision-making, of holistic ocean accounts that link together social, environmental and economic statistics.
Membership of the Global Ocean Accounts Partnership is open to national governments, intergovernmental institutions, inclusive representative bodies for the private sector, and research-intensive institutions that have been granted formal not-for-profit status in their country of origin.
Members of the Global Ocean Accounts Partnership are expected to make a non-contractual commitment to the Partnerships Terms of Reference.