"The East Asian Seas Congress broke new ground."
Confidence, optimism and determination reigned in Iloilo City last Thursday, 29 November 2018, as the 2018 East Asian Seas Congress concluded. After three days of events and sessions that brought together various ocean stakeholders from 19 countries across the region, the closing ceremony was attended by ministers and other high-level officials from the partner countries of the Partnership for the Environmental Management of the Seas of East Asia. These included leaders from Cambodia, China, East Timor, Indonesia, Republic of Korea (South Korea), Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), Japan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Philippines, and Singapore.
On the last day of the EAS Congress, the ministerial representatives from these countries also signed the Iloilo Declaration, entitled “East Asian Region Moving As One to Secure Healthy Oceans, People and Economies.” Through this declaration, governments in the region committed to intensifying its actions to save our coasts and oceans.
Among others, the Iloilo Declaration acknowledges “the significant value and critical contribution of coastal and marine ecosystems goods and services to securing food and jobs; helping to eradicate poverty and building resilient coastal communities and blue economies in the East Asian region.” It points out that: “Juxtaposed against these opportunities is the vulnerability of the region to climate change and other environmental threats such as marine-related disasters, destruction and loss of habitats and natural coastlines, biodiversity loss and degradation, overfishing and lack of food security, pollution from land and sea-based sources, and impairment of water quality, water supply and water security.”
The ministerial representatives did not hesitate to take responsibility for the environmental management and sustainable development of our seas and oceans, including coastal areas: “The biggest threat that we face in the region is ourselves, in the way we live our lives and the way we manage our resources. We therefore strongly urge everyone to shift towards a mindset of responsible stewardship, and pledge to take bold steps to protect, manage and restore our coasts and oceans for our present and future generations. PEMSEA Country Partners are ready to engage citizens in East Asia and peoples in other regions to work together to secure our shared vision of healthy oceans, people and economy.”
While reiterating commitments made in earlier Congresses, the Iloilo Declaration also broke new ground on addressing issues like marine litter, sustainable tourism, coastal and marine hazards, and climate change. The Ministers stated:
“We acknowledge the current strong momentum to tackle marine debris globally. We commit to significantly reducing or preventing marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based and sea-based activities, including marine litter and nutrient pollution.
“We commit to implementing policies and programs for the sustainable management of coastal tourism destinations. If properly planned and managed, coastal tourism will benefit the environment, the people and the economy. Sustainable tourism planning not only considers social, environmental and economic impacts within the tourist area or facility itself, but also the impacts on the host coastal community, including livelihoods, water and food security, solid waste disposal, water pollution and social and environmental factors.
We realize the critical importance of regional collaboration in dealing with coastal and marine hazards such as storm surges and tsunamis. We commit to working together to adopt innovative strategies to raise awareness and build regional capacity to monitor, forecast and provide timely early warnings to support safety of life and property at sea, coastal management and minimization of impact of such hazards.
We recognize that we are all parties to the Paris Agreement and the UNFCCC and aware of the urgency and seriousness of the threat of climate change to the sustainable development of our countries and region; We commit to implement adaptation and mitigation strategies to respond to climate change.”
PEMSEA Executive Director Aimee Gonzales said the ministerial declaration was “not just an outcome of the Congress.” According to her, “It is actually our marching orders to move forward and actually develop a work plan. So we will develop a work plan in the next three years and we already have a draft. We just need to refine it a bit so that we could focus on the seven priority areas that are actually also in our shared development strategy for us to fine-tune it also.” They will be reporting the progress from the Iloilo Declaration during their next Congress in 2021, Gonzales added.
There was also a second Iloilo Declaration, adopted and issued by the newly inaugurated PEMSEA Network of Young Leaders Council. Its elected Captain, John Carl Alonsagay, read the statement declaring that the youth delegates commitment to build a better future for the region. PNYL Council members, representing the PEMSEA country partners, each presented a letter of hope they had written to their country’s respective minister.
During the closing ceremony of the EAS Congress, the participants listened to a video message by United Nations Special Envoy for the Oceans, Ambassador Peter Thomson. Thompson emphasized the importance of giving particular attention to the connection between land- based activities and that of the oceans, urging, participants to not be weighed down by the issues discussed, but rather energized by the solutions offered by the EAS Congress.
Thompson echoed DENR Secretary Roy A. Cimatu’s opening speech when he said the EAS Congress is an “opportune time to strengthen partnerships in the region” through the sharing of initiatives and best practices on integrated coastal and river management (ICM) that will help manage and protect marine life and promote a blue economy.” Cimatu added that “a blue economy does not only consider business revenues. More importantly, it considers how the proper use and care of marine resources can provide employment and food security to many people.”
The EAS Congress was also a celebration of PEMSEA’s 25 years of good work in the region. The Province and City of Iloilo did not spare any expense to make the conference successful, including hosting a conference dinner and a ministerial banquet, featuring the best of Iloilo’s dancers and rondalla ensemble. The DENR was also an excellent host. In addition to participating extensively in the substantive work, our colleagues in the department walked an extra mile to make the Congress successful. I was particularly impressed by the quality of the liaison officers they provided to ensure that participants would be guided throughout the three days.
As the current Chair of the PEMSEA Partnership Council, I look forward to the work ahead of us to secure healthy oceans, peoples, and economies, in our region. It will not take us another twenty-five years as long as we act and move as one.
Facebook: tonylavs Twitter: tonylavs