Anthropogenic impacts on continental margins: New frontiers and engagement arena for global sustainability research and action
Wednesday, 17 December 2014
There is an urgent need to design and implement transformative governance strategies that safeguard Earth’s life-support systems essential for long-term human well-being. From a series of meetings of the Continental Margins Working Group co-sponsored by IMBER and LOICZ of IGBP, we conclude that the greatest urgency exists at the ocean-land interface – the continental margins or the Margin – which extends from coastlands over continental shelves and slopes bordering the deep ocean. The Margin is enduring quadruple squeeze from (i) Population growth and rising demands for resources; (ii) Ecosystem degradation and loss; (iii) Rising CO2, climate change and alteration of marine biogeochemistry and ecosystems; and (iv) Rapid and irreversible changes in social-ecological systems. Some areas of the Margin that are subject to the greatest pressures (e.g. the Arctic) are also those for which knowledge of fundamental processes remains most limited. Aside from improving our basic understanding of the nature and variability of the Margin, priority issues include: (i) investment reform to prevent lethal but profitable activities; (ii) risk reduction; and (iii) jurisdiction, equity and fiscal responsibility. However, governance deficits or mismatches are particularly pronounced at the ocean-edge of the Margin and the prevailing Law of the Sea is incapable of resolving these challenges. The “gold rush” of accelerating demands for space and resources, and variability in how this domain is regulated, move the Margin to the forefront of global sustainability research and action. We outline a research strategy in 3 engagement arenas: (a) knowledge and understanding of dynamic Margin processes; (b) development, innovation and risk at the Margin; and (c) governance for sustainability on the Margin. The goals are (1) to better understand Margin social-ecological systems, including their physical and biogeochemical components; (2) to develop practical guidance for sustainable development and use of resources; (3) to design governance regimes to stem unsustainable practices; (4) to investigate how to enable equitable sharing of costs and benefits from sustainable use of resources; and (5) to evaluate alternative research approaches and partnerships that address the challenges faced on the Margin.