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Exploring Law, conflict, and mediation at the Ocean-Climate Nexus

Bernadette Snow

One Ocean Hub, University of Strathclyde, UK

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  • climate,
  • Law,
  • ocean,
  • ocean heritage,
  • Environmental defenders,
  • human rights
Target Group
  • Policy makers
  • English

This blog post summarizes the key messages arising from two COP26 side events, focussed, respectively, on law and governance and on conflict and mediation.

The One Ocean Hub and its partners have explored the role of law, different sciences, arts and mediation in transforming conflicts at the climate-ocean nexus. Both events interrogated the intersections of law, human rights and the impact of climate change on the environment and people. The events highlight the complexity of the ocean-climate nexus and the variety of negative impacts on human rights that can only be tackled through transdisciplinary approaches and through inclusive and just processes to climate change adaptation and mitigation, building resilience through knowledge co-creation and listening.


The co-hosted event with The Ocean Foundation & the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification, held on the 5th November, served to highlight

  1. What should be improved in international governance frameworks  at the ocean-climate nexus (Dr Daniela Diz, Heriot Watt University).
  2. Protecting and minimising cumulative anthropogenic impacts on blue carbon ecosystems could provide stacked services and maximise benefits for people’s wellbeing
  3. There is need to strengthen the mechanisms for cooperation across international conventions and processes based on best available science
  4. There is need for standardisation of metrics/indicators
  5. Carbon accounting methods of blue carbon ecosystems should be expanded beyond saltmarshes, mangroves and seagrasses
  6. Defining ecologically safe thresholds for pH and aragonite saturation at multiple scales (local/regional/global levels) should be promoted and such thresholds incorporated in governance processes

Urgent action to manage deep-sea and open-ocean ecosystems on a changing planet (Professor Murray Roberts, University of Edinburgh):

  • Now is the time to act and remove barriers between biodiversity and climate change policy development
  • Multidisciplinary & science/policy engagement are key
  • We need to scale-up to ocean basin-scale
  • We need to take capacity building, diverse knowledge and technology-transfer seriously – that means investing, particularly in people
  • Finding the appropriate mandate and composition for the proposed new Scientific and Technical Body under the international legally binding instrument on marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) will be critical.
  • States’ obligations to mitigate climate change in their deep-sea activities, exploration and conservation (Kate McKenzie and Mitchell Lennan, University of Strathclyde, and Kirsty McQuaid, University of Plymouth)
  • The seabed is important in climate regulation because it is a carbon sink
  • Due diligence is an overarching concept that connects the international obligations under the climate change regime and the law of the sea, and it is understood in international, public, and private law
  • states have obligations in activities that effect the seabed within and beyond national jurisdiction. As a consequence, states must consider their climate obligations in their seabed activities – for instance, including carbon output dimension as part of environmental impact assessments.

The event was opened by Mr Mark J. Spalding (President, The Ocean Foundation) and chaired by Mitchel Lennon (University of Strathclyde).


The second event, was co-organized with the Independent Redress Mechanism (IRM) of the Green Climate Fund and the Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and Governance, on the 10th November 2021.

The event began with a short, animated film, Indlela yokuphila, produced by the Empatheatre team of the One Ocean Hub in association with Shells & Spells. Indlela Yokuphila which is isiZulu for “the soul’s journey” is a transdisciplinary and trans-epistemological project which brought together a range of artists, traditional healers, marine sociologists and deep-sea marine ecologists to collaborate on a more holistic biocultural alternative to ocean mapping and decision making. In the isiZulu traditional ancestral belief, the deep sea is the resting place of our ancestors, and after death the soul travels from the land, through streams, rivers, estuaries and eventually into the sea.

The key messages that emerged from the discussion were:

  • If we are willing to listen, we will discover that traditional knowledge aligns with contemporary science
  • Cultural diversity is an important factor to consider when dealing with natural resources and environmental disputes
  • Decision-makers and mediators should understand how different stakeholders interpret ocean resources at stake and their connections with resources in question
  • Traditional knowledge holders are often excluded from decision making, consultations and participation procedures concerning ocean resources – particularly when large commercial sectors are involved, e.g. oil and gas.

Two case studies were presented by Paco Gimenez-Salinas (Compliance and Dispute Resolution Specialist of the Independent Redress Mechanism) and Pablo Lumerman (Intercultural Mediator/Facilitator and Honorary Member ICCA), from Patagonia (Argentina and Chile) and Honduras to illustrate how experienced mediators have dealt with conflicts concerning sacred indigenous areas and different cultural perspectives and values. The presentations highlighted that exclusion of traditional knowledge holders transcend the division of ocean and land, as there are similar characteristics in terms of exclusion in the South African case presented by the One Ocean Hub. They also emphasised a need to understand and take action in accordance with the principles and values (biodiversity, spiritual, cultural) of inclusive conservation and ocean governance.

While the approaches and mechanisms presented at the event (Empatheatre, other arts-based methodologiesintercultural dialogue approach) provide useful tools in conflict prevention and transformation, more work needs to be done to provide stakeholders, particularly those that are in disadvantages position with access to timely information, justice and decision-making, particularly as communities are ocean / environmental human rights defenders who instil human rights in protecting and sustainably manage the ocean for future generations.

The chair of the event was Bernadette Snow (The One Ocean Hub, University of Strathclyde), and presenters also included Prof Elisa Morgera (Director of the One Ocean Hub), Dr Lalanath de Silva (Head of the Independent Redress Mechanism), Dr Dylan McGarry (Senior  researcher at the Environmental Learning Research Centre (ELRC) at Rhodes University and the co-founder of Empatheatre), Dr Kira Erwin (Senior researcher, at the Urban Futures Centre at the Durban University of Technology) and Mpume Mthombeni  (An award-winning performer, storyteller and theatre-maker from Umlazi, Durban and the co-founder of Empatheatre).


The One Ocean Hub continues to explore how the law (particularly international law on human rights and on the protection of the marine environment) can support as arts-based mediation and transdisciplinary research approaches, in ensuring equitable and inclusive ocean governance.

In addition, the Hub is clarifying when arts and transdisciplinary research support the implementation of existing international law on the marine environment and on human rights, such as

  • Responsible and respectful integration of indigenous and local knowledge in research and decision making;
  • Truly inclusive and generative processes for consultations/ public participation / socio-cultural and environmental impact assessments/ mediation
  • Identification of shortcomings in current national and local approaches to implementation

Finally, the Hub is exploring with its international partners about the opportunities of integrating art-based research and methodologies into international processes to inform and facilitate local/international dialogue. This is the case, for instance of the Hub’s collaboration with: