ACOPS 67 – Changing of the guard

Lord Julian Hunt of Chesterton sponsored the ACOPS 67 reception; a dynamic group of old and new friends of ACOPS joined from governments, academia, practitioners affiliated to international organisations, industry and finance interested in the marine environment, bright students and distinguished guests in their own capacity.

The speeches set-out below recount the theme and spirit of this event.

Lord Julian Hunt, Chair and President of ACOPS since 2002

“Welcome to this House of Lord Meeting for the Advisory Committee on Protection of the Sea which we call ACOPS. This meeting today is to celebrate ACOPS 67th birthday. ACOPS was set up by Lord Callaghan in 1952 when he was an MP before he rose to become Prime Minister and later at the House of Lords. Her daughter Baroness Margareth Jay, who joined us this evening, often mentioned the Callaghan family holidays in Wales. They saw how much oil there was on the beaches in the 1950s -which I also remember. His campaign against this oil pollution led eventually to ACOPS, one of the first environmental NGOs.

This meeting is a launch of a new ACOPS at the same time as the Marine Environment Committee of the IMO is taking up new maritime challenges associated with the need to stop marine pollution and help mitigate climate change.

I have been involved with ACOPS for the last 20 years and have come to realise the importance of documenting its history, as an early mover on the protection of the marine environment. It was established in March 1952, 20 year before the historical first UN Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in 1972. James Callaghan, who had been a MP since 1945, created the Coordinating Advisory Committee on Oil Pollution of the Sea (already ACOPS or CACOPS) in a meeting in a Common committee room. It was designed to bring together a variety of environmental bodies, representative of seaside resorts, coastal communities and the shipping industry. Callaghan acted as a Chairman until 1963.

James Callaghan was a visionary and a convincing leader. His early objective was to protect shores and wildlife through the total prohibition of the discharge of waste of oil into the sea. He persuaded the then Minister of Transport, Alan Lennox-Boyd, to organise a conference in 1953. This conference led to the negotiation and the signature of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil on 12 May 1954. We call it the OILPOL Convention. This OILPOL Convention recognised that most oil pollution resulted from routine shipboard operations such as the cleaning of cargo tanks.

In the 1950s, the normal practice was simply to wash the tanks out with water and then pump the resulting mixture of oil and water into the sea. The OILPOL Convention prohibited the dumping of oily wastes within a certain distance from land and in ‘special areas’ where the danger to the environment was especially acute. OILPOL has been replaced in the 70s by MARPOL, the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), a landmark international treaty. It is still administered by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) through its Marine Environment Protection Committee. Many of you attended this meeting this week. This slow evolution of OILPOIL into MARPOL and slow compliance by numerous States and vessels has been accelerated by memorable oil spills such as the Torrey Canyon, the Amoco Cadiz and the Exxon Valdez. Through this time, ACOPS pursued its focus on oil pollution.

For the last 53 years, ACOPS has compiled annually statistics and other information on different types of marine pollution in the coastal and marine waters around the British Isles. The competent authorities and other stakeholder groups have used this information for a wide range of purposes including policy and planning decisions in the UK and beyond. As oil pollution was being handled primarily by the IMO and other environmental stressors to the marine environment developed, ACOPS broadened its focus to include all new issues of marine environmental pollution. This prompted two changes of name from Advisory Committee on Oil Pollution of the Sea, to Advisory Committee on Pollution of the Sea and to the current name, adopted in 1992 of Advisory Committee on Protection of the Sea.

Although the initial interest of ACOPS originated from the UK, it was clear that the issues could only be addressed at a global scale. The 1953 Conference had already brought together representatives from 30 or 40 countries representing 95% of the global shipping fleet. ACOPS’ later work has also been international. In fact ACOPS has been involved in the negotiations and implementation of numerous international treaties, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

However, much of this occurred prior to the current digital age. We have lately started to document the 67 years of history of ACOPS, its engagement and impact. We are investigating different sources and are inviting all of you and any other interested parties to get in contact with us if they would like to contribute to this reconstruction of history.

I have joined ACOPS in the late 1990s and contributed to extending its focus on climate change including capacity building and training in the science of climate change. I am very grateful for our new Chair Youna Lyons who will introduce the team .”

Youna LYONS, Chair of the Board

“Thank you Julian and Good evening to you all.
I am delighted to be here this evening and honoured to take on the responsibility of Chair of ACOPS. It is heart-warming to have old friends here and new ones, all concerned with the sustainable use of our oceans. Thank you all for coming, thank you for your concern and support.

Julian has talked about where we come from. So you know that we have big shoes to fill. I have been trained under the guidance of an extraordinary diplomat, Ambassador Tommy Koh of Singapore. He was the President of the Third UN Conference on the the Law of the Sea, which resulted in the Law of the Convention, and is a keen defender of the rule of law and of the marine environment. I would like to follow his three-point approach to share with you thoughts on: 1.What we worry about, 2.How we see our and your role; and 3. who we are.

What do we worry about?
In a nutshell, we have always worried and continue to worry about the marine environment and its ecosystems. You could see seabirds as one of the sadly useful indicators. In the early days of ACOPS, the pollution surveys used oiled seabirds found along the coastline as an indicator of oil pollution. Few oiled seabirds are found these days. Their carcasses show instead guts full of plastic mistaken for food.
At the time of awakening to threats posed to the marine environment in the nuclear age and of negotiations of the Law of the Sea Convention, the international treaty that regulates all activities at or affecting the sea, Maurice Strong, then Secretary-General of the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, wrote:
“The struggle for the ocean has now been joined. Few battles have had a more decisive impact on the course of human history than this one will have, for its results will profoundly affect the political and economic shape of our world for centuries to come. The struggle engages the interests, the rivalries, and the aspirations of all nation-states as well as the interests and ambitions of powerful corporations.
It has thus far been a silent war. (…) [But] oil spills have triggered public awareness of the dangers of ocean pollution and have provided the political impetus for governments to act.’

We do not want to look at this struggle as a war. We look at it as a balancing act to be played by humanity in order to conserve marine ecosystems in a desirable state so that it can provide the numerous services we need from it: as a climate regulator, as a provider of food and other resources, as a beautiful playground and field of discovery and more. To that effect, we seek to understand clearly, in an unbiased way, the extent of threats and actual or potential damage that different activities have on the marine environment. Examples of topics we focus on include: the cumulative impacts of different activities (think, for example, about fishing, shipping, increase in sea temperature and ocean acidification) on sensitive marine areas, such as rare or fragile ecosystems, as well as depleted, threatened or endangered species and their habitats. So how can one determine whether an area is sensitive? How can cumulative impact assessments by different industries that may not be in contact with one another be addressed?

Impacts from deep seabed mining at 2,000 to 5,000m depth or more is another area of focus. It is at the heart of Philomène’s work and she will talk about it. A last example for tonight is pollution by marine plastics. The world is in a state of panic on this topic with hyperactivity developing in all directions. How do we understand the threats from marine pollution? It is very clear that we cannot continue adding millions of tons of plastic to the ocean under the business-as-usual scenario. We know that plastic is everywhere in the ocean, especially at depth and in the sediments. But how serious is this crisis? What level of action is necessary and where and how?
So we need sound science to assess actual and potential impacts. Science obtained not to justify a path but to understand and question. But science is not enough. What are the questions that science must answer? The questions cannot be left to the arbitrary needs of States, corporations or human beings if we are to live together and share finite resources. Those questions must be framed according to the rules of the game. I am talking about the rule of law. Sound science is our first pillar, the rule of law is our second pillar.

The rule of law may be seen by some as a naïve endeavour in a world of power relationships. We argue that it is critical and worth defending. The rule of law provides the rules of the game without which there can be no fair world where power and resources are shared equitably. International law has been created precisely for that reason. Institutions that support it are critical too. In a time of intense criticism directed against all institutions, we must work on renovating them and improving them so that they can continue to protect us against chaos. So questions around the determination of what constitute a serious impact on the marine environment, or the meaning of ‘rare, fragile, depleted, threatened or endangered’ are not just scientific exercises. They are a mix of science and law. So yes, sound science and the rule of way are our first two pillars. We also need to inform and engage with them.

Who are we?
Let me introduce you to the new crew.
The Board of ACOPS is for now comprised of three of us. My colleagues and friends Philomène Verlaan and Marie-Anne Vermersch and I. I have been following the footsteps of Philomène for some time. Like her I was first a practicing lawyer who later studied oceanography. Philomène has led me to ACOPS and helped me to grow into this new role. She will give you later an outline of her thoughts and views.
We invited Marie-Anne to join us because she shares our concerns whilst having a different outlook and approach to them. She has been focusing on technological advances, business solutions and the power of networks. We believe that we must team up. I must add that the core team could not function without Mélanie, who looks after the day-to-day running of ACOPS and ensures smooth sailing.

A few words about me maybe. ACOPS old fight against oil pollution rings true to me as I have a vivid memory of the Amoco-Cadiz disaster when I was a young teenager. My grandparents were unusually unavailable to us kids that summer as they were busy meeting local communities. I have always been along the sea, on it or in it; fascinated and somewhat afraid. So after 15 years as a practicing lawyer, I decided to return to the oceans. After a few years of oceanography, I was determined to never ever do law again. But I came to realize that I was more useful being a translator between law and science. As a former practicing litigator, my outlook is anchored in solid reality.

Our core team works with associates and subject experts through numerous networks we belong to. Development of these networks is going to be a key focus in the weeks and months to come. These networks must include governments, academia, international organizations, business and industry, environmental NGOs and the younger generation of concerned citizens. As engagement is a key enabler for ACOPS to be able to advise and inform, please help us be the platform we aspire to and you would like us to be. We would like to hear what you would like to understand? What information would be useful to you? What discussions could we work on together?

How do we see our role?
You all know this African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child. We think that it takes the world to sustainably use our oceans. The world of protection of the marine environment has many actors. The role of NGOs is often defined through a tension or power struggle between governments and private actors on one side and the civil society on the other. These NGOs include Greenpeace and WWF at local and global levels, as well as many others that operate as our whistle blowers. We need them and work alongside them.

ACOPS plays a different role. We look for answers in science and international law. We do not advocate set solutions. We want to focus on elements that need taking into account and ought to be considered clearly. We are looking for sustainable paths where we optimize technology, science and law towards sustainable oceans.
I will stop here and pass on to Philomène to expand on this.”

Dr Philomène Verlaan, Trustee and long-term Associate of ACOPS

“A very warm welcome, distinguished guests, and thank you for joining us tonight as we chart our future course, on which ACOPS embarked in 1952.

ACOPS is one the first UK-based international marine environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs). ACOPS is older than most of the principal post-World War II international marine treaties, such as, e.g., the Convention establishing the International Maritime Organization (it entered into force in 1958), the four Geneva Conventions on the Law of the Sea, and the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention. The marine environmental NGO community was also very small.

Now, in 2019, as ACOPS sets sail under its new command, we asked ourselves where does ACOPS see itself in the burgeoning and complex compass rose of marine environmental NGOs?

In other words: what is its Unique and Useful Selling Position (UUSP)?
Because to be unique is necessary but not sufficient …

The ACOPS UUSP is in two parts:
1) its core service and
2) its implementing structure.

1) Its core service is advice, as expressed in the first word of its name: Advisory
ACOPS seeks to provide neutral, objective advice on marine environmental issues. This advice is firmly anchored in the rule of law and sound science. The two indispensable corollaries of this core service are informing and engaging with the wide range of constituencies that are also concerned with marine environmental issues.

2) Its implementing structure is in the second word of its name: Committee
The Committee approach offers ACOPS the flexibility to draw, as necessary, on the most current internationally recognized specialists to form multidisciplinary teams – each tailored to best address the marine environmental subjects on which ACOPS intends to offer its advice.

Who is the key audience for the services offered by ACOPS?
The key audience comprises two main groups:
1) First, the ultimate decision-makers on marine environmental protection issues. Given the utter obliviousness of the marine environment to political boundaries, those ultimate decision-makers are all the nation-states – both individually and jointly through intergovernmental organizations – of our planet that set those boundaries. With them rests the fate of our oceans.
2) Second, the private sector, including its commercial and civil society members, that actively use and/or depend on the ocean and its resources. Their input is essential to sound decisions by the nation-states on marine environmental issues.
In the hope of contributing to effective protection of the seas – as you will note, this covers the rest of the name of ACOPS – ACOPS seeks to provide the community of nation-states and their private sector members involved with the oceans in any form with the best available advice to assist them in that decision-making. ACOPS does so primarily by participating in intergovernmental and high-level national meetings in various capacities, depending on the nature of the meeting

For example, I am a specialist both in law of the sea and in the formation and related ecology of two deep-sea hard mineral deposits – Fe-Mn nodules and crusts. These deposits contain important metals for our society. They are currently being investigated for eventual commercial recovery from the deep sea.
In that dual science/law specialist capacity, I would participate in the meetings, including those organized by the International Seabed Authority (ISA), and seek to contribute to and assist the ISA in achieving the tasks mandated under, amongst others, Art. 145 LOSC, and Part XII LOSC to ensure effective marine environmental protection for the development and use of these resources.

I also still go to sea myself. I am currently preparing for my 25th research expedition this autumn to a nodule-rich zone in the subtropical north Pacific.
Going to sea and participating in marine scientific research is, in my admittedly not wholly objective view, one of the most interesting activities available to us on this planet. Every time I go to sea, and my sea-going colleagues have experienced this too, we continually find the most fascinating support for a comment by that ocean visionary Dr. John Craven:
“if you bring something new to the ocean, the ocean will bring something new to you.”

As just one example, consider what I have observed on my dives in the research submersible Pisces V. The sub, with all its lights on, and its motors gently purring, roams along the seafloor, or sits on the seabed and conducts its tasks. We observe three types of reaction in the larger mobile organisms.

Some are curious, and come check us out.

Some we only glimpse out of the corner of our eyes – mostly in a sudden, brief movement, as they flee at our approach. We have no idea what they are. These are tantalizing glimpses of unknown presences in the deep.

But to me the most interesting is the third group – so far only fish in my experience – who seem to be wholly unaware of the sub’s presence. They do not move, even if approached. If nudged, they move with the momentum of the nudge, and stop when it ceases. They do not seem to look at us. The one reaction to a submersible – a wholly alien entity in their space – is the one that is not expected: no reaction at all by otherwise seemingly sentient beings. What is going on here?

It is from such unexpected responses by the sea to what we bring to it that we can learn so much, and ACOPS seeks to protect the ocean’s capacity to offer these responses.

Thus ACOPS expanded its original focus back in 1952 from combating oil pollution to protecting the marine environment as a whole – because it can only be considered as a whole and effective protection can only be achieved with this holistic approach.
In this larger context ACOPS has assisted with, for example, the definition of marine scientific research, and the characterization and management of marine geoengineering activities – both for the first time in the international law of the sea.
In concluding, ACOPS considers that protecting the sea is crucial to protecting ourselves. That is how ACOPS started.

As a young father, then MP (later Prime Minister) James Callaghan took his family to swim in the sea and play on the beach, and they all came back covered in oil.
He founded ACOPS to improve the health of the sea for future generations.
ACOPS has the honour and privilege of hosting one of Lord Callaghan’s children here tonight – Margaret, Baroness Jay. But as you all know, the task he set is far from complete. Thus an important part of the ACOPS mission is to carry forth Lord Callaghan’s intergenerational vision for a healthy ocean to the next generation.

We hope to do this by including young professionals, from developing and developed countries on our delegations as observers and to help ACOPS advise, inform and engage us all in their vision for their future with regard to our and their seas. Therefore our last speaker is a member of that generation, Horatio Lyons, a final-year student at the London School of Economics, who will give us some ideas on how we could best sail on together.

Thank you for your kind attention and please welcome Horatio.”

Horatio Lyons, an ACOPS students-volunteer

“It’s never good to be the last speaker between an audience and its dinner, but here I am, so I’ll be quick, and I’m not going to start by talking about students, the sea, or ACOPS. Instead, I’d like to take us back to Tuesday the 16th of April at 4AM, when I tried to make it back home out in west London, from Soho, and eventually realised no bus was actually running. I walked home.

Many of you, as commuters, will probably be able to identify, because that was the start of Extinction Rebellion’s 2019 action, and London was paralysed for days. Even snow, the ultimate enemy of British transport, had not had that same impact.

Love it or hate it, it worked. Certainly, I hadn’t paid the attention I probably should have to the movement before it directly inconvenienced me. Very certainly, I had to after. It was an impact born of an impressive, tactical mobilisation of effort, it sent a message that continues to resonate today, and ultimately it depended on widespread and relatively unprecedented youth engagement.

The problem is that that’s not enough. Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old Swedish high school student and climate activist you’ve probably seen in the news and on your magazine covers, said that climate change action will take long-term thinking, ‘cathedral thinking,’ and that’s true. It’ll take real work, real subject matter expertise, and sound, long-term policy. That’s why this changing of the guard here at ACOPS is so topical.

Because cathedral thinking means implicating multiple generations in the creation of policy. As an organisation that advises, that informs, and that engages, ACOPS has a rare opportunity to implicate students in maritime policy as it’s taking shape now. Rather than hearing about its past in our classrooms, or reading about it in the driest depths of our undergraduate public international law coursebooks, we’ll be able to directly engage with marine governance as it happens here. And not just here in the Lords, at the domestic level, but also at the IMO on the other side of the river, and at other international fora, across the seas ACOPS seeks to protect.

My brothers and I first discovered the sea when our parents realised that sitting us down in front of Blue Planet was a great way of securing some peace and quiet. Today, the last thing we want from youth is peace and quiet, nor is it what we’re going to get, and I can certainly say for one that I look forward to seeing where ACOPS goes next and how it leverages this growing zeitgeist. Forget Notre Dame; 58km away, past Southend-on-Sea, past the Thames estuary, lies the greatest cathedral of all: the sea.

That’s all from me! Have a good night.”