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  • The Commonwealth helps countries sustainably manage their natural resources, in the ocean and on land

Oceans and natural resources

Commonwealth countries are endowed with immense and precious natural resources. These include millions of square kilometres of ocean space, significant renewable (wind, solar) and non-renewable resources (oil, gas, minerals). When managed equitably and sustainably, the exploitation of natural resources bolsters national resilience to economic and social crises, improving prosperity for all citizens.

The Commonwealth Secretariat assists its member countries to sustainably manage their natural resources, in the ocean and on land, for the benefit of present and future generations. We provide technical assistance and support member countries in the development of policies, laws, design of fiscal regimes and strengthening national institutions as they seek to implement the Sustainable Development Goals.

The programme is delivered through direct advisory support, capacity building and collaborations.

Managing the oceans

Commonwealth Blue Charter

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is an agreement by Commonwealth countries to actively cooperate in addressing the myriad of ocean-related issues and commitments that they face. The world’s ocean is essential to life on our planet. Billions of people depend on it for their livelihoods. Yet human activity is increasingly putting the health of this crucial natural resource in peril. Blue ecosystems are being degraded and destroyed at an unprecedented rate and this is not an issue any single country can solve.

In April 2018, the Commonwealth Blue Charter was adopted by member countries, to guide cooperative action on ocean issues. Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Groups are member-driven, led by Commonwealth Blue Charter ‘Champion’ countries. Working together, Action Groups can unlock the experiences and knowledge of 53 nations.

Maritime boundaries

Legal uncertainty on the extent of maritime jurisdiction and entitlements impacts a coastal state’s ability to manage its marine resources and can lead to conflict over access to resources, stifle investment, and hinder marine environmental protection and the development of alternative energy sources. Lack of clarity over entitlements to resources and inadequate management frameworks can also undermine the economic potential of the seas for sustainable exploitation and management of fisheries, tourism, minerals, marine renewable energy and marine biotechnology.

Reaching permanent or provisional agreement on overlapping entitlements allows for the continuation of economic activity, and in the face of rising sea levels, securing maritime boundaries and giving due publicity to these limits provides international recognition against the impacts of ocean related climate change.

Under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, many coastal Commonwealth member states are entitled to increase their maritime zones space and make extended continental shelf submissions. For nearly three decades the Secretariat has provided advice to member countries to help them exercise their rights under international law. Over this period, we have provided legal and technical support to more than 30 countries.

However, some of our smallest and most vulnerable states have yet to agree on maritime boundaries with their neighbours. In the Pacific region alone, national entitlements overlap in at least 48 marine areas. Only 21 are covered by treaties. Of the 51 extended continental shelf submissions lodged with the UN up to December 2014, 17 were prepared with our support. Commonwealth member countries have successfully secured more than 1.8 million square kilometres of seabed with our assistance - with more still to be claimed at the United Nations.

Ocean governance

Under international law, coastal states have jurisdiction, control and responsibilities regarding economic activities within waters extending 200 nautical miles and beyond from their coastlines and on their continental shelf. For some Commonwealth coastal states, this jurisdiction far exceeds their terrestrial areas.

The growing popularity of terms such as ‘Blue Economy’ and ‘Blue Growth,’ and the inclusion of a United Nations Sustainable Development Goal devoted to the oceans (SDG 14) reflect international recognition of the value of the ocean as a potential source of expanded economic growth.

For more than a decade, the Oceans and Natural Resources Advisory Division has been a primary partner in the acquisition and management of greater areas of maritime space, developing Blue Economy/Blue Growth approaches among coastal member states and contributing to wider recognition of the concept as a mechanism for realizing sustainable growth centred on an ocean-based economy.

We promote knowledge exchanges and provide targeted advice and assistance to member countries# on the development of legal and regulatory frameworks including ocean policies and strategies for tackling increasing threats to ocean health and the sustainable use of ocean resources.

We support member countries in building resilience and unlocking the value of the blue economy by promoting principled ocean governance focused on integrated management of oceans taking into account economic, social and environmental factors.

Natural resources

Energy and minerals (oil, gas, mining, renewables)

If managed properly, the extractives sector is one of the few economic sectors which can, on its own, lift a country out of underdevelopment. Unfortunately, many resource-rich countries have suffered from the ‘resource-curse’ where development of the sector has been associated with poor economic and development outcomes including high levels of corruption, conflict and environmental problems. Whilst there are many contributing factors to this, it is widely acknowledged that its effects can be minimised when there are good policies, robust governance and effective institutions to ensure that the sector is developed in a sustainable manner. For over 30 years, the Commonwealth Secretariat has been assisting member countries on

  • Policy and Strategy: Advice on the formulation of petroleum and mineral resource development policies and strategies
  • Regulatory Frameworks:  Legal, Fiscal, Environmental and Institutional: Drawing on international best practice, review and develop regulatory arrangements for the effective administration of the sector including the legal, fiscal, environmental and institutional mechanisms. Technical support also extends to assistance in the drafting of new laws, regulations and model agreements.
  • Revenue Management: Assistance in the establishment of revenue management mechanisms in view of stabilizing annual budget inflows, formulating strategies to mitigate “Dutch disease” impacts and assisting countries in balancing immediate socio-economic development needs with the necessity to provide for future generations.
  • In-Country Value Addition: Advice on leveraging the development of petroleum and mineral resources to capture broader economic benefits and aid in industrialization. Includes development of appropriate local content policies and legislation.
  • Deep Sea Mining: World leading expertise concerning the development of legislative and regulatory frameworks for the emerging deep-sea mining industry.

Governments often need advice on specific niche areas or issues rather than a full review of sector policies and regulatory arrangements – examples of such support are investment promotion and bid round preparation, negotiation and dispute resolution, and coal-bed methane frameworks. In addition, we also provide advice concerning the development of wider-energy sector policy and regulatory frameworks including implementation of renewable development strategies and programmes as well as negotiations of independent power projects.

Deep sea mining

We are a source of world leading expertise concerning the development of regulatory and financial frameworks for the emerging deep-sea mining industry. Deep-sea minerals, containing metals such as copper, nickel, cobalt, gold and rare earth elements, are found in the deepest and most under-explored parts of the Earth.

Deep-sea mining is a new frontier: generating commercial and public interest, but not yet an operational industry, largely due to technical and economic constraints. It is unusual for a sector to receive so much attention before it has commenced operation, and this provides an exciting opportunity for Commonwealth member countries to put in place best-practice regulatory and fiscal policies and laws at the outset.

The Secretariat’s work aims to assist Commonwealth governments to take informed, consultative, science-based decisions about whether to engage with deep-sea mineral activities, and to manage any such future activities in accordance with progressive and high ‘good governance’ standards.

The technical assistance provided by the Secretariat’s experts in this area is grounded in sustainable development and Commonwealth Charter principles, which specifically recognise the importance of maintaining ocean health and the rights of citizens as resource owners.

Partnerships and collaborations

We also engage with international organisations, specialist think-tanks, and regional agencies to foster knowledge-sharing and to develop and promote international best practices and standards Some key collaborations are

New Petroleum Producers Discussion Group

Since 2012, the Commonwealth Secretariat has been working in collaboration with Chatham House and the Natural Resource Governance Institute to establish the New Producers Discussion Group. At its core the Group is a knowledge and experience sharing platform that brings together officials from countries with a new or emerging petroleum sector to discuss challenges, strategies and governance frameworks for sustainable exploration and development of their oil and gas resources.

Over 30 countries are currently involved in the group of which over half are Commonwealth member countries.

The OECD Natural Resources Policy Dialogue (NR-PD)

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Natural Resources Policy Dialogue (NR-PD) feeds into other international processes such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the G20 Development Working Group and the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group.

The NR-PD provides a platform for producer countries, private sector, development agencies, think-tanks and civil society to craft innovative collaborative solutions and share best practices in order to address the complex multidimensional challenges of the extractives industry’s contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals.

The NR-PD is framed around four Work Streams (1) shared value creation, (2) getting better deals, (3) revenue management and spending, and (4) tackling base erosion and profit shifting and corruption

Read the latest news on oceans and resources

Young CEO empowers women, youth in climate fight Angelique Pouponneau, CEO of Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust

One of Seychelles’ youngest executives is calling for countries to put more trust in young people as leaders on climate change issues.

Blue Charter ramps up momentum with new action group at COP25 President of Kiribati, Taneti Maamau and Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Patricia Scotland

The Pacific Island nation of Kiribati has stepped forward to lead an action group on sustainable coastal fisheries, as part of the Commonwealth Blue Charter. The action group will rally countries together to share knowledge and best practices, align actions on sustainable fisheries and mobilise funding to support their joint initiatives.

Secretary-General: fast-track action on ocean health ‘before it is too late’ Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland and Commonwealth Head of Oceans and Natural Resources, Nicholas Hardman-Mountford, at the Our Ocean Conference in Oslo, Norway

The Commonwealth is working to establish a fund to help member countries take practical action on ocean sustainability. Ministers leading Commonwealth Blue Charter action groups met in Oslo with marine experts, investors and philanthropists to discuss the shape of the proposed fund. 

Canada gives $2.7 million boost for Commonwealth Blue Charter Scientists conducting ocean observation

New funding from the Government of Canada will help protect marine health and promote good ocean governance, aligned with the Commonwealth Blue Charter’s action group on ocean observation.

Secretary-General urges action on oceans at Malta meeting Commonwealth Secretary General speaking at oceans meeting in Malta

The Commonwealth Secretary-General has emphasised the "immense urgency" of taking action to protect the world's oceans. Patricia Scotland joined representatives from the Commonwealth, United Nations, governments and other international organisations at the first meeting of Oceans Ambassadors, hosted by the Government of Malta.