Defining the Indian Ocean's Regional Future

25 Oct 2018
By Professor Erika Techera
Defining the Indian Ocean's Regional Future
The Indian Ocean’s significance is entrenched in a long history of trade, transport and communication. The region includes twenty-eight continental and island states, and is home to 35% of the world’s population. Since 2000, the region’s trade growth has outpaced the rate for the global economy: a development that should be no surprise considering the wealth of living and non-living resources within it.

Concerns for the Indian Ocean Region

Despite these exceptional developments, the Indian Ocean region faces economic, environmental and security issues which challenge regional institutions and leaders.  The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) is the most representative organisation across the region, but its effectiveness is hampered by the considerable geographic, cultural and developmental diversity amongst member States.  
Given the historical division of States between Africa and Asia (amongst other geographic, cultural and developmental diversities), even the region's most effective institutions... are challenged.
Despite these divisions, these countries possess much in common.  Most notable amongst these is the recognition that a safe and healthy ocean is of paramount importance in maximising the benefits of a blue economy.

Addressing these regional concerns was the basis for the recent Track 1.5 conference held in Sri Lanka on 11 and 12 October 2018 - The Indian Ocean: Defining Our Future. Following an earlier event hosted by Deakin University in April 2018: Maritime Order in the Indian Ocean, The two-day conference was co-hosted by:
The conference brought together stakeholders from regional states, as well as other maritime users including Canada, China, Japan, New Zealand, US, UK and EU.

The need for discourse amongst Indian Ocean states

The conference began with speeches from the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Dr Wignaraja (Executive Director of LKI) and the Hon Tila Marapana (Minister of Foreign Affairs)  amongst others.
Speakers stressed the need for dialogue, cooperation and partnerships to ensure sustainable growth and long-term stability in the Indian Ocean.
Ambassador Peter Thomson, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean highlighted the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals as a plan for balanced utilisation of the ocean.

Keynote speakers in the inaugural panel on Navigating challenges and prospects in the Indian Ocean: Towards a shared understanding then reiterated the need for a rules-based order across the Indian Ocean region.

Speakers stressed the need for dialogue, cooperation and partnerships to ensure sustainable growth and long-term stability in the Indian Ocean.

Key areas of development for the Indian Ocean Region

Roundtable discussions proceeded to identify four broad themes which provide key areas of development for the region:
  • Economic activity: A panel on The New Global Growth Pole focused on the Indian Ocean economy as a major driver of global growth. It recognised that diversity across the region requires policies to maximise potential economic benefits.
  • Environmental sustainability: Life Below Water: Reframing the Oceans as Development Spaces highlighted issues of illegal fishing and overfishing, marine pollution from land and sea-based sources, and the potential risks of seabed mining particularly in EEZs. Discussions confirmed the need to address gaps in law and policy, in coherent and effective ways.
  • Safety and security: An End to Uncertainty: Safety and Security at Sea explored the importance of safety and security in Indian Ocean sea lanes. Concerns such as maritime piracy, as well as emerging non-traditional security threats were discussed. Lessons can be learned from existing and past cooperative arrangements.
  • The role of the UN: Reinforcing International Law in the Indian Ocean: UNCLOS and Emerging Issues recognised that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea plays a critical role in terms of establishing maritime zones and a general framework for utilisation of oceans and resources.
The panels featured speakers from both governmental and academic institutions, and notably included discussion and intervention from all participant states.

The future of the Indian Ocean Region’s development

Clearly, there is a considerable role for governments in future Indian Ocean developments, but researchers focused on Indian Ocean law and policy also have an important role to play. Across all areas of economics, environment and security, current frameworks and organisations need to be explored and analysed Only then will tangible options for the region’s future development be identified.  

The focus on the future and sustainability of the world’s seas will no doubt continue to draw attention, with plans for a second UN Oceans Conference to be held in 2020.


Professor Erika Techera
Professor Erika Techera
Professor Erika Techera is an international and comparative environmental lawyer with particular emphasis on marine environmental law and the legal protection of cultural heritage relating to the oceans. Professor Techera was a co-chair of the environmental sustainability roundtable, with Dr Mohan Munasinghe.
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