Good governance of the oceans: 
key resource management principles

Jon Nevill,                                              January 2005

Can a close examination of the principles used in international and Australian agreements and policies reveal a small consistent set of core 'good governance principles'?

are the essential concepts which underlie philosophic and ethical argument, and thus underpin (in theory at least) all government programs aimed at managing human use of the world's natural resources. Such principles are often explicitly stated in international treaties and conventions, for example.  They are also explicitly stated in most major national (including Australian) government policy documents.  Within ocean governance literature, including scientific literature focused on management issues, implicit principles are often obvious, underpinning the conceptual frameworks of each particular discussion.

This paper asks the question: "can a small set of basic ideas capture all or most of the principles commonly used in international and Australian policy statements?  The question here is restricted to resource management, rather than equity or security issues.

As in many other areas, principles can be arranged and discussed in tiered structures, from the general to the specific. Discussing principles within a tiered framework assists in elaborating the essential logic which lies behind them - and helps in formulating clear statements of principle, where key concepts are not jumbled together in a confusing way.

This paper sets out a framework of two tiers of core principles dealing with ocean management - three first-tier and twenty second-tier principles.  A third tier (and probably a fourth tier) exists but is not discussed, as the most useful concepts appear to exist at the level of the second tier. The framework attempts to capture the essential elements of almost all of the explicit principles and major concerns (relating to resource management) expressed in current (2005) ocean governance literature and international agreements. As such, it is more comprehensive than single sets of principles such as the Lisbon Principles, for example.  

The method used to identify themes and to develop summary principles is simple.

First, major international and Australian policy documents were gathered and their explicit principles examined. These are listed in the first supporting document:

Second, the above list was examined for themes. Twenty repeating themes were found. These themes were summarised, and fell into three major groups. The objective behind the summarisation was to find the simplest statements which captured each theme in a comprehensive way, bearing in mind that a recurring theme would usually be expressed in a slightly different form when it appeared in different documents. The actual derivation of the summary "first tier" and "second tier" principles (which are set out below) is explained in a second detailed supporting document available at:  

Principles are grouped under three headings according to three fundamental (first tier) principles:

A. Ecological protection: management regimes should recognise, understand and protect the ecosystems of the ocean, in the interests of current generations, future generations and other life forms.

B. Good governance: management regimes should include the participation of all stakeholders, and should be transparent, reliable, accountable, enforceable, have integrity, and be cost-effective, flexible and practical.

C. Resource management: The planetís resources should be used wisely, fairly, and without unnecessary waste, taking into account the needs, rights and responsibilities of current generations, the differing economic, cultural, political and technical resources of both developed and developing nations, as well as the need to pass on both renewable and non-renewable resources to future generations in a way which does not unduly prejudice their options.  In doing so, management regimes should take account of: the rights and responsibilities of stakeholders, market behaviour and imperfections, the need for a precautionary approach in the face of complex and uncertain futures, the need to manage the cumulative impacts of incremental growth in resource use, and the ability of an adaptive approach to deliver continuous improvement in management outcomes.

These three first-tier principles contain twenty second-tier principles:

Ecological protection principles:

A1.  Protected areas and sympathetic management. Biodiversity should be protected by the establishment of a comprehensive, adequate and representative system of ecologically viable protected areas, integrated with the sympathetic management of all other areas[i].

A2. Special ecological values. Ecosystems and species of special value or vulnerability need special protection.

A3. Economic progress within ecological limits.  Sustainable economic progress works on the basis of no net loss of ecological assets.  Short-term gains must be weighed up from a long-term perspective - sustainability must not be prejudiced by short-term gains achieved at the expense of declining ecological services, values or resilience.

A4. Ecological scale.  Arrangements for the management of ecosystems (or for managing the human impacts on ecosystems) need to recognise, understand and accommodate the important ecological processes and linkages in operation, and the scales and time-frames at which they apply. Integrated and cohesive management should be applied across jurisdictional boundaries within the commons, recognising that the integrity of cross-boundary ecosystems needs to be understood and protected.

A5. Market externalities and ecological incentives.  Economic incentives should be applied to markets so as to ensure that economic progress in the long term goes to those who compete best while maintaining or improving ecological assets and integrity.

[i] Adapted from Principle 8 in: Commonwealth of Australia (1996) National strategy for the conservation of Australiaís biological diversity. Department of Environment and Heritage, Canberra.

Good governance principles:

B1. Participation: resource management arrangements should include adequate participation of all stakeholders. Long term programs for stakeholder education and awareness should be undertaken to facilitate informed participation.

B2. Transparency: decisions regarding resource management should follow a defined and established process. All elements of the process should be clearly understood by all participants.

B3. Reliability (Certainty): the process (of reaching strategic management decisions) should have clear objectives, be consistent, and be conducted within agreed time-frames.

B4. Accountability: decision makers within government need to be able to provide clear and detailed reasons for their decisions to all stakeholders. Appeal provisions to an independent authority should exist. Private operators must be accountable for commitments made during the activity approval process. Impact assessments should incorporate impartiality, for example through use of independent panels to oversee the process.

B5. Enforceability: while governance arrangements should be designed to minimise the costs and need for enforcement, such enforcement must be achievable in practice, adequately resourced, and undertaken when necessary.

B6. Integrity; decisions need to be based on the best available science, and all relevant factors need to be taken into account by decision-makers. Where impacts are uncertain, outcomes should rely on sound risk assessment and management, erring on the side of caution. Where necessary information is lacking, extension of scientific knowledge should be undertaken.

B7. Cost-effectiveness; approval processes and on-going management arrangements should meet stated objectives while imposing the least cost to participants. Economic incentives should be used to minimise the need for enforcement.

B8. Flexibility; management, including activity approval processes, should be able to accommodate proposals varying in type, scope of impact, and complexity. Flexibility is desirable in terms of the form of assessment and management processes, issues to be addressed, process time-frames, and degree of public participation.

B9. Practicality; activity approval processes and ongoing management arrangements should recognise community concerns, commercial realities, best practice technology, and scientific knowledge and uncertainties.

Resource management principles

C1. Full cost allocation: All costs and benefits concerning the use of natural resources should be identified and allocated and economic markets should reflect these costs and benefits.
(Wording taken directly from the Lisbon Principles 1997).

C2. Cumulative impacts: the cumulative impacts of incremental developments should be recognised, assessed and managed by imposing strategic limits well ahead of ecosystems approaching a crisis situation. 

C3. Precautionary: where the possibility exists of serious or irreversible harm, lack of scientific certainty should not preclude cautious action by decision-makers to prevent such harm. Management needs to anticipate the possibility of ecological damage, rather than react to it as it occurs.

C4. Responsibility: rights to resource use entail responsibilities to use resources efficiently, without waste as far as possible.  Those using both renewable and non-renewable resources must also accept responsibilities to predict, prevent or minimise environmental effects which may be the unintended results of actions - including both long term and indirect effects. (This principle includes the more widely stated, but more restricted, user pays principle which is a third tier principle).

C5. Adaptive management: management arrangements should include explicit cyclic phases designed to set, measure and achieve objectives in a complex and changing environment. Such arrangements allow management to learn from mistakes, and adapt to changing circumstances.

C6. Continuous improvement: management arrangements should explicitly seek to increase both efficiency and effectiveness over time.


Acknowledgement: the origins of this work rests on the "model framework" chapter of  Maher M, Nevill J, and Nichols P (2002) Improving the legislative basis for river management in Australia.  Land and Water Australia; Canberra. 

References: listed in marineOceanPrinciples.htm (see above).