Interlinked crises of freshwater depletion, food insecurity, pollution loading and ecosystem decline stand in the way of poverty reduction and sustainable development. (1) These crises are exacerbated by changes in climatic regimes and associated disasters from floods, droughts and storms that further marginalize the world's 2.7 billion people living in poverty. The planet's oceans and their coastal interfaces are especially at risk, with livelihoods, food security, international trade and relations among sovereign nations at stake. The increased vulnerability of burgeoning coastal urban areas and the expanding footprint of coastal resource depletion are becoming increasingly significant liabilities. It is precisely at the coastal level that unsustainable development is creating the greatest risk for stability, security and economic progress.
Traditional sector-by-sector economic development strategies at the coasts of both developed and developing nations are responsible for this depletion, degradation and other serious risks to sustainability. These strategies fail to recognize the importance of maintaining natural ecosystems for their value as life and economic support systems for our societies, and the need to adapt to change is often ignored until disaster strikes. Perhaps the North can cope with $20-30 billion disasters like Hurricane Andrew, but economies of developing nations cannot. (2) When problems arise, specialists often handle them thematically rather than in an integrated fashion that some might term "ecosystem-based approaches." (3) Even the prevailing literature on the topic discusses ocean-related issues in a thematic manner. The problem is not one of "stateless space," but rather one of unsustainable human use of coastal space--including seas space and the basins draining to fragile coastal areas that may now be exceeding their capacity to support communities.
This paper argues that traditional single-sector development activities and well-meaning actions under weak global instruments are insufficient to meet poverty reduction goals, sustainable development targets or stability and security objectives. Coupled with the fact that water, pollution and fish do not respect national boundaries, management of already complex coastal and marine systems is often made even more complicated by their transboundary nature and a lack of scientific understanding of the systems. (4) While governance reforms are clearly needed in both the South and the North to address these realities, they are slow in coming. Natural buffer zones continue to be developed for urban use, and storm-devastated areas continue to be rebuilt despite the increased cost, risk and further coastal resource degradation.
When the poor and marginalized are ignored and their livelihoods lost, social disruption and instability lie ahead. In this paper, the connections between the land sea interface and poverty crises are examined in relation to global driving forces that negatively impact economies, deplete coastal resources and pose risks for unrest. Single-purpose international conventions adopted to address some of these concerns do so in fragmented, sectoral ways; their effectiveness remains to be seen. (5) National responses to these instruments have been weak, with progress negated by decentralization policies that dump responsibilities on inadequately prepared local institutions.
Broad global framework cannot be the sole driver of action. Such frameworks are weak unless complemented by bottom-up, multistate regional collective action and joint institutional management arrangements that are capable of more effective stakeholder engagement and action on the ground. When these actions are focused on a defined area of land and sea, they become more tangible for stakeholders and reveal negative interactions and externalities among sectoral activities that might otherwise remain hidden. With the prospective benefits of enhanced regional integration and the building of trust and confidence among neighboring states, these bottom-up, multistate initiatives have the potential to increase regional stability by initiating cooperation on common issues like the coastal environment. …