Regional ocean governance: Polycentric arrangements and their role in global ocean governance
The importance of regional and subregional levels in global ocean governance is being increasingly recognised. Regional approaches are prominent in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. The UN Environment Regional Seas Programme bodies focusing on pollution and biodiversity and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) regional fisheries bodies focusing on fisheries are the best known regional arrangements. However, there are other regional and subregional multilateral agreements that should be considered in building comprehensive regional ocean governance; in particular ‘indigenous’ agreements developed by the countries of the regions. This study examined 165 regional arrangements related to ecosystem-based management of oceans and allocated them into 20 regional clusters covering most of the world's oceans. The study explores the characteristics of these regional clusters which exhibit characteristics of polycentric systems. The suite of 20 regional clusters as well as global level oceans arrangements raises the question of whether there is an overall governance structure that should be pursued to strengthen ocean governance as envisaged in the Sustainable Development Goals and provide a holistic context for improving regional ocean governance. This study poses the question as to whether polycentric regional clusters can provide the ‘missing link’ for achieving global ocean governance objectives and whether these clusters are more than just the sum of their arrangements.