Britain and the Sea 4 Conference

The RSA, London, 8 September 2015

Title: Ocean Governance: the Challenge for Change – What can we do?

Speaker: Sunil Murlidhar Shastri, University of Hull, Greenwich Forum, Rotary
(Inspired and Inspiring Speaker and Expert in Ocean and Environmental Governance)

As ever, all my public lectures are a tribute to the memory of my father who was a great orator and my mentor Elisabeth Mann Borgese, the philosopher behind my work in ocean and environmental governance, with a humanist socialist or socialist humanist bend.

Triptychs have emerged as a very popular means of expressing art. You might have heard that recently a triptych by Frances Bacon titled Three Studies of Lucien Freud sold for £100 million. Now, my triptychs are nowhere as expensive but I hope they are, nonetheless, of some value. I had intended to introduce a few triptychs at the beginning of my talk and I thank the organisers for introducing two within the title of this conference: I have seven of my own that put my talk in perspective as also to introduce my approach to this subject matter as enunciated in the title.

My premise is based on the philosophy best expressed in the Rolling Stones number written and sung by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards ‘You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you find, you can get what you need’ from the album ‘Let it Bleed’. Something the Mahatma too said about when he was talking about ‘need and greed’. When John Donne spoke of ‘no man is an island’ he was perhaps talking about the intransigent positions we often adopt forgetting how closely knit the issues are and that our needs are so universal. I call it the PIN diagram which looks like a volcanic atoll.

When we talk of change, academics often tend to think of the classic quote by Machiavelli who is best known for his more sinister quote but perhaps the kind of change Machiavelli had in mind was one that he would want to impose externally. I on the contrary, wish to talk about a change that must come from within, which is what the Mahatma talks of when he says ‘be the change you want to see in the world’. Michael Jackson wrote and sang ‘man in the mirror’ precisely expressing Gandhi in popular culture. So pick your hero but each one of us has got to be that agent of change.

We need good governance to bring about this change from within using exhortative principles. Simply put, governance is what governments do. Narendra Modi, the dynamic new Indian Prime Minister defines this best: Government means rules and governance means delivery. Government implies authority while governance implies accountability. Government is power while governance is empowerment. Where there is FILE, there is government. Where there is LIFE that is governance. We must fill the FILE with LIFE. Governments can be tangled in files but governance must make life better.

The issues, as indicated earlier, are more closely knit and consist of water and sanitation, fish and fishing, ships and harbours, minerals and energy, ecosystem services, leisure and tourism and defence and security. These are like motherhood and apple pie (as the Americans might say)! What we do mostly is tinkering at the symptoms rather than finding the root cause of the ailment, a bit like most medicine, which too is mired in the vicious cycle of symptoms and medication. What I wish to propose through my seven pillars is a more holistic method that attempts to take a structural approach.

My approach, which has evolved into my MasterClass in Ocean and Environmental Governance takes its name from T E Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom. The MasterClass consists of lectures, workshops and interactive discussions and lasts from 30 minutes to 30 hours and anything in between. Occasionally, I have done shorter versions and some even longer! I also speak on issues that I feel strongly about, eg. overseas development assistance and do whatever little I can to make a difference. Of late, I am attempting to venture into dispute resolution.

The challenges facing us are in all areas of the ‘planet ocean’. The areas within national jurisdictions are difficult to legislate internationally but easier to regulate and the vice versa is true for areas beyond national jurisdiction. Polar regions are outside the ambit of the law of the sea convention. The clear indication of success must be seen in the endeavours of the UNEP through their regional seas programme. Short, safe and sustainable sea routes are necessary for trade. The plight of the poorest countries of the world must be addressed. The real challenge is to recognise that there is only ‘one’ ocean.

Bringing about social changes is probably most difficult of all and it takes the longest to take roots and show results. With the passage of time, my audience gets younger and I always end my talks with an advice to them to live well, live long, work hard and make their dreams come true, make a difference and make the world a better place. I can’t possibly end before plugging my favourite theme which is to do with giving as I believe strongly that it is our moral duty to give especially as 1% of the world now owns 50% of the global resources and crucially we belong to and/or can influence that 1%.