Anthropogenic and climate-related stressors challenge the health of nearly every part of the global oceans. They affect the capacity of oceans to regulate global weather and climate, as well as ocean productivity and food services, and result in the loss or degradation of marine habitats and biodiversity. Moreover, they have a negative impact on maritime economic sectors and on the social welfare of dependent coastal populations. In order to overcome the deficiencies of traditional single-sector management, in the recent decades several scientific approaches emerged, based on the view of marine systems as Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS), i.e. systems where components interact in non-linear, path dependent ways, with lock-in and feedback loop mechanisms, and unpredictable effects also across scales. These approaches have been introduced into the texts of several international agreements related to marine CAS, and related management practices, with contrasting results in relation to effectiveness and integration of governance.
This thesis evaluates for the first time the current international and European legal frameworks from the perspective of marine CAS. To accomplish this objective, four research objectives are formulated: (1) Develop a framework for marine CAS assessment and management; (2) Evaluate the entire European Union (EU) legal framework against the framework developed; (3) Evaluate the international legal framework for the assessment and management of the global oceans against the framework developed; and (4) Evaluate the implementation of the EU and global legal frameworks into practice.
Chapter 2 develops a framework for marine CAS, based on the combination of two promising theoretical approaches: Adaptive Management (AM) and Transition Management (TM). The framework is based on the idea that AM and TM have the potential to overcome each other’s limitations, which are related to the insufficient attention to micro-level socio-economic components, and to the limited incorporation of environmental aspects into socio-technical assessments, respectively. More into detail, the proposed framework is articulated into three components. First, the two sets of marine social-ecological systems and connected socio-technical systems (e.g. fisheries, maritime transportation, coastal tourism and energy) must be clearly identified, and the complex interactions and influences between socio-economic patterns of production and consumption, and ecological components must be assessed. Second, the achievement of ecological resilience of a marine social-ecological system should be performed in coordination with transitions of unsustainable connected socio-technical systems. This implies that sustainability should be evaluated in relation to the pressures socio-technical systems generate on the ecological resilience of connected social-ecological systems, and related impacts. Third, the implementation of the two approaches should be articulated into iterative, learning- and science-based policy cycles, with mechanisms to foster coordination between the policy cycles of social-ecological and socio-technical systems. The benefits of this framework are threefold. First, the assessment of the two sets of social-ecological and socio-technical systems, taken together, allows to overcome current AM limitations and include micro-level socio-economic components into the assessment of ecological resilience. Second, by linking AM managers with established transition arenas, it is possible to overcome TM limitations and streamline the consideration of ecological aspects into the TM process. Third, by linking AM and TM policy cycles, it is possible to reduce the current legal and policy fragmentation.
Chapters 3 and 4 apply the framework proposed in Chapter 2 to evaluate the EU and global legal frameworks for the assessment and management of marine CAS. Chapter 3 presents the first comprehensive review ever realised of the entire EU legal framework, composed of more than 12,000 EU legal acts, from the perspective of marine CAS assessment and management. It concludes that the EU legislation does not provide a fully coherent framework for the assessment and management of EU marine CAS. Although the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD; 2008/56/EC) is a major step towards this purpose, the present research highlights three major limitations: (1) the limited capacity of the MSFD to support the coordination between Member States sharing the same marine region or sub-region; (2) the insufficient characterisation of marine ecological resilience, in particular in relation to socio-economic elements, ecosystem services, human benefits and cross-scale interactions; and (3) the limited capacity of the MSFD to tackle the fragmentation of the EU legal framework and integrate ecological resilience into the objectives of sector-based laws and policies.
Chapter 4 reviews 500 multilateral agreements, evaluated for the first time from the perspective of marine CAS. It shows that there is no international agreement aiming at the ecological resilience of the global oceans social-ecological system. Instead, the international legal framework is fragmented along two dimensions. On the one side, global agreements focus on specific objectives for determined socio-economic activities, ecological features or anthropogenic pressures. On the other side, regional agreements are in place for 18 ocean regions of the world, with a varying level of inclusion of elements of marine CAS assessment and management. The need is highlighted for a reformed global ocean governance framework, which should be based on a bio-geographical approach to the ecological resilience of the global oceans, and build on iteration, learning, and science-based advice to policy and management.
Chapter 5 evaluates the implementation of the EU and global legal frameworks into the practice of assessment and management of a case-study area, the Adriatic Sea. It shows the importance of the MSFD as the first policy trying to deliver a CAS approach to marine assessment and management. However, the case-study investigation confirms the three limitations of the MSFD, laying in: 1) an insufficient geographical approach, where implementation is driven at national level and the requirement of cross-border cooperation is weak; 2) the vagueness of legal requirements, and the limited capacity to include socio-economic aspects into the required assessment; and 3) an insufficient capacity to coordinate with other laws, policies and programmes at various levels of governance. Based on the identified limitations, suggestions are advanced on how to strengthen the implementation of the MSFD, both at Adriatic and EU level. These suggestions are further advanced in Chapter 6, which includes detailed proposals on how to foster integrated large-scale marine monitoring in the EU, in order to contribute to the implementation of the MSFD in an efficient and effective way, also in relation to costs.
Chapter 7 synthesizes the major findings of this thesis and evaluates the capacity of the framework to deliver a CAS approach to marine systems. It concludes that AM and TM, although holding different visions on sustainability and referring to different principles, have the potential to be put in synergy at the practical level. Further scientific research and management practices should focus on the need for AM and TM to overcome the relative isolation and foster synergies across sector-based management, in order to integrate environmental considerations into economic sectors. Suggestions are advanced to improve legal frameworks and policy practices at the global and EU level. They focus on the need: (i) to fill the gaps in the geographical scope of legal texts and to foster international cooperation at the right social-ecological scale; (ii) to increase guidance in translating complex scientific requirements into clear management objectives, and improve related data collection and sharing; and (iii) to reduce current legal and policy fragmentation through targeted, ecological resilience-based marine environmental impact assessments and maritime spatial planning. Lines for further scientific research are suggested, focusing on: (i) improving the evidence-base through additional case-studies; (ii) analysing legal frameworks and governance regimes in place for other marine social-ecological systems, like e.g. the United States of America, Canada, Australia and China; (iii) improving existing tools, or creating new ones for marine ecological resilience assessment; and (iv) developing innovative instruments and mechanisms to strengthen global oceans governance.