On this page we provide some extracts from the IOC Medium-Term Strategy 2014-2021 (IOC/INF-1314)




The last decade demonstrated an increased understanding of the importance of the oceans as a source of life, and the realization that building regional know-how is essential for facilitating solving regional economic and social problems.

The IOC has a recognized and unique role in the UN system in relation to ocean science and the science base for ocean management. Its status as a body with functional autonomy within UNESCO has been carefully designed to provide an efficient platform for coordination, information and sharing of knowledge to contribute to sustainable and peaceful development.
When designing a medium-term strategy, it is crucially important to have a realistic appreciation of the possibilities and limitations within available budgets. Continued emphasis on coordination, exchange, initiation of activities and strengthening of key functions is required, while implementation to a large degree has to be done in collaboration with other organizations and entities. This is challenging and demanding and will require key inputs from Member States in collaboration with the IOC Secretariat.

In line with the IOC mission statement, a vision for the period 2014–2021 is formulated below based on perceived societal needs, emerging issues, and requirements for intergovernmental coordination. The Rio+20 Conference1 has provided very useful and timely context for the role of IOC as expressed in this strategy and its high-level objectives. The strategy will cover eight years to be consistent with the new UNESCO medium-term planning context which includes four-year programme cycles, and will be implemented in a manner consistent with the outcome of the “Future of IOC” deliberations.




The present statutes of the IOC, which came into force through adoption by the General Conference of UNESCO of 30 C/Resolution 22 of 16 November 1999, give the mission of the Commission as follows:


Article 2 – Purpose

The purpose of the Commission is to promote international cooperation and to coordinate programmes in research, services and capacity-building, in order to learn more about the nature and resources of the ocean and coastal areas and to apply that knowledge for the improvement of management, sustainable development, the protection of the marine environment, and the decision-making processes of its Member States.

The Commission will collaborate with international organizations concerned with the work of the Commission, and especially with those organizations of the United Nations system which are willing and prepared to contribute to the purpose and functions of the Commission and/or to seek advice and cooperation in the field of ocean and coastal area scientific research, related services and capacity-building.

The IOC, established in 1960 as a body with functional autonomy within UNESCO, is the only competent organization for marine science within the UN system. In addition, IOC is recognized through the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as the competent international organization in the fields of Marine Scientific Research (Part XIII) and Transfer of Marine Technology (Part XIV).

Consistent with the mission statement above, the IOC Medium-Term Strategy (MTS) 2014– 2021 is derived from a vision guiding the high-level objectives, programmes, and also actions and activities to be detailed in each subsequent biennial programme and budget. The strategy including its objectives will also fulfil IOC’s role as a main line of action (MLA) of UNESCO and contribute to the relevant UNESCO Thematic areas of expected results, as reflected in the UNESCO Medium-Term Strategy (37 C/42) (see figure below):





Strong scientific understanding and systematic observations of the changing world ocean climate and ecosystems shall underpin sustainable development and global governance for a healthy ocean, and global, regional and national management of risks and opportunities from the ocean.

More specifically, through international cooperation, IOC aspires to help its Member States to collectively achieve the following high-level objectives (HLOs), with particular attention to ensuring that all Member States have the capacity to meet them:

1. Healthy ocean ecosystems and sustained ecosystem services
2. Effective early warning systems and preparedness for tsunamis and other ocean-related
3. Increased resiliency to climate change and variability and enhanced safety, efficiency
and effectiveness of all ocean-based activities through scientifically-founded services,
adaptation and mitigation strategies
4. Enhanced knowledge of emerging ocean science issues.

Objective 1: Developing indicators of ocean status, and locating their tipping points(*) relative to marine ecosystem functioning, are important in the prediction or early detection of changes in ecosystem states, and in the evaluation of ecosystem resilience. Such knowledge and analytical tools will be very valuable in ocean management in general, and in placing management of single sectors into an ecosystem-based approach. The local and regional capacities, in terms of knowledge and tools, are also central for understanding how much an ecosystem can be stressed before it moves to other states from which recovery may be difficult. Current research on these topics is still piecemeal and needs coordination.

Objective 2: The ultimate objective of this HLO is to reduce risk, by encouraging communities to implement effective mitigating measures and become aware of the hazards they face. As coastal development continues at a rapid pace, society is becoming increasingly vulnerable to coastal flooding and other extreme sea-level events such as tsunamis. Ensuring that nations have access to the necessary information for coastal adaptation planning and safe and secure operations in the marine environment, is dependent on continued progress in the implementation of tsunami and ocean observing systems, improvements of models of the climate systems and ocean services and the development of local decision support tools.

Objective 3: Climate variability and change impact many elements on which human well- being depends, modifying patterns of rainfall and drought, sea-level and coastal erosion, and through temperature changes and ocean acidification, adding stress to ecosystems and impacting on the goods and services they provide. Thus, human development goals including food security, access to water resources, and preparedness and resilience to disasters are threatened. It is known that the ocean plays a key role in climate; IOC will therefore assist its Member States in developing capacity so as to enable them to develop and improve climate impact mitigation and adaptation strategies that are based on growing scientific knowledge.

Objective 4: A broad range of emerging environmental issues such as new contaminants, invasive species, marine renewable energies, the expansion and intensification of uses of marine resources, cumulative effects of human maritime activities, etc., jeopardize the conservation and sustainable use of marine spaces and ecosystems. It is important to improve our understanding of the opportunities and of the changes that are occurring within the Ocean, including the deep sea. The IOC’s role is to encourage scientific research, technical analyses and syntheses of scientific information needed to effectively address these emerging issues, inform policy, and advance solutions in a timely and transparent manner.


(*) A tipping point is understood as the point when a system changes from one stable state to another stable state. After a tipping point has been passed, a transition to a new state occurs. The tipping event may be irreversible.




When working towards the high-level objectives, IOC will focus on the broad areas of:
- strengthening scientific knowledge of the ocean and human impact on it,

- applying that knowledge for societal benefit, and

- building institutional capacities for sound management and governance



The strategy is organized in a conceptual framework of functions required to advance towards the IOC Vision:
A- Foster ocean research to strengthen knowledge of ocean and coastal processes and human impacts upon them [Ocean research]
B- Maintain, strengthen and integrate global ocean observing, data and information systems [Observing system / data management]
C- Develop early warning systems and preparedness to mitigate the risks of tsunamis and ocean-related hazards [Early warning and services]
D- Support assessment and information to improve the science-policy interface [Assessment and Information for policy]
E- Enhance ocean governance through a shared knowledge base and improved regional cooperation [Sustainable management and governance]
F- Develop the institutional capacity in all of the functions above, as a cross-cutting function [Capacity Development]

These functions correspond broadly to existing and on-going IOC programmes, components of programmes and mechanisms of cooperation, such as the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS), the Joint Technical Commission for Oceanography and Marine Meteorology (JCOMM) and the International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange (IODE), the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS), the Tsunami Intergovernmental Coordination Groups (ICGs), World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) and the Ocean Sciences programme, Integrated Coastal Area Management (ICAM), Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB), and Capacity Development (CD).

All of these functions contribute in varying measures to the high-level objectives of the IOC Vision, a relationship that can be described in a matrix showing the contribution of each function to the objectives:



Functions contributing to objective 1: In order to generate the knowledge relative to marine ecosystem functioning at the appropriate time scale and resolution, it is essential to build capacity and a globally managed and quality controlled knowledge base. The strategy will therefore include: coordination of essential research on ocean ecosystem health; extension of the Global Ocean Observing System to biology and ecosystem variables; a focus on strengthening the existing IODE global network of data (and information) centres including the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS), with an emphasis on data/information product/service development contributing to continuous monitoring of the identified indicators; support to the World Ocean Assessment and other related processes; and development of capacity to ensure strong science-policy interfaces in ocean management.

Functions contributing to objective 2: In terms of early warning systems and preparedness for tsunamis and ocean-related hazards, the strategy will focus on four areas: (i) support for the intergovernmental coordination of regionally harmonized tsunami warning systems; (ii) strengthening the work of regional Tsunami Information Centres that provide a clearinghouse for the development of educational and preparedness materials; (iii) targeted capacity development and technical assistance to enhance Member States own ability to develop preparedness and awareness in a multi-hazard framework; and (iv) support for enabling research and policy development that lead to improved tsunami and ocean-related warning systems and preparedness.

Functions contributing to objective 3: IOC will address the objective of increased resiliency to climate change and variability through scientifically-founded services, adaptation and mitigation strategies with an end-to-end effort that:
• begins with an ocean observing system sustainably monitoring the major global scales of climate (both physics and ocean carbon), building readiness and capacity in providing local information required in adaptation at the coast and to address the impact of climate change and ocean acidification on marine and coastal ecosystems, and linked to a data management system built on global standards and best practices,
• coordinates ocean climate research that improves understanding of the climate system and prediction of its variability and change and builds a knowledge base on linked ocean ecosystem changes and adaptation strategies,
• partners in the Global Framework for Climate Services and informs IOC and other assessment processes, and
• applies the scientific knowledge base to improve regional management and governance of climate adaptation and mitigation strategies, building capacity through demonstration projects and shared tools.
Functions contributing to objective 4: In order to identify and monitor emerging ocean science issues it will be essential to coordinate scientific research and call out these issues in a way that can be communicated to policy. Strengthened and expanded ocean observation and associated global data/information management systems will support the research in emerging ocean science issues. To properly address the numerous uses of the maritime domain and to use the results of the research effectively requires improved international ocean science collaboration.


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