There was a great deal of activity at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in September 2002. Amongst it all, we found ourselves competing with, not only the installation of a live mangrove from Eritrea, which took much longer than planned, but also the visit by M S Swaminathan, an Eritrean singer singing, together with numerous television crews. Then there were the Zulu dancers and an African nation drumfest competing for sound and space on the main stage.
Finally, though, throughout the seeming mayhem, the OneCoast Type II initiative was successfully launched at the World Summit on Sustainable Development.
So what is the OneCoast initiative, what is a Type II initiative and why were we in Johannesburg in the first place?
OneCoast is a concept that brings systems thinking, cybernetics, knowledge management and the interdisciplinary nature of those working in, on and around the global coastline together in one place as an integrated whole. We think of it as an ecosystem formed through coastal knowledge.
By establishing an integrated framework of leading computer-based internet technologies, a database of knowledge and experience with an interactive network of users, OneCoast will provide the infrastructure in which ideas, information and the sharing of knowledge will facilitate capacity building and foster the sustainable development of the worlds coasts.
A key outcome for OneCoast is the establishment and ongoing support of sustainable communities of users. The context of a OneCoast community of users applies equally to collectives of interested individuals interacting through actual, physical local communities as it does to communities where related groups of individuals and organizations involved in common goals interact online through OneCoast.
The initiative embraces the multidisciplinary practice of coastal management at all levels, that is, from the global, through the national, through sub-national levels and to the local community.
OneCoast plans to provide the means whereby it is easy for coastal managers to share daily experiences, to recount stories or to reach out for support when they need it, wherever they are. It will bring together the tacit knowledge of the practitioners and the explicit expertise of the profession. This is about people, their relationships with other people and the sharing of knowledge. The OneCoast initiative will enable the creation of new knowledge, through experience, to effect positive change in coastal programmes of global significance.
Until May 2002, OneCoast was just a good idea. An idea that we felt was strongly needed but one that was going to be hard to put into action. Then the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) at UNESCO agreed that this was an idea that could work and recommended OneCoast as a Type II initiative for launch at the World Summit.
The proposed strategy was excellent and we hoped others would soon come aboard. Fantastic we thought, no problem. The trouble was we didnt know at the time what a Type II initiative was and what a big deal they were. A little ignorance in our case being a good thing.
A Type II initiative, we quickly learnt, was to be a major new tool for putting words into action, to use the United Nations own phrase. Type IIs were to be flexible implementation mechanisms developed by governments, intergovernmental organizations, the private sector and non-governmental organizations. Type IIs were to contrast with the main negotiated text of the Summit, called the Type I text, by being much more action oriented. In addition, the ability for Type IIs to bring together diverse interest groups, from all walks of life, would provide the potential to harness their respective energies.
Some commentators saw the Type II mechanism as a cop-out by the United Nations, letting it off the hook of producing a meaningful Type I text. Others, including us, thought Type IIs provided a powerful way to actually put together a coalition of interested groups.
Thanks to the invitation from the IOC then, we ended up in Johannesburg in September. The IOC had agreed to co-fund a pavilion within the WaterDome organized by the Hilltops to Oceans, H2O, initiative of the UNEP Global Programme of Action. Inside the WaterDome was a series of smaller pavilions sponsored by organizations, from intergovernmental to local, all with a water-related focus. The atmosphere was fantastic. The sound of running water from the installed waterfall, the continual sound of music coming from the main stage or one of the pavilions, and the intermittent, ever-changing sounds from roving bands of musicians.
So, standing at the small stage at the H20 Pavilion at 6:15 in the evening of Saturday 31st August 2002, OneCoast was launched before an audience of around fifty people, attracted by the OneCoast concept and perhaps also by the food and drink supplied by joint OneCoast inaugural partner Sun Microsystems.
You may reasonably wonder if the reality of the Type II initiatives can live up to their promise. Only time will tell. However, the potential is alive and looks good indeed.
In six days of constant interaction, OneCoast forged links with numerous programmes, projects, initiatives and individuals. Now it is positioned to move rapidly from its conceptual position of but a few months ago to an information and knowledge infrastructure supporting significant global efforts in matters coastal. This position would not have been achieved if it had not been for the foresight and encouragement of those who thought it a good idea to launch the initiative within the context of the World Summit on Sustainable Development.