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February 2012 Issue

US Halts Funding to the IOC:
To What Potential Effect on Our Industry?

By Andrew M. Clark

Last October, against the advice of the U.S., Israel and a dozen other member states, the United Nations Education Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted to admit Palestine as a full member state, triggering a decades-old U.S. law that required cancellation of any and all funding from the U.S. to UNESCO. The impact will be felt soon, as the United States pays 22 percent of the organization's yearly budget.

As Ambassador David Killion, U.S. Permanent Representative to UNESCO noted, this particular U.N. organization was born in the aftermath of the Holocaust and Second World War, "with a mission to establish new foundations for the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind." According to a recent New York Times editorial, UNESCO is also good for American business. Through the organization, American companies such as Cisco, Intel and Microsoft have been introduced to expanding third-world markets hungry for high-tech products and that facilitation by UNESCO has helped to create or retain thousands of American jobs.

How will this U.N. budget cut impact our industry? Most if not all businesses large or small in the ocean industry are engaged in international activities. Further, many oceanic enterprises, due either to their large scale or their far-ranging geographic reach, cannot be accomplished without the involvement of multiple nations' governments. This can run the gamut from simply obtaining permits to direct participation by foreign governments. By definition, these global activities then become intergovernmental in nature.

The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), established to foster the advancement of ocean science, is one of several organizations within the U.N. created to help facilitate such global undertakings. Unlike other independent U.N. organizations, such as the Intergovernmental Maritime Organization and the World Meteorological Organization, the IOC is unique in that it is organized under UNESCO.

Unfortunately for the ocean industry, this means that the important work carried out by the IOC also stands to suffer from cutting off U.S. support. Sea Technology readers may recall that in 1984, under different circumstances, the U.S. voluntarily withdrew altogether from UNESCO, later rejoining in 2002. Ironically, the U.S. sat out those years on the sidelines as a nonvoting observer to UNESCO along with the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Vatican. The difference then was that, while suspending its membership and dues to UNESCO, the U.S. remained a full member of the IOC and continued to provide voluntary contributions directly to the IOC.

This time around, however, as the result of U.S. legislation passed in 1990 and 1994, the admission of Palestine prohibits the federal government from making any and all contributions to UNESCO and its subsidiaries, including the IOC.

Despite these periodic pressures on UNESCO, the IOC has, for the past 50 years, managed to remain apolitical in its pursuit of global cooperation to both advance ocean science. The IOC has championed development of intergovernmental cooperation that has increased the amount of information available to the world's ocean community, while reducing the cost of conducting global science.

By banning not only the payment of its UNESCO dues but also any additional voluntary contributions to the IOC, vital support by federal agencies including NOAA, the National Science Foundation and the Department of State must also cease. Through this additional multiagency support, the U.S. has been the main contributor for the development of tsunami warning systems, drifting and moored buoys, subsurface floats, a global network of ocean carbon observations and other major global initiatives. The U.S. has helped fund international ocean research projects through the IOC, such as Argo, the Global Sea Level Observing System and the International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange Program. These activities are critical to the greater understanding of our planet while some also portend to help protect the lives and property of millions of people.

Obviously, a substantial portion of the tools, techniques, technologies and expertise required to conduct such global research and development is provided by the U.S. ocean industry, and any disruption of these programs could potentially impact their financial forecasts and bottom line. To further put this into perspective, at the UNESCO level, withholding U.S. and Israeli funding alone represents a budget deficit of $72 million for 2011 and a projected budget shortfall for 2012 to 2013 of $146 million, according to the IOC. More critical to the ocean initiatives cited, this translates into a 77 percent cut to resources for IOC activities.

While it may be possible in the short term to reroute some of the previously committed voluntary contributions via other U.N. offices (e.g., the World Meteorological Organization), if the situation is prolonged, the IOC risks losing its leadership role and with it, an important intergovernmental forum for representation of the U.S. ocean industry.

In response, IOC Executive Secretary Wendy Watson-Wright has established a multidonor emergency fund open to contributions from public institutions, foundations, companies or individuals who wish to support these critical IOC initiatives. It is possible that the budget cutoff could be reversed. Congress could pass a waiver, allowing the president to judge whether a cutoff of funds is now in the interests of the United States.

For more information about the multidonor Emergency Fund or the IOC in general, visit www.ioc-unesco.org.
Dr. Andrew M. Clark, Marine Technology Society fellow and past president, serves on the U.S. Committee for the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission. Clark founded CSnet International Inc. and Harris/MCS (now CapRock) and was appointed industry liaison for the U.S. Office for Integrated and Sustained Ocean Observations in Washington, D.C. He is also on the board of trustees of Florida Institute of Technology.


2013:  JAN | FEB | MARCH | APRIL | MAY | JUNE | JULY | AUG | SEPT | OCT | NOV | DEC
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