Addressing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and climate agreements calls for engagement and collaboration between many actors with the capabilities to co-design, develop, test, and implement new solutions and innovations. This is particularly true for SDG 14 as seas and oceans are used by a broad variety of countries, stakeholders, and cultures, especially in the highly heterogenous Caribbean region. The region is considered one of the most vulnerable in the world to the impacts of climate change, with coastal communities and low-lying areas being particularly exposed to the combined threats of sea level rise, biodiversity loss and extreme weather events.

Healthy oceans are fundamental to achieve SDGs in the region. Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) are key to understand the mechanisms that ensure the oceans’ health. STI are also crucial to increase climate resilience. However, investment in research and development as a share of GDP in 2014 and 2018 was respectively 0.08% and 0.09% in the Caribbean region and 0.73% and 0.66% in Latin America, against a global trend of 1.73% (in 2014) and 1.79% (in 2018)¹. Moreover, data shows another negative feature: a low level of collaboration among Caricom scientists and a dominance of researchers from outside the region, in particular from the USA. Only around 2% of publications by scientists from the region are co-authored by researchers from other Caricom countries, against 40% of publication co-signed by US based researchers². There is need to foster research in marine sciences within the region and enhance the integration of its knowledge production at a global scale as well as strengthen the science-policy-society interface.

Global agreements are promoting the science policy interface in oceans. The objective of the recent UN Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdictions (BNJ)³ adopted on the 19th of June this year, is to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in high seas, areas beyond national jurisdictions, which cover over two-thirds of the oceans. The agreement will be decisive to protect 30% of marine ecosystems by 2030 allowing for the creation of wider marine protected areas and the promotion of the use of area-based management tools for sustainable use of oceans. This shall be enhanced through ocean governance cooperation and capacity building for the use of marine technology and management tools to assist member states in particular developing states, to responsibly utilise and benefit from marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, including environmental impacts assessment considerations in decision-making.

¹ UNESCO Institute for Statistics, August 2020
² Ibidem
³ The so-called “high seas treaty” offers an updated framework to The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea that came into force in 1994. More details here

Cooperation between the EU and CELAC⁴ is among the strategic priorities of the EU foreign policy, with the LAC region being a key partner for the EU. This political priority is also reflected in the ‘Global Approach to Research and Innovation’ , adopted in May 2021. This bi-regional R&I dialogue is developed in the framework of the EU-CELAC Joint Initiative on Research and Innovation (JIRI). In the most recent meeting (30 October 2020) both regions recalled that the Atlantic Ocean requires enhanced joint research efforts on both sides of the ocean from the Arctic to Antarctica and the necessity for a systemic approach to the challenges and opportunities offered by the Atlantic Ocean, including its subsets such as the Caribbean, as well as the need to move closer to the All-Atlantic Ocean Research and Innovation Alliance, where the active involvement of CELAC countries could bring further benefits, through enhanced cooperation of countries connected to the Atlantic Ocean.

More recently, in the Declaration of the EU-CELAC Summit 2023 the following actions and commitments are acknowledged by member parties:

  • 20. We encourage actions and commitments for the protection, conservation, restoration and sustainable use of the oceans in view of the 2024 ‘Our Ocean Conference’ in Greece, and the third UN Ocean Conference hosted by Costa Rica and France in Nice in June 2025, preceded by a high-level event on Ocean Action in Costa Rica in June 2024.
  • 21. We recognize that the issue of sargassum significantly impacts the economies, marine flora, fauna, and fishing activities of the entire Greater Caribbean region. We understand the urgent need to present this situation to the United Nations General Assembly, seeking its declaration as a regional emergency.

Although the research institutions of the Caribbean region have long lasting co-operation with their colleagues of EU Member States, they have low involvement in the RTD Horizon Europe 2020 research programme, in particular in marine and ocean research. Cooperation with individual or regional entities offers an opportunity for more intensive participation.

The European Commission through the European Union Delegation (EUD) to the Eastern Caribbean countries, OECDS and CARICOM/CARIFORUM based in Barbados in close cooperation with its Directorates-General (DG) for Research and Innovation (RTD), International Partnerships (INTPA) and Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (MARE), issued a contract to support the EU-Caribbean cooperation on marine research under the Horizon Europe (HE) programme. The main objective of this action is to promote and support a long lasting sustainable multi-stakeholder bi-regional dialogue on marine research, foster interregional (EU-Caribbean) and intraregional cooperation in leading to the identification and prioritisation of common research areas of mutual interest and benefit, and thus, stimulating and supporting the participation of the Caribbean research stakeholders in Horizon Europe research programme and other EU related programmes for marine cooperation.

The action includes study visits to the region, on-line interviews and a survey to main stakeholders (link available soon here) and a final international workshop. These activities are of clear relevance for the above objectives and regional aspirations.

⁴ Community of Latin American and Caribbean States

This hybrid workshop will gather multiple stakeholders including regional organisations, research funding and performing organisations, private foundations, educational and research actors, policymakers, national and international donors, NGOs, as well as social entrepreneurs and grassroot organisations to discuss on the potentialities, needs and gaps in marine research and cooperation for the Caribbean region and small Island Developing States (SIDS) in particular.

The first day of the workshop aims at connecting the Caribbean marine community to promote intra- and interregional cooperation towards a broader participation in the international research and capacity building cooperation mechanisms. The morning session will consist of the review of knowledge gaps required to advise policy in addressing the regional marine challenges. They shall be translated into research thematical priorities, i.e.: sustainable fisheries and aquaculture; marine ecosystems and biodiversity; climate change, community resilience; oceans observation and modelling; marine pollution (including plastics); circular, sustainable and inclusive ocean economies; ocean literacy and broaden engagement in ocean sciences and ocean sustainability- including raising awareness through education, culture, arts and education.

The second day will present the various initiatives and mechanism to support research on the main topics for research and capacity building needs as identified by the regional partners.

The results of this workshop will feed into the upcoming EU-CELAC Joint Initiative on Research and Innovation agenda.