Pressure mounts for strong global ocean deal

Delegates meeting in New York to create a treaty to protect the world’s oceans have been warned time is fast running out to halt the growing threats before they become irreversible.

The United Nations has begun final negotiations for a Global Ocean Treaty this week with discussions set to run until the end of next week.

“I am hopeful that we can make real progress in these two weeks, with the aim of finalizing the agreement as soon as possible,” said Intergovernmental Conference president Rena Lee, having urged delegates to roll up their sleeves as they delve into the technical and legal details.

She added that negotiations are to address marine genetic resources, including questions on benefit-sharing, measures such as area-based management tools, environmental impact assessments, capacity-building and the transfer of marine technology.

However, environmental campaigners warned the outcome of the meeting will determine the fate of the oceans “for generations to come”.  While so far 49 countries have committed to deliver an ambitious Treaty in this year Greenpeace said those commitments must now become reality.

Speaking in New York, Laura Meller of Greenpeace’s Protect the Oceans campaign said: “These negotiations are a once in a generation opportunity to protect the blue part of our blue planet. The oceans sustain all life on Earth but for too long, we’ve neglected them. Delegates must finalise a strong Treaty this August. A weak Treaty, or any further delay, will maintain the broken status quo that has pushed the oceans into crisis.”

The organisation warned failure to deliver “a strong Global Ocean Treaty” in New York it will be essentially impossible to deliver 30×30 – at least 30% of the oceans protected by 2030. “Scientists say this is the absolute minimum required to give the oceans space to recover,” explained Meller.

Greenpeace has said as a minimum the treaty needs to:

  • Set as a primary objective the establishment of a global network of Marine Protected Areas.
  • Allow states, through a Conference of Parties (COP), to establish ocean sanctuaries, free from destructive activities like fishing and deep sea mining.
  • Allow the COP to make decisions by vote when a consensus is not possible.
  • Define Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to allow for the creation of fully and highly protected areas, which are most cost effective.
  • Allow the COP to decide whether activities such as fishing are allowed or prohibited in MPAs, without deferring to existing bodies.
  • Allow the COP to adopt interim or emergency measures to protect an area pending the establishment of an MPA.

Greenpeace added in the two decades since a Treaty was first discussed, more than a hundred marine species have become critically endangered. Industrial fishing pressure also now covers at least 55% of the global oceans and the climate crisis continues to damage the oceans’ ability to regulate our planet’s climate and temperature.

Awa Traore of Greenpeace Africa explained: “Governments have been discussing a Treaty for two decades. In that time, the oceans have lost so much and communities which rely on ocean resources are struggling.

“Here in West Africa, we’ve already seen fish stocks severely depleted by industrial fishing vessels, often from Europe, and this is already harming livelihoods and food security across the region. Any further delays would be a slap in the face to all who put faith in political leaders keeping their promises.”

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