Uniting and activating powerful voices for ocean conservation

Ocean Reflections

reflectionsA look back at what's been happening

Climate conference: the Ocean slowly but surely seeping into discussions

During the UNFCCC COP23 climate change conference in Bonn earlier this month, 15000 climate scientists issued a Warning to Humanity, calling for urgent action to fight climate change and to “practice a more environmentally sustainable alternative to business as usual”, or else our planet is doomed. Did the meeting respond accordingly? Well, “modest” accomplishments were made, including completing the rules of the Paris Agreement. But, a couple of papers released show that we are still way off course from our climate goals.

Untitled Design (85)UN Environment’s latest update of its Emissions Gap report confirmed – again – the huge gap between current pledges (that lead us on a track to more than 3C warming) and what is needed to limit warming to below 2C and avoid reaching climate tipping points. Check out Carbon Brief’s and the New York Times’summaries of what happened (and didn’t happen) at COP23.

There was also a concerted push to make the Ocean a priority in Bonn, with some delegates commenting that this was "the Ocean COP". The UNFCCC COP23 Presidency, Fiji, announced the launch of the Ocean Pathway Partnership, which aims to better incorporate the Ocean into climate negotiations by 2020. The specifics have not yet been formalized, but the initiative attracted significant high-level support. Together with Sweden, Fiji announced their intention to engage in round-tables and consultations in 2018 to further develop the pathway.

Outside of the negotiations, better consideration of the Ocean in the climate context was also driven by the Ocean Actions Day on the 11th November, as well as by efforts from Chile and Monaco, who have led the Because the Ocean Declaration initiative. These countries are trying to generate support for the Ocean to be better reflected  in countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – their national-level commitments to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.

paper looking at Ocean commitments in NDCs released the week before COP23 in Nature, showed that 70% of the NDC submissions analyzed included mention of the Ocean. This shows a growing acknowledgment by the international community of the importance of the Ocean in climate mitigation and adaptation efforts. However, the paper also revealed significant gaps in terms of the substance of these commitments. Countries can update their NDCs before 2020 to include additional aspects of climate action.

It is great that the Ocean is rising on the agenda of the UNFCCC, and finally the message is getting louder that we can’t live without a resilient Ocean, But there is still a long way to go.

Untitled Design (86)CCAMLR leaves East Antarctica MPA proposal out in the cold

Once again, the proposal put forward by Australia, France and the EU to establish a new system of marine protected areas off the coast of East Antarctica did not get the consensus needed at the annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). Following the successful designation of the Ross Sea Marine Reserve in late 2016, it was clear that securing another reserve this year (particularly given US politics and relations with Russia) was going to be tough.

While efforts to secure an East Antarctic marine reserve at this year’s CCAMLR meeting were unsuccessful, only 2 countries (Russia and China) blocked the consensus from going forward. Both have current or historical fishing interests in the region. To learn more about the ins and outs check out MPA news and The Conversation.

Australia and France, the 2 proponent countries, are set to take a strengthened proposal forward again next year. At the same time, Germany is developing a proposal for protecting the Weddell Sea, and Argentina and Chile are preparing a proposal to protect some of the Antarctic Peninsula.

It is clear that it takes time to align national incentives and generate international diplomatic action. Fingers crossed that results next year will be more positive. Greenpeace has just launched their campaignin the Weddell Sea, which will definitely help build momentum and public pressure for greater action in the region. Lewis Pugh, extreme swimmer, UNEP Patron of the Ocean and our very own Ocean Unite Network member, has also been getting his trusted diplomatic Speedos wet with another plunge into the freezing waters of the Antarctic in order to capture the attention of world leaders about the need to protect this special place – because Ordinary Won’t Change the World.

Untitled Design (87)Shark protections at international migratory species meeting, while ICCAT misses the boat

Good news for sharks at the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals meeting last month, where extra protection was given to 6 shark species: whale sharks, blue sharks, dusky sharks, angel sharks, common guitarfish and the white-spotted wedgefish. This cross-border conservation agreement has committed to further protect these sharks no matter whose waters they swim into.

This includes either prohibiting catch of any endangered species (Appendix I species) or cooperating to manage and protect those shark species most in need of conservation action (Appendix II species). New countries also signed up to the Sharks Memorandum of Understanding that ensures increased coordination for the protection of sharks.

Meanwhile, in Marrakech, the International Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT)lived up to its nickname from more than a decade ago – the “International Convention to Catch all Tunas” – by abandoning recovery plans for eastern and western stocks of Atlantic bluefin and failing to adopt precautionary measures to protect overfished Atlantic bigeye populations. A measure agreed on shortfin mako shark management includes so many exceptions that it essentially enables business-as-usual despite the status of the shark population becoming even more dire. How much longer will the international community allow this fisheries mismanagement to continue? The only glimmer of hope was the adoption of a harvest strategy for North Atlantic albacore tuna. This should be the way forward for every species ICCAT manages – letting science rather than politics determine how these fisheries are managed.