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The Ocean is the new black!
Is it just us, or is the Ocean slowly getting the attention it deserves? The marine plastic waste disaster and images of straws up turtles’ noses or a whale found dead with more than 80 shopping bags in its stomach, have certainly propelled the plight of the Ocean further into the public limelight. While on a political level, more and more Ocean-related initiatives are being launched by government, such as the recent flood of announcements on World Environment Day about efforts to tackle plastic pollution. The UN Development Programme also just launched a global action campaign to help #SaveOurOcean. And the recent #WorldOceansDay on 8th June saw another giant wave of Ocean noise – the web was awash with Ocean-related features and advice on what we can do to save the Ocean.
While the need to save our Ocean is resonating more with the public and politicians, we need to make sure this awareness is translated into greater, faster and more ambitious action! Read on to find out what has been happening in the Ocean world this past month.
SEEN FROM THE LIGHTHOUSE –
WHAT'S HAPPENING NOW?
Antarctica has been splashed all over the headlines over the last few weeks. Firstly, 2 new scientific studies published in Naturereported that Antarctic ice is melting faster than ever (tripling in the past 5 years) and warned that without urgent climate action sea levels will rise, with catastrophic effects on coastal cities around the world. (Check out Carbon Brief’s analysis and this article to learn more). Analysis from water and snow samples taken by Greenpeace’s recent Antarctic expedition showed that even the world’s most remote and “pristine” areas are not free from microplastic waste and hazardous chemicals. Overfishing is also threatening the region. According to scientists, if fishing continues at the current rate, and factoring in climate change, fisheries such as the hugely important krill fishery could collapse, with disastrous impacts on Antarctic marine ecosystems.
Climate change scenarios need to be incorporated into the decisions of CCAMLR – the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic marine Living Resources. New marine protected areas (MPAs) are a key part of the solution to ensuring Antarctica’s marine life weathers the impacts of climate change. This October, CCAMLR has the opportunity to agree to 2 very large MPAs in the Southern Ocean in East Antarctica and the Weddell Sea. Campaign effortsare cranking up to protect Antarctica, including the recent launch of #Antarctica2020 – a group of high-level influencers, including former Costa Rican President and Ocean Unite Founder, José María Figueres; extreme swimmer and “Speedo diplomat” Lewis Pugh; former Russian ice hockey star and Duma member, Slava Fetisov; former Director-General of the WTO, Pascal Lamy; former Australian Environment Minister Robert Hill; and Ocean explorer and hero Sylvia Earle. They will focus efforts on super-charging the level of Antarctic protection by 2020.
By the way, for any of you who are based in the UK and have always fancied a visit to Antarctica, now’s your chance to be transported to the world’s last wilderness in Greenpeace’s virtual reality 360°geo-dome. Visit a penguin colony, fly like an albatross and sail a Greenpeace ship from July 7th–11th, 10am–5pm daily, at Christ’s Pieces, Cambridge.
Friends of Ocean Action gearing up
Earlier this year the Friends of Ocean Action partnership was announced at the World Economic Forum. This partnership, which is an informal group of over 40 big names from international organizations, NGOs, businesses, and the technology, science and research worlds, is gearing up to try to fast-track solutions to ensuring a healthy Ocean. The group is being led by UN Special Envoy of the Ocean Peter Thomson and Isabella Lövin, Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden. Both made strong statements on World Oceans Day calling for the G7 to take the lead on Ocean action and the need to protect the Ocean to avoid a humanitarian disaster.
Ahead of the UN Ocean Conference in 2020, these Friends are developing high-level initiatives called “Ocean Action Tracks” that will address solutions for plastic pollution, illegal fishing, reducing shipping emissions and sparking action to support MPAs. Keep track of these Ocean Action tracks @FriendsofOcean.
Discussions to eliminate harmful fisheries subsidies continue
Behind the scenes, meetings are continuing at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to try to agree on how to eliminate harmful fisheries subsidies. Unfortunately, back in December 2017, governments couldn’t agree on the necessary measures and have now been tasked to resolve outstanding issues by the next WTO Ministerial Conference in 2019. The pressure is on, as governments are working towards an agreement that would achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 14.6, which aims to eliminate subsidies that lead to illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, overfishing and overcapacity by 2020.
Officials have just met at the Negotiating Group on Rules (the WTO body responsible for establishing rules for fisheries subsidies) in the 2nd of a series of meetings this year. Members have being working on a set of “working documents” that aim to lay the groundwork for the next stage of negotiations. This recent meeting focused on subsidies that contribute to fishing of overexploited fish stocks; a 3rd meeting will be held from 23–25th July focusing on subsidies for IUU fishing. A recent report highlighting how high seas fishing subsidies are uneconomical and prop up destructive fisheries should provide some good food for thought for negotiators. Click to read more about the state of negotiations.
Ireland votes to protect 50% of its waters as MPAs
On the 23rd May, the upper house of the Irish Parliament, the Seanad, voted in favor of a motion to designate 50% of Irish waters (800,000 km2) as a coherent network of MPAs. The motion, introduced by Green Party senator (pro-surfer & ex-Greenpeacer) Grace O’Sullivan, won cross party support, leaving only the minority government party to defend a regressive position. The motion is non-binding, but the relevant minister did commit to bring legislation – an “Ocean Bill” – before Parliament in the coming months to facilitate the designation of MPAs.
Currently just over 2% of Irish waters are protected. Combine that with overfishing and the decline of coastal communities and there is plenty of scope for Ireland to do much more to protect and restore its marine environment. Support the Minister and Irish government putting in place ambitious legislation, and let them feel the encouragement of the global community by tweeting “.@Damien_English @campaignforleo #OurOceanWealth relies on #ourocean health & the evidence shows this is best delivered with well-designed marine protected areas & #Ireland has such great potential … how can I help? http://bit.ly/2KAuDrn”
OCEAN SIGNALS– SHORT OCEAN ANNOUNCEMENTS
WAVES ON THE HORIZON –
WHAT'S COMING UP?
Deep-sea mining code negotiations continue
Talks to develop a new code for commercial deep-sea mining will continue from 16–27th July at the International Seabed Authority(ISA) meeting in Kingston, Jamaica. The meeting will discuss the latest draft regulations for extracting precious mineral resources from the seabed as well as a revised Strategic Plan that outlines ISA priorities for 2019 to 2023. The latest regulations are an improvement on earlier versions, but environmental provisions need to be further strengthened, such as properly including environmental impact assessments, regional environmental management plans and protected areas. Transparency continues to be a key issue, especially for civil society groups such as the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, which calls for closed doors to be opened and for greater participation and input by observers in all of the ISA’s meetings and consultations.
In the meantime, things are moving ahead on seabed mining, with reports of China developing underwater drilling and mining platforms that could be launched after 2020 to take samples on the bottom of the South China Sea; it also plans to probe the Mariana Trench. The Belgian company Global Seas Mineral Resources (GSR) is planning to carry out tests of its seabed mining equipment in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone in 2019.
A number of scientists say biodiversity loss from deep-sea mining will be unavoidable and deep-sea mining could be as damaging as mining on land. Tech company Apple has already committed to a no-mining future, including deep-sea mining. Given the predicted damage, should deep-sea mining even be allowed? Wouldn’t it be wiser to focus on designing products that last or can easily be repaired, as well as recycling the valuable materials contained in over 90% of the world’s electronic waste, rather than developing expensive and potentially very damaging technologies to exploit new resources? These issues and many more will be grappled with at the upcoming ISA meeting.
High seas – let the negotiations begin!
Just a heads up that in September (4–17th) negotiations will formally start in New York on developing a new UN treaty to safeguard high seas marine life. Back in April, governments met to sort out how the process will be run, and now it’s time for governments to write the rulebook. There’s a lot riding on this agreement – it has even been called the Paris Agreement for the Ocean – as this is a chance for governments to put in place strong measures to ensure that an enormous two-thirds of the Ocean is properly managed and protected.
In preparation for the September meeting, a workshop called “The High seas: what’s at stake?” was organized in Paris to discuss why we must act now, what obstacles must be removed, and what we can expect from negotiations in New York. It was also an opportunity for France to show its leadership on the issue. Strong leadership by governments is essential if we are not to miss the boat on ensuring a progressive and conservation-focused agreement. A more detailed summary of the workshop discussion can be found here.
Follow @HighSeasAllianc and check out these talking points and surprising stats to learn more on why the high seas need protection.
A LOOK BACK AT WHAT'S BEEN HAPPENING
G7, G6, G5: Ocean commitments
The recent G7 meeting was certainly memorable this year, if only as a master class on how to lose friends and infuriate people. But high-level insults aside, it did actually result in a strong commitment by 6 of its members and the EU (no prizes for guessing which government opted out) on achieving the Paris Agreement targets. While Trump and trade took the media spotlight, all governments endorsed a pretty robust Charlevoix Blueprint for Healthy Oceans, Seas and Resilient Coastal Communities, which included a number of commitments related to fighting IUU fishing; promoting sustainable fisheries; planning for Ocean risk and increasing coastal resilience; establishing marine protected areas; and reducing marine pollution. The US reserved any climate-related language in the text.
5 of the G7 nations (not Japan and the US) signed the Ocean Plastic Charter, which includes the commitment to use 100% reusable, recyclable or recoverable plastics by 2030; 50% recycled content in plastic products by 2030; 55% recycling and reuse of all plastic packaging by 2030; and 100% recovery of all plastics by 2040. These commitments are in line with the recent European Commission’s proposed rules targeting single-use plastics in order to reduce marine litter, as well as UN Environment’s initiative to beat plastics pollution, although some groups have criticized its Charter for not having enough focus on targets that reduce plastic production in the first place.
A follow-up meeting of Ocean, Environment and Energy ministers to action this Blueprint is scheduled for later in the year – most probably in October – although final dates have yet to be confirmed.
Trump’s policies washing away climate and Ocean conservation measures
While the US didn’t manage to torpedo the G7 Ocean statement, the Trump Administration is merrily undermining its own national policies on conservation and the climate. On the 19th June, during National Ocean Month, President Trump released a new executive order detailing a revised US Oceans policy that revokes the 2010 Oceans policy issued by then-President Barack Obama and replaces it with a very different template for how the government should manage its Ocean. Yes – you guessed it – the new policy chooses plunder over protection. This move has been denounced strongly by NGOs and former senior officials from the Obama administration.
One of the clearest examples of this departure in policy has been the Administration’s plans to open up US waters to oil drilling, including in the Arctic, despite strong opposition from the public and NGOs such as NRDC and the Wilderness Society. If you are not depressed enough already, click for more about the Good, the Bad and the Ugly US’s Ocean Politics.