Friday, June 8, 2012

The 'Blue Earth Summit' - Why Ocean protection must win at Rio+20

Identifying the Rio+20 Summit as a ‘once in a generation opportunity’, marine scientists and conservation organisations have called on Summit Leaders to produce meaningful, coordinated action to secure the future of the ocean and avoid a marine catastrophe.

Unlike 20 years ago, the ocean is one of the top priorities of this year’s Earth Summit, and the draft outcome document has some promising elements. However, ocean experts are calling for stronger commitments to ensure that the final declaration charts a course towards the ‘Future We Want’ for the ocean. Key points which they want to see added/retained in the Rio+20 outcome include:
  • The commitment to negotiate a new implementing agreement to UNCLOS to address the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction—the high seas. This should in particular deal with the establishment of Marine Protection Areas, including no-take marine reserves, which today cover less than 1% of the ocean.
  • Confirmation of the 2012 targets adopted at the 2002 Earth Summit in Johannesburg, to restore fish stocks to sustainable levels by 2015, and eliminate harmful subsidies that contribute to overfishing by 2020.
  • Strong commitment to tackle all illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing – including the designation of all high seas bottom fishing in contravention of international resolutions as illegal. Illegal fishing should be explicitly recognized as criminal activity, and dealt with accordingly.
  • Specific recognition of the growing threat of ocean acidification, ocean warming and sea level rise - and their direct cause, increased CO2 in the atmosphere – and the urgent need for concerted action to monitor and address them.
  • Commitment to strengthening institutions and strategies aimed at sustainable management of ocean resources at all scales from local to global.
Dr Susan Lieberman, Director of International Policy at PEW Environment Group said: “We cannot have a sustainable planet or sustainable development if we don’t have a healthy ocean. It is time to put much more emphasis and priority on the oceans, from the environmental perspective and the needs of a growing human population.

This is a UN conference of the highest level, meaning it goes directly to the UN General Assembly where all governments will be present. I don’t think global leaders—Heads of State and Government-- will want to attend and agree on a document that does nothing about two-thirds of our planet, i.e. the ocean.

We can’t assume we can keep removing resources from the ocean at unsustainable levels, and think that everything will just bounce back. It’s not going to bounce back unless action is taken to stem the tide. “

Professor Alex Rogers, International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) Scientific Director, and a Fellow of Somerville College, University of Oxford said: “The original Earth Summit in 1992, and its successor and associated meetings, set targets for sustainability of human activities and levels of protection for the oceans but these have never been attained. Reflecting on these empty promises, it can only be concluded that to date the oceans have had a low priority with the Rio Earth Summits. We hope that this time key international decision makers actually address the ocean in its own right and with the urgency our scientists say is warranted. “

Kristina M. Gjerde, Senior High Seas Advisor at the IUCN Global Marine and Polar Programme added: “Without the legal and institutional framework in place to ensure that high seas areas are effectively protected, the ocean - Earth’s life support system - will face continued degradation and unsustainable exploitation, jeopardizing the ocean’s essential ecosystem services for current and future generations. States at Rio+20 must agree to take urgent action to conserve and protect these areas, making up the majority of the ocean”.

Several ocean conservation NGOs and marine science bodies are collaborating in the oceansinc@rio channel to report on how the oceans fare at the Summit.

Photo courtesy of Wonderlane via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)