The game is on for the oceans this summer. So far the outlook for the high seas is not very good, for a number of reasons:
The first strike was the shocking failure of governments to protect fragile marine areas in Antarctica due to Russia’s blunt opposition to the creation of the world’s largest ocean sanctuaries.
Then, at the annual meeting of the International Seabed Authority (ISA), there was the sign-off on new licenses for deep seabed mining exploration for China and Japan.
This week, in New York, countries are meeting at the UN headquarters to negotiate next steps on high seas protection. Will governments’ lack of action be strike three for the oceans? Let’s hope not, because protecting the oceans is a game the planet (and all of us that live on it) cannot afford to lose.
The high seas are ocean areas that belong to all of us – they are part of the global commons and cover almost half of the planet. Protecting these vast areas is not just about ocean sanctuaries being nice to have; it will positively affect the livelihoods of communities around the world struggling with dwindling catches; it will stop the loss of species that leave the oceans empty of life; it will save underwater habitats, like sea mountains and cold water coral reefs, that have taken thousands of years to develop from being wiped out for short-term profit; and it will enable ocean life to become more resilient to the impacts of climate change.
However, despite the huge significance of our oceans, more than 99% of the high seas are still unprotected due to a lack of political will and necessary rules and regulations.
During the Rio+20 Summit on Sustainable Development in 2012, Russia (once again) and the United States led a small group of countries that stopped the launch of a new global agreement that would make it possible to create ocean sanctuaries on the high seas. The agreement included environmental impact assessments so that human activities do not harm the oceans. It was decided, instead, that the United Nations would make a decision on this crucial matter by the end of 2014.
This week will be the first time governments meet at the UN to negotiate a next step concerning high seas protection. They have repeatedly said that the current way we treat the oceans must change, so it is time they stop the informal small talk and give the green light for a new agreement to protect marine life and the millions of people that depend on the oceans for their daily survival.
A large number of countries, such as France and other European States, Brazil and South Africa have called for this option – this week we expect them and other ocean champions to speak up and create a wave of change for our oceans.
Help us push a #waveofchange: join us at @Greenpeace and make your voice be heard for the high seas!
Sofia Tsenikli is Senior Oceans Policy Advisor at Greenpeace International.