Some political meetings are more exciting than others and happy endings are very rare. However, I do have some good news to report from the windowless conference rooms of the United Nations building in New York. I am here representing Greenpeace in a meeting that we call the BBNJ: to avoid having to use its official 22 word title (the informal- working- group- to- study- issues- relating-to-the-conservation-and-sustainable-use-of-marine-biological-diversity-beyond-areas-of-national-jurisdiction), where after days of intense negotiations, governments finally decided to make the first important step to protect the high seas- far-away areas of our oceans.
This meeting was not about saving one type of fish or protecting a single area of the world's oceans. It dealt with one of the fundamental problems that are behind oceans destruction and the loss of marine biodiversity: the lack of a legal framework to protect our oceans. The high seas cover 64 percent of our planet and include some of the most spectacular life on earth. Seamounts, deep-sea corals, sponge fields are being destroyed by deep sea fishing, valuable fish such as the bluefin tuna are being plundered and the impacts of climate change are taking a huge toll on our oceans.
As you know already, if we want healthy, living oceans tomorrow, we need marine reserves today. It is unbelivable that there still is no mechanism to establish and manage marine reserves in the high seas, no authority to make sure human activities don't cause irreversible harm to the oceans and no effective control or monitoring of what is happening on the water. For years, Greenpeace has been pressuring governments to create a process at the UN to protect our oceans and turn talk into action.
I addressed the politicians gathered here twice to remind them that while they talk the oceans are left unprotected. Millions of people around the world depend on our oceans for food and jobs and the longer we wait to save them, things will only get worse.
This was the fourth meeting of its kind in five years and delegates again spent endless hours in small groups behind closed doors not being able to agree on the way forward to protect and manage life in the oceans. This time, the fact that the G77 countries (joined by China) and the EU managed to see eye to eye on some of the key complicated political issues, such as the need to share the benefits of marine genetic resources in the deep sea and the need to protect areas in the high seas. The strong desire of some governments created enough momentum to convince the US, Canada and Norway to end the resistance they've had for years on these issues. The good news came only half an hour before the official closure of the meeting (as usual), since time was running out: there would soon be no microphones, no interpreters and no way to keep the endless political back-and-forth going.
This is the result of many years of Greenpeace campaigning and because supporters like you have been telling leaders that we need to defend our oceans for the benefit of everyone around the world, not just for the narrow industry interests. This is only a beginning step in the right direction, there is still a lot of work ahead of us: to get the UN to take this forward later this year and then to get governments to take the next steps at the Rio 2012 Earth Summit, which starts a year from today. Of course, we will be there, a voice for our oceans and all of the life on earth that needs them, so watch this space for updates, and in the meantime, make sure that you and everyone you know signs our petition to create a global network of marine reserves!
Sofia Tsenikli is a political advisor for Greenpeace International