For most of us the word “Rio” brings to mind images of colorful carnivals and the golden beaches of the Copacabana. I wish this was true for me. For the past months, “Rio” has been short for the “Rio+20 Earth Summit”. The long negotiations taking place on the so called "zero draft" since January have had little in common with beaches, parties or a beautiful city. Still, while we are very critical of the world’s governments’ general lack of ambition for the future of the planet and its people, High Seas protection, one of the few good points in the original "zero draft" is still on the table six weeks before the Summit starts on June 20th. If governments choose Oceans over private greed, they could still - on Oceans, at least - make a positive difference to the world at Rio.
The future of the oceans hangs in the balance and leaders must agree to a rescue plan in Rio that will create large-scale marine reserves (areas off-limits to fishing and other industrial activities) on the high seas - areas of ocean that belong to all of us, and not just one nation. The high seas cover more than 64% of the ocean but are still the least protected areas of our planet. Governments have agreed mechanisms to regulate fishing, drilling and mining, but they have yet to agree on effective rules to protect the oceans. Considering the devastating effects of overfishing and pirate fishing and the frightening increase in ocean acidification caused by CO2 emissions, it is high time that governments acted in the interest of the oceans and the billions of people reliant on them for food, jobs and even the oxygen we breathe.
Last week more than 250,000 of you sent a message to European leaders calling on them to champion an oceans rescue plan. So it was great to see that the European Union stood strong, supporting the large majority of countries from South America, Africa, Asia and Pacific such as Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, India, Philippines, Fiji to name just a few. Unfortunately a minority of States such as the US, Russia, Canada, Japan and Norway are still opposing the need for a new biodiversity agreement going forward, blocking the possibility for high seas protection.
Negotiations on the oceans are still going on this week and an extra set of negotiation days have been added at the end of May due to ongoing disagreements, including on Oceans. So we are fighting hard in the corridors to make sure High Seas protection is still on the table when leaders meet at their Summit in Rio from June 20-22 2012. With your support we can push for an oceans rescue plan and open the way for the establishment of large-scale marine reserves in the high seas. Who knows, may be there will be an oceans carnival in Rio and I will remember not the windowless rooms at the UN but the sense of relief at governments finally doing the right thing for the High Seas? Stay tuned!
Sofia Tsenikli is a Greenpeace International Senior Political Advisor based in Athens, Greece.