The Rio+20 Summit has failed to create the future that people and planet desperately need. The battle for our Oceans, though, got an extra wind at Rio. I therefore did not leave Rio depressed, but with hope and determination that the High Seas can and must be saved.
Ocean protection was the only issue where something sensible could still be achieved by the time governments met in Rio de Janeiro. But even though the vast majority of countries wanted to launch the Oceans Rescue Plan in Rio, the US, Venezuela, Russia, Japan prevented the majority from moving forward. The polluters - who want to mine the high seas and use marine genetic resources at will - won out in the end.
Rio postponed the decision for a High Seas Biodiversity Agreement for a maximum of two years. While some feel this is better than nothing – as it sets a deadline for action - the fact that oceans are still left to the mercy of the plunderers is simply outrageous. An Oceans Rescue plan is needed now not in two years. If we want fish tomorrow, we need marine reserves today to protect the life in the oceans and secure the livelihoods of millions of people.
But focusing on the disappointing negotiated outcome to some degree tells the wrong story. The battle for our Oceans, despite the US and its cronies preventing a formal breakthrough, was crucially strengthened in Rio and received a prominence never seen before. It was heartening to see a huge majority of governments actively speaking out in favour of an Oceans Rescue Plan, including Brazil, the host country, the European Union, South Africa, India and the Pacific Island States. There is a coalition of the willing emerging, that we can build on moving forward and a large number of Presidents and Ministers, including Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard and many European leaders spoke for the need of high seas protection in their Rio Summit speeches. Australia openly announced it´s support for an Oceans Rescue Plan for the first time. President Dilma stated boldly that we will negotiate an agreement on marine biodiversity. The decision in her mind is clearly just delayed, not prevented. Many delegates privately told us that we could be proud of the non-stop pressure we created on this issue (on site and in the capitals) and I have certainly never before seen as much media on Ocean issues being generated by an environmental summit. Oceans were not a political issue in Brazil before Rio+20. But by the end of the summit, you could watch hours and hours of ocean coverage on all Brazilian channels.
The behaviour of the unholy alliance of the US and Venezuela, supported by Canada, Russia and Japan, I was familiar with from many informal negotiations before. However, while it was very frustrating that they managed once again to block the launch of the Oceans Rescue Plan their behavior did not go unnoticed this time. We succeeded in exposing the US opposition being driven by domestic priorities and corporate interests and well as the very disappointing role of Venezuela in blocking the Oceans Rescue Plan and breaking the unity of the developing nations on Oceans.
Talking of Venezuela, I was very impressed with my Argentinian colleague, Milko Schvartzman, who told Venezuela early on Tuesday morning that we will tell the world about Venezuela and the US sharing the same destructive position on the High Seas. Venezuela clearly did not like the world to know that it shares the opinion of it´s “class enemy” and so complained about Greenpeace at the closing plenary of the Rio Summit. The complaint is completely unjustified, but it shows that some governments find telling the world calmly and confidently who is destroying our planet aggressive behaviour. To be as peaceful and determined in speaking truth to power, however, is one of the most important parts of doing political work for Greenpeace. So I could not be more proud of my colleague.
Rio+20 did not go down in history as the Ocean Summit, as some Brazilian media had started to speculate it could. But it did raise the prominence of the high seas as a key global challenge and has provided us with a clear end date – 2014 - for the next battle! Greenpeace will continue the fight for an Oceans Rescue Plan to put in place a network of marine reserves and will intensify the campaign against the corporate interests that plunder the high seas. To do that we will need the help of all Oceans Defenders out there! We must build a movement to force all governments to listen, for the oceans and for everyone, because without healthy oceans there is no future for us all.