As I pack up my bags to head home to the US after two weeks in Germany, I have to stop and wonder at how hard it is to get the world working together for a real environmental outcome.
I arrived here with about a dozen environmental activists from around the world to push for two marine protected areas (MPAs) in Antarctica’s Southern Ocean. The proposals, for 3.8 million square kilometres, were for the Ross Sea – often called the ‘last ocean’ because it is one of the last untouched marine eco-systems left – and the coastal regions of East Antarctica. Without a doubt, the establishment of these two MPAs would be a good thing for our global oceans – already under stress from overfishing, climate change and pollution.
Today, we head home empty handed.
The meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) has just concluded – one where representatives from 24 countries AND the EU spent a great deal of money and time to attend - but it failed to deliver. Why? Because one nation – Russia – decided to say NYET to the whole idea.
This was particularly frustrating because, unlike some international conventions, most nations came here in good faith to negotiate an outcome, including those that have concerns about the two MPAs. Not Russia, whose delegates tried everything from delay and confusion tactics to challenging of the very legality of CCAMLR’s right to establish MPAs.
As home to more than 10,000 species, including whales, seabirds, seals, giant squid and most of the world’s penguins, Antarctica’s Southern Ocean is really a global commons. While a number of countries fish its waters, no nation has dominion over what is 10% of the world’s environment. All the more reason to protect it.
And the two proposals CCAMLR failed to pass – one by the US and New Zealand to designate a Ross Sea MPA of 2.3 million square kilometres, including a "fully protected" area of 1.6 million square kilometres and the other from Australia, France and the EU that would designate a cluster of seven marine protected areas in East Antarctica, covering about 1.63 million square kilometres - were a great place to start the protection.
To have come so far and have these proposals thwarted is a huge disappointment. But, having worked on issues such as this for the years, I know this is just one of the many hurdles we face if we are to get large-scale marine protection happening. And, as long as we have beautiful, intact ecosystems like the Ross Sea still thriving, we have a reason to continue the fight for their protection.
More than 1.3 million people around the world have joined the global call for Antarctic marine protection with thousands taking action through online petitions and emails from around the world. Together, we can keep the pressure on to ensure these proposals get through so the fight continues.
Watch this space!
John Hocevar is the Oceans Campaign Director for Greenpeace USA.