It’s only a few weeks until the Rio+20 Earth Summit and although the countdown has started, the world’s politicians still don’t understand that our long-term future is at stake.

Our future depends on protecting the global environment, especially our oceans, which are the least protected areas on the planet. The oceans drive our weather systems, provide food and jobs for billions and, not least, give us half the oxygen we breathe.

But we continue to damage the oceans through overfishing, pollution, mining, climate change and ocean acidification. A lack of political will by governments to implement existing environmental agreements, as well as massive gaps and loopholes in existing oceans regulations are preventing effective protection.

To raise awareness on these black holes in oceans management and the importance of action at Rio to deliver an Oceans Rescue Plan, Greenpeace has produced a number of case studies that show how the world’s oceans, from the Arctic to the Antarctic, are being compromised.

Technological advances mean that fishing fleets have access to fishing grounds  that in the past were too deep or too hazardous and new seabed mining methods will soon be tested in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

If humankind is to survive, we need healthy oceans. A policy of business-as-usual is not an option: world leaders must not squander the opportunity provided by the Rio summit to set us on a path to restore a healthy planet both for us and future generations.

For the oceans this means agreeing to fast track formal negotiations for an Oceans Rescue Plan.

 

An Oceans Rescue Plan can start with the green light being given at Rio to an agreement that implements the important marine conservation provisions under the UN Convention on Law of the Sea – “the mother Convention of the Oceans”.

This agreement would ensure that ocean resources are sustainably used, benefits derived from their use are shared fairly, and that governments can act on their long-standing commitments to create a global network of marine reserves

There has been a lot of political back and forth in the long formal meetings and the myriad of side meetings and corridor conversations that have been taking place in New York over the past few months ahead of the Rio summit.

The majority of countries, including the European Union and almost all the developing countries, including Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and India, with the notable exception of Venezuela, support the start of formal negotiations on how best to protect marine life living in international waters.

However, a handful of countries, the US, Russia, Canada, Japan, Norway and Iceland are blocking progress, worried that such as agreement will limit their big industrial interests.

Around the world, my fellow oceans campaigners are meeting with officials and lobbying to help protect the oceans.

The European Union has continued to play a very positive role, no doubt encouraged by the many messages of support that have been sent, and it is important that at this stage they continue to stress the urgency.

Despite the growing numbers of emails from Greenpeace supporters requesting the US not to block progress, Washington stubbornly refuses to support the start of negotiations, believing it will restrict the country’s industrial and fishing interests.

However a new Oceans Rescue Plan, by providing a consistent framework for oceans management, would actually provide greater stability for the sustainable management of the high seas. 

In the final weeks and days ahead of crucial decisions being made on the fate of our planet, we urge governments to stand together and ensure that Rio becomes a critical milestone in safeguarding our oceans for now and future generations.

Add your voice to the movement for a global network of marine reserves. Click here.

Richard Page is a Greenpeace International oceans campaigner based in London.