Greenpeace has slammed the Antarctic Ocean Commission (CCAMLR) for “failing its mandate” following a meeting in Hobart, Tasmania, where governments failed to agree a vast Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary, backed by 22 of 25 attending governments and almost 3 million people worldwide.
Frida Bengtsson of Greenpeace’s Protect the Antarctic campaign, said:
“This was an historic opportunity to create the largest protected area on Earth in the Antarctic: safeguarding wildlife, tackling climate change and improving the health of our global oceans.
“Twenty-two delegations came here to negotiate in good faith but, instead, serious scientific proposals for urgent marine protection were derailed by interventions which barely engaged with the science and made a mockery of any pretence of real deliberation.”
Three Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary proposals were on the table in Hobart, including the Weddell Sea Marine Protected Area, an EU proposal, which would safeguard 1.8 million square kilometres of ocean. At five times the size of Germany, it would be the largest protected area on Earth.
Although 22 governments, including New Zealand, supported an ambitious sanctuary, delegations from China, Norway and Russia all played a part in blocking the proposal.
“Rather than put forward reasoned opposition on scientific grounds, some delegations, like China and Russia, instead deployed delaying tactics such as wrecking amendments and filibustering, which meant there was barely any time left for real discussion about protecting Antarctic waters,” said Bengtsson.
“The only glimmer of hope came when the small vulnerable marine ecosystems identified by Greenpeace on our recent expedition were approved for protection.”
Two years ago, New Zealand played a key role in creating the Ross Sea sanctuary, a 1.5 million square kilometre protected area in the Antarctic Ocean. It was meant to be the first in a large network of sanctuaries in the region.
“We’re running out of time and scientists are clear that we need to create marine sanctuaries across at least 30% of our oceans by 2030, to protect wildlife, ensure food security for billions and help to tackle climate change,” said Bengtsson.
“In 2009 the Commission agreed a mandate to create a network of sanctuaries, but since then their diplomatic efforts seem to be more concerned with expanding fisheries than with conservation.
“If bodies like the Antarctic Ocean Commission continue to fail in their mandate to conserve the ocean, they’re clearly unfit for purpose and aren’t part of the solution. Instead we must look to the historic negotiations taking place at the UN towards a Global Ocean Treaty.”
In September, governments at the UN began negotiations towards a Global Ocean Treaty which would cover all oceans beyond national borders. The negotiations are the result of a decade-long process and could conclude as early as 2020. This treaty would provide the framework for the creation of a network of ocean sanctuaries across 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030, which scientists say is imperative to protect wildlife and help to tackle climate change.