WHAT IS THE U.S. THINKING? And whose interests are they defending?

by Phil Kline

June 5, 2012

"Why we don't show this same leadership in the international arena is a mystery as deep as the Mariana Trench."

Here I sit for the first time in a rather large conference room at the United Nations building in New York. I’m here for the final informal sessions developing draft text that will be the heart of negotiations next month in Rio at the World Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20. As usual, I’m focused on ocean issues, emphatic about the fact that our oceans desperately need a global agreement to stop their ongoing destruction.

Oceans outsideareas of national jurisdiction are being plunderedby a handful of rich and technologically advanced nations at the expense of the rest of the World.Rio+20 is wherewe can stop this nonsense, andturn this deplorable situation around. To do that, we neednationstoagree on a way forward.Here’s the kicker: In these negotiations to protect our global oceans, the US is opposing any meaningful progress — even though the vast majority of nations support saving our oceans.

And what do I mean by “saving our oceans”? Simple: we need to act on consensus scientific advice. This means creating a network of marinereservesthat areoff limits to fisheries and otherextractiveand destructive activities, which will allow marine life to flourish.The most direct way of getting this done is for world leaders at Rio+20 to agree to a processfor ahigh seas biodiversity as articulated by agreementunder the Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS). This includes a mechanismfor the creation of marine reserveson the high seas.

This all sounds pretty straightforward as everyone recognizes the need and urgency so I have to ask, what’s the US thinking? Who’s tune is the administration dancing to?

The US has been outspoken in opposition to any agreement moving forward to protect our oceans. They cite several reasons to oppose starting a process to create marine reserves on the high seas even though, in our home waters, we are world leaders in creating marine reserves and fishery management.

Why we don’t show this same leadership in the international arena is a mystery as deep as the Mariana Trench.

The US government tells us that supporting a processwithin the framework ofUNCLOSwould harm the chances of the US Senateratifyingthe Conventionby bringing unwanted attention to it. Now wait a second; just last weekthe Obama Administrationheld a congressional hearing on UNCLOSurging the US Senate to ratify. I can only wonder how much more attention can a treaty get than a Senate hearing?

A second reason the US government tells us why they oppose any language in the Rio+20 text is that there is already enough international agreement toprotect high seas biodiversity. We should, the government asserts, use these existinginstruments rather than creating new ones. To add insult to injury, they then talk about having Regional Fishery Management Organizations (RFMOs) take up thetask of creating marine reserves. It doesn’t take a marine biologist (let alone a rocket scientist) to see the absurdity. International bodies charged with managing fisheries haven’t even been able to end overfishing — the one major task they are already failing to do! They have, however, been quite successful in bringingsome fish stocks at the verge of collapse.

The final excuse the US gives us for opposing ocean protection at Rio+20 is not wanting to share anybenefitscoming from the exploitation ofMarineGeneticResources (MGR) . Who’s behind this position?Considering that the US is among the top three countries for MGR patent claims, it’s a good bet that the pharmaceutical industryhas something to do with this.

Come on President Obama. Let’s not let Big Pharma or Big Fishery tell us what’s best for the world’s waters. Show some real leadership for protecting our global oceans. They deserve the same attention we’ve already given to our home waters.

Now that would be a sea change we could believe in!

Phil Kline

By Phil Kline

Phil is a senior oceans campaigner at Greenpeace USA. He is a recognized expert on oceans policy domestically and internationally, and has represented Greenpeace U.S. at International Whaling Commission (IWC) meetings and Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meetings around the globe.

We Need Your Voice. Join Us!

Want to learn more about tax-deductible giving, donating stock and estate planning?

Visit Greenpeace Fund, a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) charitable entity created to increase public awareness and understanding of environmental issues through research, the media and educational programs.