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protest the oceans

Greenpeace USA activists project a call to "protect the oceans" on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City on August 14, 2022, the night before negotiations on a new Global Ocean Treaty. (Photo: POW/Greenpeace)

Marine Life Defenders Say UN Talks 'Last Chance' for Global Ocean Treaty

Because the high seas "don't 'belong' to anyone, they have been treated recklessly with impunity," said one campaigner, arguing that "nobody's waters" must become "everyone's responsibility."

Jessica Corbett

As the fifth and final round of talks for an international treaty to protect the high seas began at the United Nations headquarters in New York City on Monday, conservationists across the globe warned world leaders that this may be the "last chance" for a necessarily ambitious agreement.

"Negotiators must know that the world is watching as they decide the future of our blue planet."

The ocean has absorbed over 90% of heat from human-caused global warming—which scientists have tied to not only accelerated melting of ice sheets and rising sea levels but also negative impacts on marine life.

"As these delegates meet, the oceans continue to decline," noted Greenpeace USA's Arlo Hemphill. "Overfishing, destructive fishing practices, plastic pollution, and climate change are weakening the systems we depend upon. We can no longer afford the delay and inaction that have plagued these talks for over a decade."

"Now is the moment to set aside the politics, special interests, and inertia and approve a truly transformative treaty that provides the strongest possible protection for the ocean," asserted Hemphill, whose group projected related messages on the Brooklyn Bridge late Sunday.

Aakash Naik, Greenpeace International's head of communications and engagement for the Protect the Oceans campaign, emphasized that "the oceans support all life on Earth, but centuries of neglect have pushed them into crisis."

"The strength of the new global ocean treaty will decide whether we can fix this crisis or if we will continue with the broken status quo," Naik said. "That's why we've lit up the Brooklyn Bridge, turning this iconic New York spot into a monument to ocean beauty."

"Over five million people have joined our call for a strong treaty to be finalized in 2022," the campaigner added. "Negotiators must know that the world is watching as they decide the future of our blue planet."

Marco Lambertini, director general of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) International, similarly stressed the urgency of the current moment as U.N. members gathered in NYC with the hope of reaching a deal by August 26.

"The high seas epitomize the tragedy of the commons. Because they don't 'belong' to anyone, they have been treated recklessly with impunity," the WWF leader declared. "We need a common governance mechanism for our ocean to ensure that nobody's waters become everybody's waters—and everyone’s responsibility."

Oceanographic highlighted Monday that international waters "make up 64% of the global ocean and cover 46% of Earth's surface," but just 1.3% of the high seas are protected, compared with 17% of land worldwide.

Since the fourth round of talks faltered in March, campaigners have been ramping up warnings of the need for a treaty on biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) to help meet the global 30x30 goal—which aims to protect 30% of all lands and waters.

Progress on the treaty has been hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic and disagreements over what to include, the BCC pointed out Monday, explaining that "some nations such as Russia and Iceland want fisheries to be excluded."

Noting that over four dozen countries "have already pledged to achieve an ambitious ocean treaty that would lay the groundwork for protecting 30% of the ocean and assess the environmental impact of activities on the high seas," WWF's Lambertini called on the holdouts to do the same and "deliver a robust and equitable biodiversity treaty for the high seas that can help us reverse nature loss this decade and secure, for all, a healthier and sustainable future."

According to Greenpeace, this fifth round of talks must deliver a deal that:

  • Sets as a primary objective the establishment of a global network of marine protected areas (MPAs);
  • Allows states, through a conference of parties (COP), to establish ocean sanctuaries, free from destructive activities like fishing and deep sea mining;
  • Allows the COP to make decisions by vote when a consensus is not possible;
  • Defines marine protected areas to allow for the creation of fully and highly protected areas, which are most cost-effective;
  • Allows the COP to decide whether activities such as fishing are allowed or prohibited in MPAs, without deferring to existing bodies; and
  • Allows the COP to adopt interim or emergency measures to protect an area pending the establishment of an MPA.

The Guardian reported Monday that the High Seas Alliance plans to "name and shame countries they say are dragging their heels during negotiations" and dole out grades for each nation's positions.

"Time is running out," Sophia Tsenikli, senior strategic adviser for the alliance, told the newspaper. "We want a really strong treaty that will allow the ocean to recover from cumulative threats."

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