GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 613, 12 February 2022

The One Ocean Summit: A framework toward conservation
Padmashree Anandhan

What happened?
On 11 February, leaders and representatives from 100 countries took part in the One Ocean summit hosted by the French President, Emmanuel Macron in Brest, France. The summit brought out ways to deal with the threats to the ocean, such as overfishing, plastic pollution, use of carbon-intensive fuels, and how countries can commit to the measures to preserve the ocean. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, said: "a decisive year, and we should take here, in Brest, clear and firm commitments."

On the same day, UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay stated:" Only 20 per cent of the seabed is mapped. We need to go further and mobilize the international community so that at least 80 per cent of the seabed is mapped by 2030.The international community must make education one of the pillars of its action for the ocean. Because if we want to protect it better, we must teach it better. On the occasion of the One Ocean Summit, I am setting a common objective for our 193 Member States: to include ocean education in school curricula by 2025."

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, highlighted three critical areas of cooperation to conserve the oceans: "a new international coalition to protect biodiversity on high seas, which constitute 95 per cent of the ocean; a major computing project allowing researchers to digitally simulate the world's oceans; and the EU's research mission to restore our ocean and waters by 2030." 

What is the background?
First, the focus on ocean health. The ocean forms an important component from facilitating global trade to meeting climate change. It helps boost the shipping industry, and serve as a marine ecosystem in absorbing and storing enormous tons of carbon. However, with the increased human activities in the expanded horizons, 45 per cent of the ocean surface does not come under marine protected area status. It is severely affected by shipping, fishing, and plastic pollution. 
 
Second, threats to marine life. It comes from illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. The excessive presence of plastic and marine litter challenges the existence of marine species and biodiversity. It also affects the global fish stock and pushes the fishers to opt for poor working conditions. The EU, which is at the forefront of dealing with unregulated fishing practices and 14 countries, promised to fight against illegal fishing practices through increased surveillance, control measures at ports, and fixing standards for fishing boats.

Third, the larger issue of conservation. Other threats to the ocean and marine include underwater noise, pollutant air emissions, greenhouse gas emissions, aggressive aquatic species, residues, oily discharge, and ship recycling. The summit guidelines state the threats can be countered by maintaining the atmospheric pollution at lower levels in trafficked port cities, creating a low sulphur emissions zone, and restoring marine ecosystems such as seagrass beds and mangroves.

Fourth, the need for sea bed mapping. It is critical to know about the ocean faults, ocean currents and to track the passage of sediments; this would help in detecting and responding to disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis. It also helps to identify marine resources and climate change effects to plan a sustainable future. Still, the mapping has been done to only 20 per cent of the ocean surface, which is a setback for humanity. The UNESCO has recommended: "mobilization of a fleet of 50 vessels specially dedicated to seabed mapping, intensifying the use of sonar on autonomous vessels, and transmission by governments and corporations of cartographic data they have already archived."

What does it mean?
First, approaching the ocean as a global common. Ursula launched the high-ambition coalition on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ), an international legally binding treaty under the UNCLOS urging the states to sign an agreement by the end of 2022. The treaty targets the global protection of ocean and biodiversity beyond one's jurisdiction. It is necessary to safeguard the area beyond as the activities threatening the ocean carried out in the national jurisdiction by default affect the remote oceans. 
 
Second, the role of the EU. The initiative taken by France under the EU Presidency in providing a deeper analysis of the problems in the oceans and laying out a framework to address them from the national to international level shows the seriousness and capability of the EU as the global climate leader.
 
Finally, a united push. With the EU setting an example to make its member countries commit to the measures towards protecting the ocean and marine life, it acts as a booster for other countries to unite in pledging toward ocean safety. This is a need of the hour.

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