Can Cop15 protect ocean biodiversity from the big fish of the ‘blue economy’? | Guy Standing | Bot To News

Tthe sea covers 71% of the world’s surface. Two out of every five people live near the sea or depend on it for their livelihood. If the sea were a country, it would be the sixth largest economy. Ocean activities, including offshore energy, shipping, tourism and fishing, they account for more than 5% of global GDP, while the World Bank claims that future economic growth will be driven by “blue growth”.

However, politicians or economists do not pay much attention to the “blue economy”. The stupid part of the first draft of the Cop27 agreement in Egypt, which mentions informal meetings, quickly disappeared. Another United Nations circus known as Cop15 is taking place in Montreal this week, working to protect biodiversity. The danger is that ministers and diplomats will once again turn away from the economic causes of the crisis and let capital and finance continue to rob nature.

The sea, the seabed and the seashore have become the largest sphere of ownership. In 1982, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) introduced the largest fence in history, turning a third of the world’s oceans into national property by granting coastal states 200 nautical miles from their coasts as an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). . Colonial powers with large island territories fared best: France and the United States each gained more than 11 million square kilometers of sea area, while the United Kingdom gained 6.8 million square kilometers, 27 times its land area .

State ownership allows governments to outsource the exploitation of ocean resources to private companies. The UK and other countries have sold or granted private property rights in the sea without concern. This has resulted in rampant profiteering that has ravaged the ocean environment, depleted fish populations, pumped sewage, chemicals and plastics into the sea, and destroyed wetlands, mangroves and other coastal ecosystems for aquaculture and tourism development.

So what should Cop15 do? It aims to give teeth to the Convention on Biological Diversity, adopted in 1992, which has been ratified by 196 countries, with the notable exception of the United States. China, which holds the presidency this year, has a poor record on biodiversity. It is considered the world’s worst offender when it comes to overfishing and illegal fishing. The country is also responsible for consuming half of the 40 to 50 billion tons of sand and gravel mined from marine, coastal and freshwater ecosystems each year, mostly used for cement production. This has led to global sand shortages, coastal and riverbank erosion, and widespread habitat destruction.

An immersive video experience hosted by the National Geographic Society at the UN Biodiversity Conference Cop15 in Montreal.
An immersive video experience hosted by the National Geographic Society at the UN Biodiversity Conference Cop15 in Montreal. Photo: Andrej Ivanov/AFP/Getty Images

In this context, negotiators and civil society organizations should focus on measures that would halt further damage and improve ecosystems. They should strive to make progress on the following proposals. Countries should commit to ending subsidies to industrial fisheries, £22 billion of which contribute to overfishing and illegal fishing that destroys fish populations and marine food chains. We should also end subsidies for offshore oil and gas extraction, which directly threaten pollution and fuel the climate crisis.

We should also emphasize the protection of marine protected areas through proper monitoring, appropriate penalties and a ban on bottom trawling – the practice of dragging huge nets across the seabed that pick up everything and damage the seabed. Fisheries monitoring is vital everywhere and large fishing vessels should have independent monitoring groups.

Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs), which are supposed to regulate major fishing areas and species, should ban representatives of companies and their financial backers from their decision-making bodies. They currently dominate most regional fisheries management organizations and inhibit measures to limit overfishing and harmful practices. Fishing access agreements and joint ventures between long-distance fishing countries and developing countries should become transparent, with dissuasive penalties for breaking the rules.

Noise pollution is a recognized threat to ocean ecosystems by disrupting the breeding patterns and migration routes of marine mammals. Ocean noise levels have doubled every decade since the 1950s, with shipping traffic and air guns used in seismic mapping to search for offshore oil and gas being the main culprits. Governments should commit to reducing ocean noise, including restrictions on ship engines.

Cop15 should also support a moratorium on proposed deep-sea mining in national and international waters, which could have disastrous environmental consequences. Hundreds of scientists and policy makers have already called for such a ban. The giant machines would scour the ocean floor to pick up nodules containing cobalt, lithium and other minerals and rare earths used to make electronic devices, electric vehicles and wind turbines, among other things. In addition to destroying everything in their path, they create clouds of sediment that can suffocate coral reefs and other organisms hundreds of miles from mining sites. And mining damages the ocean’s ability to act as a carbon sink, accelerating global warming.

The International Seabed Agency (ISA), which was established in 1994 to regulate deep-sea mining in international waters, now only allows mineral exploration. But without concerted international opposition, large-scale mining could begin as early as next July after the Pacific island of Nauru triggered an obscure rule in Unclose that requires the ISA to come up with regulations within two years or allow commercial mining. Either way, the initial mining gun has been fired.

Finally, rich country governments should commit to doubling the share of ODA dedicated to ocean protection from the current 1.6%. What does Britain have to offer? It should commit to changing marine protection areas from barely protected “paper parks” to properly protected areas and banning bottom trawling. Violation of fishing quota rules should be a criminal offence, not a civil one, with the added penalty of losing quota rights. It should stop further crown estate auctions of seabed exploitation rights to multinationals and reverse cuts to the budget and staffing of the Marine Management Organisation. And in addition to supporting an international moratorium on deep-sea mining, he should provide greater transparency on the mining exploration permits he has granted.

None of these suggestions would be very expensive. All would have beneficial effects. Unfortunately, many will encounter opposition from corporate and financial lobbyists. That’s why they shouldn’t be at Cop15 at all. But they will, in droves.

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