A plan to turn a vast expanse of the pristine Antarctic Ocean into the world's greatest sanctuary was rejected, putting the future of one of Earth's most important ecosystems in doubt.
Environmental groups said Russia, China and Norway participated in blocking the proposal. The other 22 members of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, the organization created to protect Antarctic waters, support it.
The 1.8 million square kilometer reserve, five times the size of Germany, would have banned all fishing in a vast area of the Weddell Sea and parts of the Antarctic Peninsula, protecting species such as penguins, killer whales, leopard seals and blue whales. [mks_pullquote align = ”right” width = ”300 ″ size =” 20 ″ bg_color = ”# c7ace2 ″ txt_color =” # 000000 ″] Environmental groups say that Russia, China and Norway participated in the rejection plan. [/ mks_pullquote]
Experts said it would have also played a key role in fighting climate change, as the seas around Antarctica absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But after days of talks in Hobart, Tasmania, CCAMLR rejected the plan, which needed unanimous agreement to approve it.
Environmental groups, who had mobilized 2 million people in support of the plan, reacted with dismay.
"This was a historic opportunity to create the largest protected area on Earth in Antarctica: safeguard wildlife, tackle climate change and improve the health of our global oceans," said Frida Bengtsson of Greenpeace's Protect Antarctica campaign. .
"Twenty-two delegations came here to negotiate in good faith, but instead, serious scientific proposals for urgent marine protection were derailed by interventions that barely got involved with science."
He said that instead of presenting “reasoned opposition for scientific reasons, some delegations, such as China and Russia, implemented delaying tactics such as destroying amendments and filibustering, which meant there was almost no time left for a real discussion on the protection of the Antarctic waters ”.
CCAMLR did not respond to requests for comment, but a report on its website said Friday that there was “a lot of discussion” about plans for new ocean sanctuaries, adding: “Members will continue to work intersessionally on proposals for these [ shrines] before they are considered again at next year's meeting ”.
The UK government backed the plan, with a delegation from the Foreign Office present for talks in Hobart, Tasmania. Minister Alan Duncan said: “It is not in our power to do this unilaterally. It is subject to an international treaty that requires a broader agreement with other countries. At CCAMLR, these proposals were rejected due to the objections of others. "
He said the British government will continue to push for the creation of ocean sanctuaries in Antarctica in the coming years.
The failure to create new protected areas in the Southern Ocean comes amid growing evidence of the devastating impact of humans. This week, leading scientists warned that people have eliminated 60% of wild animal populations since 1970, with potentially devastating consequences for the future of humanity.
Last month, the UN warned that there were only 12 years left to prevent a climate catastrophe.
The UK government has backed a proposal to ensure 30% of the world's oceans are protected by 2030, a move heralded by environmentalists as a watershed moment.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove told The Guardian that he was "completely behind" the creation of the Antarctic sanctuary, which he said would be a key moment in the effort to protect the world's oceans.
But following Friday's decision, Greenpeace said CCAMLR had failed in its mission to protect Antarctic waters. Bengtsson said: “We are running out of time and scientists are clear that we need to create marine sanctuaries in at least 30% of our oceans by 2030, to protect wildlife, ensure the food security of billions and help combat the climate change".
He said that although the scientific evidence was clear, "diplomatic efforts appear to be more concerned with expanding fisheries than with conservation."
She said that meant it was more urgent than ever for the public to join the fight and push politicians to save the oceans before it was too late, adding: “If bodies like the Antarctic Ocean Commission continue to fail in their mandate to conserve ”the ocean, they are clearly fit for purpose and not part of the solution. Instead, we must look at the historic negotiations taking place at the UN towards a Global Ocean Treaty ”.
Matthew Taylor Environment Correspondent
Original article (in English)