Can a new ocean treaty protect the Arctic?

Can a new ocean treaty protect the Arctic?

Two thirds of our oceans are beyond national borders and belong to all of us. But right now it’s like the wild west out there – the oceans and seabeds are at the mercy of reckless exploitation because existing ocean law focuses far more on the right to exploit, than on any duty to protect.

A polar bear mother and her young on sea ice north of Svalbard. 8 Aug, 2013 © Larissa Beumer / Greenpeace

The international waters around the North Pole, known as the Central Arctic Ocean, is one such area. The Arctic is warming at a rate of almost twice the global average and is experiencing severe climate impacts – including the alarmingly rapid melting of sea ice. Scientists warn that the Arctic Ocean could have ice-free summers by 2030. As a result, a brand new ocean at the top of the world will be revealed in our lifetime.

The Central Arctic Ocean may seem like a harsh and desolate place, but it is in fact teeming with life – Arctic waters are among the most biologically productive in the world. But they are also particularly vulnerable to industrial impacts. That’s why Greenpeace is calling for this area to be established as a sanctuary where all extractive activities, such as fishing, mining and oil drilling, are prohibited. A proposed United Nations global treaty could allow this protection to happen.

Over the last fortnight Greenpeace has been at the UN monitoring discussions on how to develop a new legal mechanism that can protect the marine life of international oceans. This agreement – if properly designed – will defend vast parts of our oceans from industrial destruction, and ensure their restoration. We’ve been there to make sure oceans get the protection they so desperately need.

Blue ice from retreating glacier Fjortonde Julibreen on Svalbard. 8 Sep, 2014 © Christian Åslund / Greenpeace

Our generation will sadly bear witness to the permanent loss of the icy Arctic. But we also have a once in a lifetime opportunity to turn this crisis into a lasting monument of hope – a new ocean at the top of the world which is enshrined from the outset as a fully protected sanctuary. This could and should be our legacy. Join the movement to protect these fragile waters.

The chair of the UN meeting, Eden Charles, of Trinidad and Tobago, stated that he will strive to reach an agreement by 2019. Meantime, there’s still a lot of work to be done to get this deal in place and make sure it is as strong as it needs to be. Thanks for taking action.

The crew of the Greenpeace ship MY Arctic Sunrise construct a 'heart' with the flags of the 193 country members of the United Nations on an ice floe north of the Arctic Circle. 14 Sep, 2012 © Daniel Beltrá / Greenpeace

Sarah North is a senior Arctic strategist with Greenpeace International. Magnus Eckeskog is an oceans campaigner with Greenpeace Nordic.

Source: Green peace

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