The Green Party of New Zealand (NZ) continues to push for strong measures to protect the oceans of the world, even though talks on a Global Ocean Treaty, at the United Nations (UN) in New York, broke off in late August without an agreement.  

The recent talks were the fifth round of negotiations at the UN on protecting and managing marine resources. The goal is a treaty to protect approximately thirty percent of the world’s oceans in sanctuaries by 2030. This would include a legally binding mechanism for safeguarding the high seas that lie beyond national jurisdictions more than two hundred nautical miles from shore. These marine protected areas, about eleven million square kilometers, are to be governed by independent bodies with ocean conservation experience. 

The International Director General of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Marco Lambertini, explains the problem: “Because they don’t ‘belong’ to anyone, they have been treated recklessly with impunity. We need a common governance mechanism for our ocean to ensure that nobody’s waters become everybody’s waters – and everyone’s responsibility.”

While disappointed in the most recent result, NZ Greens remain optimistic. Significant progress was made during the final days of the talks and countries have expressed a willingness to continue negotiations. The WWF notes that we are, “moving away from the current situation where the high seas are open for all, toward common stewardship and collective responsibility, but the diplomatic deal is not struck until everything is agreed.”  

Green Party spokesperson for oceans and fisheries, Eugenie Sage, urges the NZ government to push for a treaty by the end of 2022. NZ is a member of the High Ambition Coalition, an informal group of over sixty nations that are committed to ambitious proposals to fight climate change, and including these measures to protect oceans.

NZ Greens, including Greenpeace Aotearoa, call on their Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs to contact their counterparts in other member nations, especially prominent countries like Canada and the United States. Other prominent countries help is required to keep the momentum going. Greenpeace Aotearoa supported the positive efforts of the NZ delegation in New York and was critical of the Canadians and Americans for valuing future profits from marine resources over protecting the oceans.

In its “Thriving Oceans Plan”, promoted during the 2020 NZ election, the Green Party notes: “Oceans are the lifeblood of our planet and home to thousands of taonga [treasured] species, providing us with nourishing food to feed our families, supporting the livelihoods of millions, and vitally absorbing carbon emissions.”  It also notes that our oceans: “are under threat. Over decades, successive governments have exploited our oceans for short-term economic gain. Overfishing, sediment pollution and seabed mining have put these precious places at risk.”

The Thriving Oceans Plan includes a commitment to work internationally towards a Global Oceans Treaty. Greens recognize that the stakes are too high to give up on the progress that has been made and that it is imperative to push negotiations forward to a successful conclusion. As Sage warns: “The window of opportunity to protect our oceans is closing fast, but there is still time. The fight for strong ocean protection continues.”

David Arnott

David Arnott of Toronto, recent graduate of Political Science from McGill University.

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