What a Global Ocean Treaty means—and why it matters to all of us
We have paddled the first nautical miles of a long voyage. The first meeting at the United Nations’ headquarters about a treaty to protect all the oceans which lie beyond national borders is coming to an end. It’s been two weeks of political meetings, origami turtles, too many policy acronyms, but, at the heart of it all, the fate of our global oceans. Why? Because the future of almost half of our planet is at stake.
My friends have asked me why I eagerly volunteered to endure two weeks of windowless rooms and legal jargon at the United Nations. It’s because these discussions really matter. For the first time in history, governments have come together to decide on a plan by 2020 that can turn the tide and restore the health of our global oceans. These oceans beyond borders cover more space on our planet than all continents combined!
Right now, our oceans face growing threats from industrial fishing, pollution and climate change. Even though I feel so small when I look out at sea, collectively, humanity has had a huge impact on these blue expanses.
Public awareness of the threats to our oceans is surging and the calls for ocean protection have been mounting for years. Governments are finally heeding the call and, over the past two weeks, they have finally started to develop a plan to protect our shared oceans: A Global Ocean Treaty. This is a historic opportunity to safeguard the future of our oceans for generations to come. We have to get this right.
We kicked off these negotiations in true Greenpeace style: with activists, boats and a giant, flying, inflatable turtle! At sunrise on the day the negotiations started, activists sailed on the river directly in front of the UN building to fly a banner reading “Global Oceans – Global Treaty!” next to a giant turtle kite (which is harder to handle than it looks!). The pictures of the action made headlines around the world, helping us to tell the story of why this matters so much. Watch the video of the action here.
By shining a spotlight on these talks and hand-delivering origami sea creatures directly to negotiators, with the message “The fate of our oceans is in your hands”, we wanted to make sure that governments know that the world is watching and that we expect results. Sea creatures don’t have a voice at these negotiations, so it’s our job to creatively bring them — and the voices of millions of people who care deeply about our oceans — to bear on these decisions about our shared oceans.
This first round of talks was a good start. We’ve seen governments from Africa, Pacific and Caribbean islands and Europe strongly supporting a Global Ocean Treaty with powers to create ocean sanctuaries on the high seas. You can track all the statements in detail in the High Seas Alliance’s Treaty Tracker. As South Africa and Argentina said: “we need a Treaty that bites when necessary. We need a Treaty that is a real tiger, not a paper tiger.” But now it will be crucial to see countries take the lead on ocean protection in practice.
These calls for a strong treaty are exactly what we, and our oceans, need. While the usual suspects like the Russia, Norway and Iceland, disappointingly joined by Australia, New Zealand and the US, lagged far behind in terms of ambition, most governments are keen to move on to negotiate an actual draft text for the treaty. They know they need to move fast to agree all the details by the deadline of 2020. Our oceans, and billions of people depending on them, can’t wait.
The journey has just begun
The next two years are crucial to ensure the treaty is designed in such a way that it enables the global creation and management of ocean sanctuaries on the high seas. Greenpeace, alongside the millions of people who want to see our oceans protected, will do everything in our power to achieve this. As a campaigner, I know we won’t win the protections that our oceans desperately need if we’re only a small group inside the negotiations. Industry are already lobbying to keep the status quo, which has pushed our oceans to the brink of destruction. To overcome this, we need to keep up the pressure far beyond the UN – from capital cities to the most remote waters on our planet. Join us on this journey and together we can make history for marine life and this vast blue world on which we all depend.
Even while negotiations for the Global Ocean Treaty are at this early stage, next month we have a huge opportunity to create the biggest protected area on Earth: an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary. A global movement of almost 2 million people are calling for this sanctuary to protect penguins, whales, and help us all tackle climate change. If we win, we will generate unstoppable momentum for an ambitious Global Ocean Treaty.
There’s never been a more critical or exciting time to be fighting for our oceans.
Join this wave: the future of the oceans is in our hands.
About Louisa Casson
I'm a campaigner in Greenpeace UK's oceans team, leading our campaign to create the world's largest protected area in the Antarctic ocean.