World leaders call on nations to swiftly ratify U.N. ocean treaty

April 17, 2024 - 3:31 PM
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Reuters Editor-at-Large Axel Threlfall moderates a panel as former United States Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during the 9th Our Ocean Conference at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, in Athens, Greece, April 16, 2024. (Reuters/Louiza Vradi)
  • EU, 13 governments urge quick ratification of U.N. oceans treaty
  • Pact crucial to protect 30% of earth’s land, sea by 2030
  • “High Seas” pact needs 60 ratifications to get into force
  • Commitments worth $10 billion announced at conference in Athens

 The European Union and the governments of 13 countries urged nations on Tuesday to prioritize the ratification of a U.N. treaty to protect the world’s oceans from overfishing and other human activities.

The EU and the governments of Belgium, Bermuda, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Greece, South Korea, Nigeria, Palau, the Philippines and Seychelles committed that the “High Seas” treaty swiftly secure the 60 ratifications needed to get into force at an “Our Ocean” conference held in Athens this week.

The global pact to conserve biodiversity in the high seas was formally adopted by the United Nations last year and is seen as a crucial tool to meet a target to protect 30% of the Earth’s land and sea by 2030, known as “30 by 30.”

So far, four countries – Palau, Chile, Belize and the Seychelles – have formally ratified the treaty, while 89 countries have signed it, expressing their intent to ratify it.

The European Union committed to spend 3.5 billion euros ($3.71 billion) to protect the ocean and promote sustainability through a series of initiatives this year, its top environment official said on Tuesday.

In total, more than 400 new commitments amounting to $10 billion were announced during the conference.

The EU’s 40 commitments, announced during the annual conference, range from fighting marine pollution to supporting sustainable fisheries and investments in the so-called blue economy – sustainable use of marine and freshwater resources for economic activity.

“We hope to gather the other 60 ratifications needed for the agreement’s entry into force as soon as possible,” said EU Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevicius. “The ocean is part of who we are, and it is our shared responsibility.”

Warming oceans

The European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service said last month that ocean temperatures hit a record high in February, according to data that goes back to 1979. Overfishing and plastic pollution are also major threats to oceans.

The biggest part of the EU funds will be used to support 14 investments and one reform in sustainable fisheries and aquaculture in Cyprus, Greece, Poland, Portugal and Spain. Other EU initiatives are directed to helping African countries develop their blue economy.

Greece will spend 780 million euros on 21 commitments which include a ban on bottom trawling in all of the country’s marine protected areas, he added.

The country also pledged to create two more marine parks, one in the Aegean Sea for the protection of seabirds and one in the Ionian Sea for the protection of sea mammals, which will cover more than 4,000 sq km (1,545 sq miles) of areas protected under the EU’s Natura 2000 network of sites.

“Mitigation and adaptation are not enough. We must also focus on protection and restoration to insulate land and seas from harmful human activity and to give space to nature to heal,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

The marine park in the Aegean Sea has irritated neighboring Turkey, which said last week that it was not willing to accept a possible “fait accompli on geographical features whose status is disputed”. In response, Greece accused Turkey of “politicizing a purely environmental issue”.

Environmental groups have also urged Greece to halt its gas exploration plans in the Ionian Sea.

The “Our Ocean” conference has mobilized more than 2,160 commitments worth approximately $130 billion since its launch in 2014.

($1 = 0.9430 euros)

— Reporting by Karolina Tagaris and Renee Maltezou; Additional Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou; Editing by Jacqueline Wong, Alexandra Hudson and Sandra Maler