Monday, June 8, 2009

"One Ocean, One Climate, One Future"

In 2008, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 63-111, ¶ 171 of which declared June 8 to be World Ocean Day. Although the Resolution contains a laundry list of marine-related issues, it devotes an entire section to preserving the marine environment. In doing so, the General Assembly was recognizing the connection between "sustainable development and management of the resources and uses of the oceans and seas" and the United Nations Millennium Goals.
The Resolution urges states to act on the concerns raised by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change about increasing sea temperature, rising sea level, and ocean acidification, (the projections are for reduction in average global surface ocean pH of between 0.14 and 0.35 units over the 21st century) and the critical role that oceans play in mediating global climate.
The Resolution also draws attention to destruction of coral reefs, ocean dumping, overfishing, and the myriad other environmental threats facing the world's oceans. Finally, the Resolution points out that most of the pollution load of the oceans emanates from land-based activities, calls upon States to implement the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities.
There are numerous international agreements purporting to protect the oceans. The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) creates an international legal framework for all activities in the world's oceans and seas. With regard to the environment, UNCLOS Articles 192 and 194 impose duties "to protect and preserve the marine environment" and to "prevent reduce and control pollution of the marine environment."
Additionally, the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter (with its 1996 Protocol which bans ocean dumping), the 2004 Ballast Water Convention, the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species, the Convention on Biological Diversity, as well as numerous regional fisheries agreements all seek to channel state action towards protecting rather than harming the marine environment. Confusion and conflicting reports during the search for the wreckage of the Air France flight 447 underscored just how polluted the oceans have become. Debris and an oil slick initially thought to be from the crash turned out to be routine and wholly unrelated pollution. Indeed, a vast swath of the ocean has become the world's largest trash dump, with plastics routinely killing vulnerable marine mammals, turtles and sea birds.
The United States has one of the world's largest coastline, and claims management jurisdiction over the world's largest exclusive economic zone. It is past time to ratify UNCLOS, and to take a leadership role in protecting and preserving the world's oceans as part of a comprehensive plan to preserve the earth and to promote the welfare of its inhabitants. We do indeed have "one ocean, one climate, one future."

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