Ensuring historic protection of Antarctica’s Southern Ocean in 2021
Source: Politico – Open Letter
Author: Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition
President von der Leyen must play a leading role in protecting large areas of Antarctica’s Southern Ocean, demonstrating her commitment to global action to tackle the climate and biodiversity crises
Dear President von der Leyen,
You can make history this year by securing the largest act of ocean protection. During your State of the Union address last September, you committed to use the European Union’s “diplomatic strength and economic clout to broker agreements that make a difference – such as designating maritime protected areas in the Antarctic.” We are now asking you to do that, to secure protection of the Southern Ocean this year.
It would serve as decisive action in response to the global environmental emergency in the lead-up to the United Nations’ biodiversity and climate change conferences later this year. It would also be a powerful demonstration of the EU’s Green Deal, and realization of the Biodiversity Strategy.
The EU is proposing protection of over three million square kilometers of the Southern Ocean (nearly two-thirds of the EU’s land mass) in the Weddell Sea and the East Antarctic. In October, the 26 members of the consensus-based Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) will consider these proposals.
Despite a commitment by CCAMLR members to establish a representative network of marine protected areas by 2012, only two areas have been designated — in the South Orkneys and in the Ross Sea, the world’s largest marine protected area at over two million square kilometers. For several years, Russia and China were not supportive of the proposal.
A recent European Parliament event hosted by Catherine Chabaud and Grace O’Sullivan heard agreement on Southern Ocean protection is possible even this year. The Antarctic Treaty was negotiated and ratified at the height of the Cold War (1961); this extraordinary example of multilateralism should serve as inspiration, and an example, for how success can be achieved amid, and possibly even because of, global crisis.
The EU is building a coalition of support. On April 28, Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, hosted a successful web ministerial meeting, and momentum is also building at the highest political level in Germany and France.
But we cannot rely on other countries to deliver the EU’s Southern Ocean commitment. Others will support, but the EU must lead. And this leadership should include building on the successful ministerial meeting with concerted coordination and shared action by member countries and supportive partners.