By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
The One Ocean Summit launched today in Brest, in Brittany, billed as the first of its kind on ocean issues in what’s expected to be a high point of France’s European Union presidency – and a priority for French president Emmanuel Macron.
The summit will address threats facing the world’s oceans, including decarbonising shipping and overfishing. Yet two issues are of particular importance to the health of the planet: the role oceans play in mitigating mitigating climate change, and the plastics disaster, according to RFI, Hopes high for sea change as France opens One Ocean Summit. Let’s first consider climate change:
“Facing climate change, the ocean acts as a shield upon which the future of our planet greatly depends,” says Françoise Gaill, who’s in charge of science with the Ocean and Climate Platform, an organisation hosting one of the forums.
“It is not sufficiently acknowledged that each day, the ocean absorbs a quarter of the CO2 produced by humankind. This is followed by a chemical modification of the sea water which results in the acidification of the ocean.
“Ocean acidity has increased by 30 percent over two and a half centuries and this phenomenon continues to amplify, thus directly threatening marine species.”
As to plastics, it’s apparent just how much the Biden administration is missing in action on leadership on environmental issues. Instead, hamstrung by pressure rom its world leading plastics industry – aka the plastics pushers – the U.S. remains silent on reducing, let alone eliminating single use plastics production. Instead, global plastic production is expected to grow by 40% by 2030, as noted by Common Dreams, in iIt’s Time to Overhaul the Chemical Industry, while RFI noted that ocean plastics pollution is projected to triple over the same time period:
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is one of the international organisations hoping to draw attention to its latest report on the impacts of plastic pollution on the oceans, biodiversity and marine ecosystems.
“The problem of plastic is everywhere, from the recesses of the largest oceans, the north and poles, to the most remote islands,” the WWF said on Tuesday, referring to data from more than 2,000 separate scientific studies featured in the report.
The organisation estimates that between 19 and 23 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the planet’s waterways each year, mostly in the sea.
Law of the Sea
It wasn’t always like this, with the United States plodding along in the slow lane on regulating the oceans. Indeed, during my lifetime, the United States was once a prime mover behind the United Nations Law of the Sea Treaty, guided by research by academics at MIT, including Dan Nyhart (who had also been dean for student affairs during a particularly tumultuous time in that institution’s history). I never did much research on Law of the Sea issues, but I did conduct research on law and science policy for Dan, beginning in 1979 in the first semester of my freshman year, as as part of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program.
Alas, the U.S. never signed onto that treaty – and its lack of support is one reason for the parlous state of ocean governance efforts to this day.
Today, France is the prime mover behind the latest summit, which also enjoys United Nations support. The Guardian reports:
[The summit] aims to mobilise “unprecedented international political engagement” for a wide range of pressing maritime issues, said its chief organiser, Olivier Poivre d’Arvor.
Poivre d’Arvor, France’s ambassador for the north and south poles and marine issues, noted that the ocean covers more than 70% of the Earth’s surface, is a vital climate regulator, rich in resources, key to trade and an essential link between nations.
“But it’s routinely left aside in major summits, and is now under serious threat from a whole range of different pressures. So this initiative is about raising international ambition and getting concrete, measurable commitments to tangible action,” he said.
Poivre d’Arvor, a keen sailor who recently published Voyage en Mers Françaises (Travels in France’s Seas), said France was the world’s second-biggest sea power after the US, with exclusive economic zones totalling more than 11m sq km.
“There aren’t many countries that have legitimacy on this, but France is one of them,” he said. “There is a role for ‘blue diplomacy’ in a host of areas, from piracy to pollution to overfishing and carbon storage. I think that’s what interests the president.”
Poivre d’Arvor said more than 55 countries would be represented in the Brittany port, with 18 or 19 heads of state and government attending in person and about the same number taking part by live video link or sending recorded messages.
According to The One Ocean Summit:
The goal of the One Ocean Summit is to raise the collective level of ambition of the international community on marine issues and to translate our shared responsibility to the ocean into tangible commitments.
IOC-UNESCO is working closely with the Government of France to coordinate the scientific programme for the Summit and ensure it addresses the major challenges and emerging knowledge trends when it comes to unlocking ocean solutions for sustainable development.
Combining global scientific and education expertise, UNESCO and its IOC also contributed to mainstreaming ocean literacy into the summit programme, with a dedicated workshop to take stock of the development of ocean literacy communities across the world.
On 11 February, President Emmanuel Macron will bring together Heads of State and Government, leaders of multilateral institutions, business leaders and civil society policymakers to make ambitious commitments in the Summit’s high level segment.
Several important initiatives will be launched on this occasion in favour of marine ecosystem protection and sustainable fisheries, intended to fight pollution, in particular from plastics, respond to the impacts of climate change, as well as advocate for improved governance of the oceans.
The Guardian reports that NGOs and other environmental campaigners have cautioned against the summit resulting in mere “blue-washing”:
NGOs and campaigners have said the summit must deliver in several key areas if it is not to be seen as an exercise in “blue-washing”. Many, including Greenpeace, have said the most pressing problem is governance of the high seas – waters outside of national economic exclusion zones, which cover about half the globe.
Here, the main goal is to protect biodiversity and marine ecosystems and make progress on some kind of legal order before a UN international conference in New York in March 2022. Campaigners have said they expect to see the summit produce “ambitious targets and solid progress” towards that meeting.
Deep-sea exploration – below 200 metres – is another controversial topic, with mining companies, in particular, starting to show an interest in rare minerals, including nickel and cobalt, beneath parts of the ocean floor.
IIRC, the original Law of the Sea project foundered in part over deep sea mining issues. Unfortunately, I see no sign that the Biden administration is any more enthusiastic than its predecessors from Carter onwards in supporting any ocean regulatory agenda. Biden and company have largely ignored plastics regulation – unsurprisingly, given the amount of profits at stake for U.S. plastics pushers. Even if U.S. policymakers were to achieve an oceans epiphany, given the pathetic outcome of the COP 26 summit in Glasgow last autumn, I hold out little hope that oceans will finally get the attention they warrant, yet I hope that nonetheless France and other governments can succeed in making some progress.
One thing, besides plastics, I’d like to see France address (especially France because nukes produce so much of their energy) is regulation to prevent nuclear waste from dribbling into the oceans and other waterways. There has been little dialog about the ongoing disaster at Fukushima where, we are told, they periodically release “treated” nuclear waste water into the ocean. It does not sound even close to “contained” because it is ongoing. And that would be one big topic because all those nuclear reactors along the coast – in every country with a coastline – might be compromised by original design so as to be uncontained in case of a meltdown – I’m thinking that the water keeps coming into the devastated reactor and because water is very difficult to stop, especially at that level, it becomes very difficult to finally clean the site up. Chernobyl was a case in point and it was located inland, but even there they could not contain the nuclear reaction of the meltdown, even after 20 years and finally punted and build a giant cement dome to cover it and call it good. And actually – it’s still leaking. We definitely can’t dome on the coast. So preventing future nuclear contamination might be a goal for the Ocean Summit.
Fun fact – photosynthesis in the ocean produces half of the oxygen we breathe.
I read the other day that global heating in the oceans reached a tipping point in 2014. Ocean heating is now out of control and cannot be stopped according to the article I read last week. So whatever this commission does, it’s too little and much too late. On the bright side, Oregon has a market squid fisheries that didn’t exist 10 years ago.
Sorry about the lack of reference. It’s not my strong suit but I do remember what I read.
Great work as always covering these environmental issues!
The latest saga here in Hawaii is the contaminated DRINKING water where US Navy underground tanks were leaking thousands of gallons of jet fuel at Red Hill from ancient underground tanks right above water supply. They didn’t realize it for months, then converted it up, then downplayed it. It took local media going filming flammable water and kids getting sick to kick them into gear. The whole time lying about the situation and getting exposed. Inept and inadequate, mostly hurting their own Navy employees. Now the latest is that they found 200x the environmental action limit of dichloroethyl ethyl in several sample areas. Classified as likely carcinogenic but with little testing history (because there should never be risk of it in water). It isn’t even present in jet fuel itself but rather used in jet fuel processesing/refinement type activities. So probably didn’t come from the acute spill/leakage which was reported as only actual jet fuel. There was no testing before the spill so could have been in the water for… months? Decades? I’m sure chemicals like these are poisoning local populations and environments across the US, virtually undetected and unaddressed. Here in the US we can’t even acknowledge the obvious floating plastics and well documented epigenetic impact EDCs and hosts of other chemicals have.