BREST (France): Heads of the governments of 30 nations have committed Friday to protect the world’s oceans from harmful human activities at a summit in French port city of Brest, aiming to coordinate through a year packed with international action on the sea.
The gathering of heads of state and other senior officials as well as companies “has allowed us to firm up many commitments and new coalitions of public and private actors and states,” French President Emmanuel Macron said.
Priorities included a hoped-for global treaty on protecting biodiversity in the high seas — waters lying outside any one country’s jurisdiction — and action to prevent plastic pollution.
The European Union’s 27 member states and 16 other countries formed a coalition to reach a high seas agreement this year, Macron’s office said after the meeting.
“We are so close, but we need to push” to get the treaty signed in 2022, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told the Brest summit.
After coronavirus delays, the hope is for a fourth and final round of UN negotiations to reach agreement in New York in March.
“This is a timely and important commitment to protect our global commons,” Peggy Kalas of the High Seas Alliance said in a statement.
But Francois Chartier of Greenpeace France said that activists “expect concrete measures on conservation mechanisms and governance” of any future treaties.
Although 30 more countries also signed up to the “High Ambition Coalition for Nature” launched in January 2021, which aims to protect 30 percent of the world’s land and sea by 2030, “clarifications are also lacking on the level of protection for marine areas covered,” Chartier said.
Other attendees in Brest included US climate envoy John Kerry and Egyptian President Fattah al-Sisi.
And Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa spoke ahead of a UN oceans summit in Lisbon in June.
The US will support opening talks at the UN for an international deal on plastic pollution, throwing their weight alongside the EU nations and around 10 other countries.
A UN Environment Assembly in February will consider launching those negotiations.
Other issues raised by speakers in Brest included greenhouse-gas emissions by cargo ships and other vessels at sea, which are not covered by the 2015 Paris Agreement.
And Macron called for an end to government subsidies encouraging over-fishing, which is already being discussed at the World Trade Organisation.
France also announced that it would enlarge the natural reserve in its Antarctic territory in the southern Indian Ocean.
Nevertheless, around 150 demonstrators gathered in Brest in response to a Greenpeace call to denounce alleged “blue-washing” at the summit.
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