Saving oceans must be top priority

The United Nations Ocean Conference which was held at the UN headquarters in New York this month, was an important event in the efforts to protect the oceans and their resources. About 4,000 delegates, including many heads of state, officials, experts and other stake holders attended the
conference. It recorded over 1,300 voluntary commitments and made a call for action to conserve and use the ocean resources as envisioned under the UN’s SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) plan, especially SDG 14 which relates to life under water and sets ambitious targets for use of marine resources. Oceans cover three quarters of the area of the planet and the direct and indirect impact of the oceans on the life and future of mankind cannot be overemphasised. Protecting their resources is important for the livelihood and food security of millions of people. About half of the planet covered by the seas and oceans is outside national jurisdictions and that makes attempts to ensure their health difficult and complicated.

The major threats to the oceans are unrestrained exploitation of their resources like overfishing and illegal use of other resources and marine pollution caused in various ways. The subsidies governments give for fishing are a major cause of overfishing. Efforts to curb this are going on under the auspices of the WTO but they pose a big challenge. A meeting in Buenos Aires will take up the matter later this year. Pollution is another serious problem that needs to be tackled. Oceans have deteriorated because of the massive and unregulated flow of liquid and solid waste, especially plastic, into them. Protection of biodiversity is another major task. All the life forms in the oceans have not yet even been discovered and identified. Many of the known life forms face threats to their survival. Marine biological life forms, which far exceed those on land, are important for the future of life on earth.

The commitments made at the conference are non-binding but they are expected to help the cause of promoting the health of oceans and seas and create better awareness about it. There are moves to work towards a Paris Agreement for Oceans, which is going to be as difficult as the climate change agreement. The proposed convention would cover and regulate all activities on the high seas including fishing, mining, maintenance of biodiversity, energy development, trade, pollution and other matters. The positions of the US and China on these issues will be important in this. Both were not active participants in the conference. It is going to be a long haul on the seas.

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