[By Kong Lingyu]
Although there is no official word, it is highly likely the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP15), due to be held in Kunming this October, will be pushed back to next year, as the coronavirus epidemic has forced a number of preparatory meetings to be cancelled or delayed, stalling the already slow CBD negotiations process.
The epidemic makes the future of targets for global biodiversity – including in the ocean – even more uncertain. With economies suffering, how much money will there be for marine biodiversity? But some see opportunity. Li Shuo, senior global policy advisor with Greenpeace East Asia, says recent epidemics have almost all originated in animals, and the coronavirus exposes the possible health risks that arise when the relationship between humanity and nature falls out of balance.
Calls for a “Thirty by Thirty” target – to make 30% of the global ocean marine protected areas (MPAs) by 2030 – have been increasing. The target is already in the zero draft for CBD COP15, and it is the clearest and most widely supported of the proposals to the conference.
But the slow pace of progress over the last decade, often inadequate marine protection where it does exist, and the current precarious state of negotiations over mechanisms to protect the high seas all point to the huge challenge of achieving the goal. Even if the political will to add it to the Kunming targets is there, actually fulfilling that commitment within the next ten years looks to be an impossible task.
As early as 2000, scientists were calling for 30% of the ocean to be protected in order to preserve biodiversity. In 2003, the World Park Congress proposed strict protections for at least 20-30% of the ocean by 2012. Unfortunately, a lack of political will meant that parties to the CBD scaled back ambitions in 2010, calling for protection of only 10% of coastal and marine areas. That became Aichi Target 11, named for the Japanese prefecture where the 2010 talks took place.
Ten years later, when reviewing the performance of the 196 parties to the CBD, there is no denying that even the 10% target has been missed. Although the CBD doesn’t make official data on protected ocean areas available, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature calculated from national data that only 7.43% of the ocean worldwide was protected as of 12 April 2020.
The Aichi target was more concerned with the quantity of MPAs than the quality. It called for such areas to be “conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems.” But much research has shown that MPAs are only effective when extractive practices such as fishing and mining are banned.
When you look at the quality of protections, that 7.43% achievement seems even less impressive. First, this is just a simple total of nationally reported figures, and many of the MPAs are “paper parks”, existing only in government documents. Some are merely proposals, years away from implementation. Second, the vast majority of these MPAs still allow the use of various types of resources. After examining the data, the Marine Conservation Institute found that only 2.5% of the ocean could be classed as highly protected, with only light extractive activities allowed.
Kristina Gjerde, senior high seas advisor to the IUCN, told China Dialogue: “So to me the definition of MPA needs to talk about everything [being] managed for conservation, and MPAs today don’t. They are just more like marine planning exercises.” She explained that the IUCN places MPAs in one of six categories, according to the level of protection, with Category V and VI allowing the sustainable use of natural resources. “It means more sustainable use for local communities. It doesn’t mean commercial fishing. And so if you start to scrutinise how many MPAs are open to commercial fishing, and said ‘no, they should not be really qualified MPAs’, your numbers will go way down.”
Trouble on the high seas
Calls to implement the Thirty by Thirty target have gathered force among scientists, international organisations, the media and the public, and can no longer be ignored. But nor can two problems: First, given the lessons learned from the Aichi process, can we fulfil this goal? Second, how? This brings us to high seas governance.
The CBD aims to protect global biodiversity. But its signatories – sovereign states – can only create MPAs within their jurisdiction, not for the high seas. Aichi Target 11 did not specify if that 10% was to be in marine areas within national jurisdiction, or to cover the high seas. Currently, the vast majority of MPAs fall within national jurisdictions.
But only 39% of the ocean falls within national jurisdiction, with the remaining 61% being international waters. Thus, achieving the 30% protection target would require protecting almost 80% of domestic waters. This is clearly unrealistic.
In other words, the tools currently at the CBD’s disposal do not allow it to reach the Thirty by Thirty target. Either it comes up with new mechanisms, or the 196 signatories achieve that target via other international platforms or tools.
There is no widely used method for managing MPAs on the high seas. In 2004, talks started on marine biodiversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction (BBNJ), under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. After 16 years of talks and three formal intergovernmental negotiations in the last two years, there is hope for a binding treaty on the high seas. The MPA articles of that treaty would be an important tool for the CBD in achieving its targets.
It is as if 196 people decided to cross an ocean over the course of a decade. Their aim is set but they have no means of transport. The first order of business is to find or fashion one. How long will that take? This is the crucial issue for high seas protection today. A BBNJ treaty looks the most plausible “boat” – but the coronavirus has forced a fourth intergovernmental meeting planned for March and April to be postponed.
The outlook for the BBNJ talks is unclear, said Zheng Miaozhuang, associate researcher with the Ministry of Natural Resources’ Marine Development Strategy Institute and deputy head of its Ocean Environment Resources Research Office. “Although there is quite a bit of consensus on MPAs, there are four topics that need to be resolved at once: marine genetic resources, including questions on the sharing of benefits; environmental impact assessments; capacity building and the transfer of marine technology. Even if progress is made on MPAs, there will be no agreement if the other three topics aren’t also concluded.”
What targets do we need?
Given the inadequacy of existing MPAs and the lack of high seas governance mechanisms, is it possible to protect 30% of the ocean within ten years? And is it even a worthwhile target?
Many scientists are questioning such “numbers first” targets. Over the last decade, some countries have hastily set up MPAs to meet Aichi Target 11 – but with poor protections. According to Megan D. Barnes and others in a paper published in 2018, such targets result in a focus on establishing protected areas but give the false impression that conservation is actually taking place: “It would be inconceivable to monitor healthcare provision based on available beds (quantity) irrespective of the presence of trained medical staff (quality) or whether patients live or die (outcome).”
Although scientists have produced methods to better evaluate the effectiveness of a protected area, these rarely come up in international negotiations or make it into treaty texts. The detail and complexity of scientific research tends not to survive a policymaking process involving 196 parties. So while numeric targets may suffer from being a blunt instrument, this is also their strength. “Quantified targets are easy to report on and assess. In this sense, of all the Aichi targets, the one on the extent of MPAs is the easiest to understand and evaluate,” Li Shuo said. “Look at the first of the Aichi targets: ‘By 2020, at the latest, people are aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably.’ What’s the point in a target when there’s no way to measure success?”
Observers generally think numeric targets are a powerful tool. The 30% aim remains bracketed in the Kunming zero draft, meaning it requires further discussion, but it is a start. Chen Jiliang, a high seas conservation researcher with NGO Greenovation Hub, doesn’t think it’s a choice between quality or quantity – both are necessary.
The Thirty by Thirty target has strong support from the UK, the EU, Canada, Costa Rica and the Seychelles. “Nobody has been explicitly opposed to it during talks. But a lot of countries haven’t commented on the actual number, and some of them may have reservations about it,” said Li Shuo.
The weakness of the CBD is that it lacks teeth
More important is how the target will be implemented. The weakness of the CBD is that it lacks teeth. After the 10% target was announced, countries themselves decided what action to take, then submitted reports they produced themselves. It is as if students submit homework which never gets marked, but is just left on a desk to be read by anyone who might be interested. This has led to the CBD being described as toothless.
“Setting conservation targets is one thing, implementing them is another,” said Zheng Miaozhuang. He thinks that while the Thirty by Thirty target has gathered plenty of political will, “if like the Aichi Target 11 it is never achieved or creates MPAs that exist only on paper and in words, it doesn’t matter how ambitious is it.”
But multilateral processes often set lofty targets which, though never met, result in progress during implementation. Kristina Gjerde told China Dialogue that while many protected areas aren’t well managed and may not be worthy of the name, encouragement is needed for improvement: simply pointing out these aren’t really MPAs won’t help.
Chen Jiliang thinks the parties to the CBD should support an ambitious target: “Without that target, there’s no reason to mobilise the resources to achieve it.”
During talks on marine conservation targets, China has always stressed feasibility and a combination of quality and quantity. Zheng Miaozhuang said the 5th Working Report of the CBD, originally due to be published in the first half of this year, would review national implementation of Aichi Target 11. This would help set targets for marine protection under the CBD’s post-2020 framework. However, the coronavirus means it will likely be delayed.
One researcher with the Ministry of Natural Resources who participated in the talks and has requested anonymity said that China is taking a conservative stance on a numeric target. He thinks clarity will be needed on what is meant by “ocean”, as the post-2020 targets cover marine areas under national jurisdiction – and two-thirds of the ocean is international waters.
Nor is Li Shuo particularly optimistic. “The negotiation process is more than halfway over, and everyone’s still talking about designing targets, with less discussion of implementation and funding. Is that going to convince people the Kunming process has learned lessons from Aichi?”
Enric Sala, marine ecologist and National Geographic explorer-in-residence, said in an email to China Dialogue that “COVID-19 has already changed the world, and everyone can realise that our relationship with nature is broken and that we have to fix it. This is why I hope that Kunming will change history not only by agreeing to ambitious targets for nature conservation, but also by establishing mechanisms to optimise and monitor conservation outcomes. We cannot make big announcements and promises without a real commitment to follow up.”
Kong Lingyu is a freelance writer covering environment and science. She was a journalist with Caixin Media and a project manager with Guangzhou Green Data Environmental Service Center, a non-governmental organization in China.
This article appears courtesy of China Dialogue Ocean and may be found in its original form here.
A massive fire broke out at the Port of Beirut on Thursday, incinerating a warehouse full of tires and oil within the port’s free zone. The same area was heavily damaged in the ammonium nitrate explosion that leveled the central port area and the adjacent waterfront on August 4. According to Lebanon’s civil defense agency, […]
Over the course of the past five days, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority arranged a medical intervention for an injured aboard a freighter in the Indian Ocean. On Saturday evening, the Spliethoff tweendecker Dolfijngracht called for assistance while under way about 1,000 nauical miles off the coast of Western Australia. A crewmember had sustained serious […]
The naval forces of the US and Bahrain recently staged a joint force training exercise which showcased the interoperability between coalition warships operating I the Arabian Gulf. Coalition Task Force Sentinel executed combined exercise Sentinel Shield supporting Sentry and Sentinel patrols in the coalition’s area of operations. The guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones and […]
DSV Belgium has solid experience in the transport of pharmaceutical products for different customers. With a pharma hub based at Brussels Airport a lot of experience and know-how has been built up over the years. Last weekend, the forwarder handled one hundred million mouth masks, an important milestone for its Belgian organisation that has put […]
The U-Freight Group (UFL), with its considerable involvement in eCommerce logistics, says that the latest statistics showing that global e-commerce sales hit $25.6 trillion in 2018 are a further vindication of its decision to enter this sector of the international freight market several years ago. The latest available estimates, up 8% from 2017, were recently […]
The UK government’s new post-Brexit tariff regime will result in both winners and losers. The new regime is set to replace the European Union’s Common External Tariff from the end of the Brexit Transition Period on December 31, 2020. The UK’s commitment to the ongoing Brexit process and ending the UK’s transition from EU membership […]
Astral Aviation has increased its intra-African network with cargo freighters during the pandemic. While there has been a reduction in capacity to, from, and within Africa, which has been caused by a stoppage of passenger flights and limited frequencies on freighter aircraft, Astral Aviation continues to operate cargo freighters from its Nairobi hub to 13 destinations […]
With close to 100 daily cargo flights operated to a destination network spanning more than 65 cities across six continents, Emirates SkyCargo is delivering essential supplies and commodities to people around the world. The air cargo carrier is currently operating 11 Boeing 777 freighter aircraft, each with a capacity to transport about 100 tonnes of […]
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released a Marine Accident Brief about an accident that occurred on April 15, 2019, involving the towing vessel DeJeanne Maria which struck the end of a submerged dredge pipeline while pushing two spud barges to the Gulf of Mexico. The incident occurred on the Mississippi River in Pass […]
Best known as a leading passenger airport serving Germany’s most populated federal state North Rhine-Westphalia, Düsseldorf has become transformed into a vital distribution point, during the COVID 19 pandemic, for medical equipment and other life-saving goods, mostly from China. Gerton Hulsman, managing director of cargo operations, reports that the handling teams are working hard to […]
Operators can continue to use pilots and other crew members who have unable to comply with certain training, recent experience, testing, and checking requirements due to the COVID-19 outbreak in support of essential operations. Additionally, this Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) provides regulatory relief to certain persons and pilot schools unable to meet duration and […]
Emirates SkyCargo has expanded its weekly scheduled cargo flight operations to cover 75 destinations across six continents. Through its wider reach, Emirates SkyCargo is able to transport essential commodities and other urgently needed cargo more rapidly across the world, allowing exporters and importers across markets to benefit from direct access to widebody cargo capacity. Some […]
Global commercial aviation charter company Albion Aviation Group is reporting that it is seeing a considerable uptake in its professional cargo broker training courses from the current global pandemic crisis and surge in charter demand. “We have completed a number webinar courses for a whole of host of companies, looking to manage their own cargo […]
The First DP2, Twin-Hulled SOV in the World, NB72 Groene Wind met the Sea on September 29. 2020 in Yalova, Turkey. The Groene Wind will be directly chartered to Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy for the maintenance of the Rentel and Mermaid & Seastar (known as SeaMade) offshore wind farms in Belgium. This is the first DP2, […]
Callan Marine is serving as the prime contractor to the Texas Department of Transportation for a maintenance dredging project located at the Bolivar Ferry Terminal, in Galveston, Texas. Work began in May and is estimated to be complete in late July 2020. The project consists of the removal of 600,000 cubic yards of material and […]
Network Airline Management and TAAG Angola Airlines are pleased to announce the renewal of their long-term freighter aircraft contract by an additional 12 months, sealing an ongoing partnership for the foreseeable future. Operating a regular weekly scheduled service from Liege, Belgium, to the capital of Angola, Luanda, Network Airline Management provides a Boeing 747-400F aircraft […]