There’s hope yet for Planet Earth. Representatives of 70 nations along with oil companies and major shipping lines have agreed in principle on a plan to stabilize oceans, limit exploitation and preserve habitats for marine life. That might not seem like such a big deal to some landlocked states, but there’s not a place on Earth that doesn’t depend one way or another on the health of the world’s oceans and the abundance they provide. And they are dying rapidly, threatening to take the rest of the world with them.
It’s remarkable in itself that U.N. members — who rarely agree on anything — have been able to reach a framework for protecting the oceans from further man-made harm. The oceanic areas mapped out for protection belong to no country. That means no country has an automatic right to exploit marine life or mineral riches beneath the sea floor. Conversely, no nation has an automatic right to tell any other nations what they may or may not do in an area where no nation holds jurisdiction. That’s why the only way to protect the oceans is for all nations to agree that this is necessary for the good of the world.
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U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry, fresh from an international meeting in Panama, stated early this month that a series of meetings that began in 2014 have culminated in the current draft agreement, in which countries around the world have committed to abide by 1,800 specific measures carrying a price tag of more than $100 billion to address global climate change, sustainable fisheries, maritime security, marine pollution and areas where species survival is under threat.
Without regulation, industrial fishing fleets from countries like China fan out thousands of miles from their own shores to catch, process and package massive quantities of marine life for consumer markets. They are fishing the oceans to death.
When careless people throw plastic bottles into a gutter or stream, or when the streets flood and sweep away all the scattered litter, or when a massive tsunami or hurricane washes away entire coastal towns — that debris makes its way into the oceans. Literal floating islands of debris — plastic, wood, furniture, car parts and insulation foam — have formed on ocean surfaces, with one garbage patch in the Pacific reported to be the size of the state of Texas. They block off sunlight and choke off life for the creatures below.
The agreements reached in Panama set a low bar: Conserving only 30% of the ocean by 2030. And all that is conditional on an international treaty, which could take years more to negotiate and more years to win legislative ratification. And, as Americans learned with the Paris Climate Accord, all it takes is one change of U.S. administration to scuttle everything. So, even at 30%, this is by no means a slam-dunk.