Government representatives from the 15 countries, including the European Union, are meeting this week in Ostend (Belgium). These countries make up the OSPAR Commission which regulates the Northeast Atlantic Ocean. A big part of the Commission’s responsibility is the part of the Arctic Ocean, which begins off the coast of Iceland and runs between Norway and Greenland all the way to the North Pole.
The Arctic Ocean is not only the least protected ocean in the world, but it is also one of the oceans under the most pressure. Climate change is happening at a swifter pace there than anywhere else on the planet and the receding sea ice is being exploited by huge fishing vessels (floating factories almost) and oil companies that are moving further and further North, putting the unique Arctic ecology under threat.
The OSPAR Commission is one of the few international bodies that has a history they can truly be proud of. Its achievements in environmental protection are impressive. Under the OSPAR Convention, the Commission has the mandate to apply the strongest environmental practices and standards to “take the necessary measures to protect the maritime area against the adverse effects of human activities”.
But some members of OSPAR are willing to let the Arctic fall between the cracks and ignore both their mandate and their responsibility to protect this unique ecosystem.
The Arctic coastal states — Norway, Denmark and Iceland, who are also members of OSPAR — are using every argument, no matter how weak, to block progress. They have recently claimed that the Arctic countries themselves can handle it. Unfortunately, history and the current political reality, proves otherwise. Their arguments are, at best, pipe-dreams. Here is why there has been a deliberate attempt to prevent the necessary action to protect the unique Arcitc wildlife:
Even though an Arctic Council already exists which is supposed to ensure environmental protection in the Arctic, in its almost 20 years history it has never agreed on any strong measures for protection of anything in the Arctic. In the face of this, OSPAR has established a wide range of strong, binding protective measures and already have a working system in place.
The Arctic Council is already bound by a mandate until 2017 and will be able to adopt binding protection by 2019 at earliest. And even then, they do not have jurisdiction over the areas outside of the international waters (including the North Pole). The Arctic cannot wait for this.
OSPAR could reach a principle agreement already in the coming days and start implementation almost immediately thereafter.
OSPAR has a collective responsibility to fulfil their mandate and do their part to protect the Arctic. They must commit to establishing a network of marine protected areas (including the uninhabited waters around the North Pole) and an action plan, which ensures that the uniqueness of the area is unequivocally incorporated into this plan.
Greenpeace, based on the demands of more than seven million Arctic defenders, urges OSPAR to no longer turn a blind eye to what is at stake here. It is a fine line to walk, when some member states are adamantly against the needed actions, but if OSPAR still refuses to act and take the needed measures to protect this beautiful place, its reputation will falter — just as rapidly as the Arctic will be destroyed by greedy oil companies.
Jon Burwald is an arctic campaigner with Greenpeace Nordic
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