Over the past year, many you have helped put pressure on OSPAR (the Oslo-Paris Convention) to stand up for Arctic protection. Since we started work on getting OSPAR to protect an area around the North Pole roughly the size of the UK from destructive fishing and other extractive industries, the pressure has been mounting on countries at the negotiating table. And that pressure has had an effect.
OSPAR Arctic Protection Action in Gothenburg. 2 Mar, 2016 © Pedro Armestre / Greenpeace
At the last OSPAR meeting in Gothenburg back in February, OSPAR formally accepted that there are valid scientific reasons for defending this unique area at the top of the world. In principle, it is now up to the politicians to do their job and ensure that the region is protected, as climate change causes the ice to melt and the region becomes easier to access.
Russian Fishing Trawler and Reefer in Svalbard. 28 Jul, 2014 © Nick Cobbing / Greenpeace
This was a major step, and means that it will be difficult for ‘blockers’ such as Denmark and Norway to claim that there is no need to act. Unfortunately, we all know that politicians are generally quite good at ignoring scientific consensus and, as such, there are no guarantees that OSPAR will stay on the path towards Arctic protection.
OSPAR’s Coordination Group is meeting in London this week. Logically they should simply forward the discussion to the main meeting in June, but there is a real risk that the blockers will use the opportunity to sideline the discussion by initiating talks with the Arctic Council. This does on paper seem to make sense – Arctic issues should be discussed in an “Arctic Council” setting, right? But the problem is that the Council has continuously proven to be, at best, excruciatingly slow, and at worst to make agreements which have very little impact, allowing countries to claim that sufficient actions are being taken, and move on to other ‘greenwashing’ manoeuvres.
Greenpeace activists at the OSPAR conference ask the German minister of environment, Norbert Roettgen, to keep his word and take a stand against deep sea oil drilling. 17 Sep, 2010 © Ulrich Baatz / Greenpeace
Even the current chair of the Arctic Council, the United States, didn’t follow Council procedure when it took the initiative to establish a moratorium on fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean. So if the chair of the organisation doesn’t believe that their processes move swiftly enough, then why should we? Our best assessment is that an Arctic Council process is likely to take 10 to 15 years before it can start to be implemented, if we are lucky.
OSPAR has time and again proved that it can take tough and ambitious decisions to protect our oceans from destructive industries, decisions that are sometimes unpopular with those who appear to have little concern for the future of our oceans.
It is critical that members of OSPAR who have spoken up for Arctic protection, in particular Germany, France, Spain, Netherlands, Sweden, Finland and the EU, don’t falter at this crucial time, but instead insist that the goal to designate the first protected area in the Arctic high seas is achieved.
The science is clear, and now it is up to the countries to act on it – OSPAR must protect the Arctic.
Sara del Río is an Arctic Political Advisor for Greenpeace Spain.
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