The multi-nation Ocean Panel’s commitment to an action plan to protect and manage oceans is commendable but countries ought to look to their own backyard first, a Saint Mary’s University professor says.
“It is a very good thing that attention is being paid to oceans of the world,” said Tony Charles, director of the School of Environment at Saint Mary’s.
“There is some value to countries getting together and looking at measures that everyone can support but there is also that important aspect of looking within one’s own borders,” Charles said.
“In Canada, with the longest coastline in the world, our coastal communities have the capabilities, with government support, to protect their own stretch of the coastline. They have the knowledge base and the First Nations have the knowledge base to do that. If our government would look at the local level, not just at the international level for action, that would be a good measure.”
Charles said Canada has a big stake in the health of the coast, where a good number of Canadians live.
“In my experience, the best way to conserve the coast and the coastal areas is to support the efforts of local communities all around Canada, all up and down the coast, support the efforts of local communities to do conservation in their own backyard.”
The 14 world leaders of the Ocean Panel that includes Canada committed to sustainably manage 100 per cent of the ocean area under national jurisdiction by 2025, nearly 30 million square kilometres of national waters – an area three times the size of Canada.
“What I would be concerned about is too much of this top-down activity where countries like Canada feel pressured by big non-government organizations to make big declarations that are basically a kind of a bean-counter idea of what’s the percentage that you are dealing with today and what’s the percentage tomorrow and instead we should be engaging with our local communities in figuring out in local areas all around the coast of Canada how we can do the protection best,” Charles said.
Canada, Australia Chile, Fiji, Ghana, Indonesia, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Namibia, Portugal and co-chairs Norway and Palau on Tuesday released a 24-page plan titled Transformations for a Sustainable Ocean Economy.
Two years ago, Ocean Panel members set out to develop a set of recommendations to deliver a sustainable ocean economy that would benefit people everywhere and effectively protect the ocean. The result is a new ocean action agenda that – if achieved – could help produce as much as six times more food from the ocean, generate 40 times more renewable energy, lift millions of people out of poverty, and contribute one-fifth of the greenhouse gas emissions reductions needed to stay within the 1.5-degree temperature increase.
“Canada recognizes that our economy and our well-being are deeply connected with the health of our oceans, and that we have a responsibility to protect them,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement. “That is why we are committed to working with our international Ocean Panel leaders, and to developing a comprehensive blue economy strategy. We are also calling on more world leaders and other partners to join us in turning our goals into reality.
"I think we can all agree on that there is too much plastic being wasted, too much plastic going into the ocean and real action on that is needed. In that case, it would be nice to have some binding measures in addition to the voluntary measures."
Tony Charles, Saint Mary's University professor
Oceans cover 70 per cent of Earth and help transport at least 90 per cent of goods. A healthy ocean contributes US$1.5 trillion to the global economy annually and millions of jobs in fishing, tourism, transportation and other sectors. The ocean provides food, energy and medicine is a source of recreation, discovery, identity and culture for billions of people.
Erna Solberg, prime minister of Norway, said humanity’s well-being is intertwined with the health of the ocean.
“It sustains us, stabilizes the climate and leads to greater prosperity,” Solberg said in a release. “For too long, we have perceived a false choice between ocean protection and production. No longer. We understand the opportunities of action and the risks of inaction, and we know the solutions. Building a sustainable ocean economy is one of the greatest opportunities of our time.
The Ocean Panel countries, which represent nearly 40 per cent of the world’s coastlines, have committed to manage oceans and to address climate change, acidification, ocean warming, marine pollution, overfishing, and loss of habitat and biodiversity.
By 2030, member countries vow to restore wild fish stocks and increase aquaculture to meet the demand for food, to use oceans for a renewable energy source, to sustain ocean-based tourism, shift toward zero-emission and low-impact marine vessels for ocean transport, invest in new environmentally responsible ocean industries, to limit seabed mining to projects informed by science and that are ecologically sustainable, to reduce greenhouse gases and restore ocean health, and to protect and restore marine ecosystems and to reduce ocean pollution.
None of the commitments are binding and Charles said that the Trump administration in the United States and the former Harper government in Canada have shown that environmental policies and commitments can be dismantled with a change of government.
“We have to make the best effort today, this year, to do the right thing … and I think we can all agree on that there is too much plastic being wasted, too much plastic going into the ocean and real action on that is needed,” Charles said. “In that case, it would be nice to have some binding measures in addition to the voluntary measures. Nobody is supporting plastic in the ocean but there is a lot more discussion needed around the idea of protecting a per cent of the ocean and there are some important issues around how to rebuild fish stocks as well. Those need some discussion and some bottom-up thinking.”