Think about what the Paris Agreement achieved. Yes, it took a long, complicated process to get here—but it is difficult to challenge the fact that climate change has made its way into mainstream discourse, and unprecedented action is underway to include climate change in planning and financing, across the spectrum of stakeholders. Governments have set their own targets; industry is largely represented and, in several cases, in the driving seat. Partnership has truly established itself as the new form of leadership. A sense of achievement and global positivity was strongly felt in the wake of the meeting—a sense that the world can come together with intent when it needs to. What the world needs now is a Paris Agreement for the ocean.
July 2017 saw an important step in this direction—one that went largely unnoticed. Countries around the world came together to take the first steps towards protecting the high seas. Currently, 50 percent of our planet is a no-mans’ land: there is no legal mechanism to create protected areas outside of territorial seas, or to undertake environmental impact assessments. Considering the increasing impact of human activity on the ocean—e.g. fishing, shipping, mining—this is a dangerous state of affairs. But the tide is slowly turning, as many countries have recommended initiating treaty negotiations that would lead to protection beyond any country’s national waters. This is a great start and you can imagine the incredible complexity of the discussions that will follow. But if we did it for a global commons like our atmosphere, I believe we can do it for our ocean.
In 2016, 24 countries and the EU agreed to the creation of The Ross Sea Marine Protected Area in the Antarctic; it will be enforced as of December 2017. Covering 1.55 million square kilometers, it is the outcome of skillful negotiation, which drew out the long-term benefits of protecting an area that could produce up to three-quarters of the nutrients that sustain life in the rest of the global ocean. This marked an important leap for ocean conservation, a successful model to pave the way, one which makes me proud—as should be the European Commission and all involved stakeholders.
Governance is a crucial piece of the ocean protection puzzle, but it cannot work alone. Policy decisions must be underpinned by the right science and smart, innovative financial models. This is where partnerships come to play. Our next challenge will be to connect policy with business. A new model of successful international governance is one that is fed by science and supported for implementation not only by policy makers but also by business executives, local communities and financial institutions. I worked through this model, reforming the EU Common Fisheries Policy, and we achieved good results. The days of top down governance are over: it is time for collaboration and partnership, and this is what we strive for at the Nature Conservancy.