Russia, China block plans for Antarctic reserve
A plan to turn a huge tract of pristine Antarctic ocean into the world’s biggest sanctuary has been rejected, throwing the future of one of the Earth’s most important ecosystems into doubt. Environmental groups say Russia, China and Norway played a part in blocking the proposal, with the other 22 members of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), the organisation set up to protect Antarctic waters, backing the proposal. The 1.8-million-square-kilometre reserve – five times the size of Germany – would have banned all fishing in a vast area of the Weddell Sea and parts of the Antarctic Peninsula, safeguarding species including penguins, orca, leopard seals and blue whales. Experts said it would also have played a key role in tackling climate change, as the seas around the Antarctic soak up huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But after days of talks in Hobart, the CCAMLR rejected the plan, which needed unanimous agreement to pass. Environmental groups, which had mobilised 2 million people in support of the plan, reacted with dismay. ‘‘This was a historic opportunity to create the largest protected area on Earth in the Antarctic: safeguarding wildlife, tackling climate change and improving the health of our global oceans,’’ said Frida Bengtsson of Greenpeace’s Protect the Antarctic campaign. ‘‘Serious scientific proposals for urgent marine protection were derailed by interventions which barely engaged with the science.’’ She said that rather than putting forward ‘‘reasoned opposition on scientific grounds, some delegations, like China and Russia, instead deployed delaying tactics, such as wrecking amendments and filibustering, which meant there was barely any time left for real discussion about protecting Antarctic waters’’. CCAMLR did not respond to requests for comment but a report on its website said there had been ‘‘much discussion’’ around plans for new ocean sanctuaries. ‘‘Members will continue to work intersessionally on proposals for these before they are again considered at next year’s meeting.’’ The failure to create new protected zones in the Antarctic Ocean comes amid increasing evidence of humans’ devastating impact. This week, leading scientists warned that people have wiped out 60 per cent of wild animal populations since 1970, with potentially devastating consequences for the future of humanity. Greenpeace said CCAMLR had failed in its remit to protect the Antarctic waters. ‘‘We’re running out of time, and scientists are clear that we need to create marine sanctuaries across at least 30 per cent of our oceans by 2030, to protect wildlife, ensure food security for billions and help to tackle climate change,’’ Bengtsson said. She said that although the scientific evidence was clear, ‘‘diplomatic efforts seem to be more concerned with expanding fisheries than with conservation’’. This meant it was more urgent than ever for the public to join the fight, she said. ‘‘If bodies like the Antarctic Ocean Commission continue to fail in their mandate to conserve the ocean, they’re clearly unfit for purpose and aren’t part of the solution. Instead, we must look to the historic negotiations taking place at the UN towards a Global Ocean Treaty.’’
A plan to create the world’s biggest sanctuary in Antarctica, safeguarding wildlife habitat and helping to tackle climate change, has been rejected by the organisation set up to protect Antarctic waters.