Sunday

16th Jan 2022

Opinion

Oceans, seas, and fish-stocks must be focus of COP26

  • Healthy fish stocks contribute to a healthy marine environment and so the ocean's capacity to cope with climate change (Photo: Ingrid Taylar)

At December's UN Climate Conference, COP25, it seemed that the loud call for immediate action from the masses in the climate marches all over the world was not sufficiently heard in the negotiating rooms, as governments failed to deliver the level of ambition and action required to tackle the climate emergency.

However, one important but still tentative step forward was the inclusion of the ocean in the final negotiated text, recognising at last the ocean's massive role within the climate system and planet, and the far-reaching consequences for humanity if that role is further eroded.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The last, most-recent COP was originally billed as the 'Blue COP', with a spotlight on our blue planet for the first time in the 25 years of history of the negotiations. The agreed process to come up with recommendations will now hopefully result in urgent action to help safeguard our ocean as if our lives depended on it.

Last year's Inter-government Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate made it crystal clear that our governments must match their actions in the ocean to their commitments for the climate.

This was an important message sent from some of the most respected scientists in the world, and some progressive political initiatives are now surfacing and suggesting their warnings have been listened to.

In November, the EU Council adopted conclusions on oceans and seas, highlighting that climate change is a direct and existential threat and that "member states unanimously stress the need for immediate action against increasing threats on our oceans, seas, and coastal areas".

Moreover, the European Green Deal acknowledges that "lasting solutions to climate change require greater attention to nature-based solutions including healthy and resilient seas and oceans."

These are good beginnings but words are not enough.

Seas are carbon sinks

Fish and other marine life are the engines of our global ocean; a global ocean that generates every second breath we take, regulates the climate, has absorbed over 90 percent of the heat trapped by our carbon dioxide emissions, and acts as the world's largest active carbon sink by sequestering over 30 percent of the carbon from those emissions.

A healthy ocean with abundant wildlife is capable of slowing the rate of climate change substantially, but its capacity to mitigate and promote adaptation to climate change is severely hindered by continued overfishing - not allowing fish populations to replenish and rebuild themselves.

Unsustainable management of European fisheries has taken place for decades.

Last December EU fisheries ministers decided to continue overfishing several stocks in the northeast Atlantic - in spite of EU law requiring they are fished within sustainable limits as of 1st January 2020.

This decision to break EU law is not only bad for the long-term economic viability of the fishing industry, but it could have a huge ripple effect.

Healthy fish stocks contribute to a healthy marine environment and so the ocean's capacity to cope with climate change.

Fisheries management must embrace a new reality: the world is changing fast and maintaining fish stocks at higher levels and reducing the impacts of fishing on ocean habitats are mandatory requirements for a climate resilient sea.

It is clearer than ever that the resilience and health of the ocean is vital to all humankind – both as a mitigator of climate breakdown and a service provider of oxygen, fresh water, weather patterns, and food.

We need to far more ambitious action by governments to remove the threats to the ocean which are within our immediate control such as overfishing and pollution.

Improving ocean resilience is a climate action; ending overfishing is a climate action; protecting two thirds of the ocean through a high seas treaty is a climate action.

Where the fisheries ministers just failed, others will now have to lead.

One important milestone would be more ambitious national climate plans that include actions for ocean resilience at the next climate COP26 in Glasgow.

Another milestone would be for the EU's new Green Deal to start a process rolling out concrete actions and targets that will ensure all necessary efforts are made to build ocean resilience as a matter of climate urgency.

Author bio

Dr Monica Verbeek is executive director of Seas At Risk, an independent NGO of environmental associations. Professor Callum Roberts works at the department of environment and geography at the University of York.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

EU failed to end overfishing by 2020: lost opportunity?

Environmentalists denounce that the EU failed to comply with the legal obligation to end overfishing by 2020, putting at risk the sustainability of fish stocks by putting the interests of the fishing industry ahead of the health of its waters.

Second-hand cars flaw in EU Green Deal

The moment Europe revels in its carbon-free transport system, most of the cars that emitted too much for EU standards will still be driving around for years somewhere else in the world.

Analysis

COP26 climate summit: could it be different this time?

World leaders and national negotiators from almost 200 countries will meet in Glasgow next month to discuss global cooperation in response to the climate change emergency. What outcome can be expected? Why does it matter?

EU vows to uphold Paris climate ambition amid scientists' fears

EU leaders called for an "ambitious global response to climate change" to keep the 1.5 degrees global warming limit within reach - after scientists concluded that the projected global increase in fossil-fuel production for 2030 is inconsistent with this target.

Kenyan activist lambasts world leaders at EU green summit

Government officials and financial leaders met at the EU Summit for Sustainable Finance on Thursday (October 7) to discuss current green investment plans and seek common ground, amid worsening climate crisis and gaping inequality.

News in Brief

  1. Ukraine hit by cyber-attack on government websites
  2. Russia threatens military deployment to Cuba, Venezuela
  3. Polish minister warns of risk of war in Europe
  4. French teachers strike against Covid confusion
  5. Denmark warns of increased spying in Arctic
  6. Erdoğan: Turkey 'committed to EU membership'
  7. German court gives Syrian intelligence officer life sentence
  8. EU to impose sweeping sanctions on Mali

Gas and nuclear: a lose-lose scenario for Eastern Europe

The strong advocacy of Central and Eastern European capitals for including fossil gas and nuclear power in the EU's green taxonomy only leads to another unsustainable energy lock-in for the region, leaving their grid exposed to third-country coercion.

Column

Breastfeeding for democracy

Clubs, associations and social networks help to give meaning not just to life, but to the entire democratic system. Be they dinner groups, voluntary fire brigades, citizens' councils, environmental NGOs, neighbourhood committees coaching refugees, and yes, why not, breastfeeding-support groups.

Latest News

  1. MEPs seek probe into EU commissioner over Bosnia
  2. EU's Borrell contradicts Germany on Russia gas pipeline
  3. It's time for a more geopolitical EU-Turkey cooperation
  4. EU gas and nuclear rules derided as 'biggest greenwash ever'
  5. Even without war, Russia has defeated Europe already
  6. Nato and Russia in talks to reopen embassies
  7. Record-breaking Omicron wave sweeps across Europe
  8. EU agency warns ETS emission-cuts are off track

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us