2016, a year of lights and shadows.
This year has been the hottest year ever recorded. The Arctic sea ice has never been so small and thin and the ocean’s rising temperature produced the most widespread and longest coral bleaching event ever occurred globally. In parallel, the race to the precious deep sea mineral resources may severely compromise the already fragile deep sea ecosystems, and continued overfishing represents a threat to future fishing sustainability. While politics should provide an answer and show the way forward, the climate-sceptic President-elect of the US, Donald Trump, not only doesn’t bring any encouraging perspective but may also undermine the Paris agreement. So, the international community turns to the EU for a global environmental leadership, also on the oceans. Whether the Communication on International Ocean Governance will deliver on this remains to be seen.
Despite these stark challenges, 2016 also brought hope. The International Maritime Organisation took decisive steps towards phasing out the world’s dirtiest shipping fuel from the Arctic and committed to cut the polluting ship sulphur emissions by 2020. The #BreakFreeFromPlastic movement saw the light, in which hundreds of NGOs from around the world are rallying forces to stop plastic pollution. 2016 rounded off with the adoption of the deep sea regulation. With the ban of trawling below 800 metres in EU waters this is an important step towards ending destructive fishing practices.
2017 is set to be the year of the oceans, with the UN conference on the oceans Sustainable Development Goal in June in New York and the Our Ocean conference in October in Malta. Big conferences will of course not be enough. It takes everyday steps from all involved. We wish you, dear reader, many successful steps in 2017.
Merry Christmas and happy New Year!
Seas At Risk's team
The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States of America was a bombshell that will be commented on and written about for many months and years to come. While we are still pondering what the consequences of this election will be for the world, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Trump administration will not be a proponent of stronger environmental regulation and may even try to undermine the environmental acquis in the US.
The decision by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to cap the sulphur content of marine fuels sold worldwide at 0.5% by 2020 has been applauded by environmental groups Transport & Environment and Seas At Risk, which are members of the Clean Shipping Coalition. This will reduce SO2 emissions – which cause premature deaths from diseases such as lung cancer and heart disease – from shipping by 85% compared with today’s levels.
By recognising the threats posed by spills and black carbon emissions from heavy fuel oil (HFO) the recent 70th session of the International Maritime Organisation’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC70) took a first significant step towards the phase out of this dirty fuel from ships sailing in Arctic waters. Getting HFO out of the Arctic will protect the environment and human health, and protect coastal communities and food security”, said Clean Arctic Alliance advisor Dr Sian Prior.
Abandoning a review of ship efficiency targets until 2018 at the earliest, the International Maritime Organisation turned down an easy opportunity to act on climate change, environmental groups Transport & Environment and Seas at Risk, members of the Clean Shipping Coalition, have said. The Energy Efficiency Design Index, regulating the energy efficiency of new ships, was agreed by the IMO with great fanfare in 2011 as the first global sectoral agreement addressing climate change.
Environmental groups strongly criticised the most recent International Maritime Organisation (IMO) response to the Paris Agreement objective of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees, and in particular the lack of an agreement to establish a greenhouse gas emissions reduction target for the shipping sector. The outcome fails to allay fears that the IMO might be unable to tackle this issue in an effective and timely manner and reinforces the argument that the EU should push ahead with its own regional measure.
In a welcome development the Environment Committee of the European Parliament agreed to support the inclusion of shipping in a revised EU greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme (ETS). Under the proposal shipping would be included in the ETS from 2023 if the International Maritime Organisation fails to establish a global measure by the deadline they agreed earlier this year.
The EU’s Fisheries Council agreed on the North Sea and North-East Atlantic quotas for 2017. Once again Ministers failed to end overfishing. The agreed catch limits for several stocks for 2017, including cod in the Celtic Sea, Southern hake, and sole in the Bay of Biscay, are higher than the maximum sustainable yield levels recommended by scientist. This, despite Ministers’ commitments to end overfishing for all stocks by 2020 at the latest, as agreed under the Common Fisheries Policy.
Seas at Risk, The DSCC and Bloom are disappointed by the decisions on fishing limits for deep-sea fish stocks taken by the Fisheries’ Council of Ministers. Ministers did reduce the total allowable catch for most of the deep-sea stocks but this decision will not stop overfishing. Most of the quotas are set well above the levels recommended by the scientific community to achieve sustainable fishing and will consequently allow continued overfishing of vulnerable deep-sea species.
Seas At Risk welcomes the adoption by the European Parliament of the deep sea regulation, which includes a ban on bottom trawling below 800 metres in EU waters and the obligation to close areas to bottom trawling below 400 metres where vulnerable marine ecosystems are present or likely to occur. The deep sea is home to a large biodiversity including fragile habitats such as thousand year old deep-water corals and sponges.
The annual meeting of the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission closed today without agreement regarding management of the deep-sea fish orange roughy. The Commission also agreed on total allowable catches of 7,500 tonnes for redfish in the Irminger Sea. These decisions leave both vulnerable species subject to overfishing, despite clear scientific advice to not allow any direct fishing for them.
Following a three year long process the Advisory Council on Aquaculture is finally established, and can start its work on shaping European aquaculture. Seas At Risk aims to encourage the development of an environmentally responsible aquaculture sector, minimising its environmental impact.
Measures proposed by EU Member States to protect the marine environment lack ambition and financial commitment. This is the key finding of an NGO survey organised by Seas At Risk and Oceana in order to assess the level of ambition, strengths and weaknesses of themeasures Member States are proposing to implement the Marine Directive and ultimately achieve a good environmental status of European marine waters before 2020.
In 2016, several deep sea mining events brought a common message: technology is running far ahead of regulation and scientific knowledge. And while European technology developers are pushing hard for pilot test mining, even the economic profitability of deep sea mining is still questionable.
Seas At Risk urges the International Seabed Authority to stop granting licenses for deep sea exploration and exploitation until all alternatives have been investigated and stringent environmental framework conditions are put in place. So far 26 exploration licenses have been granted by the International Seabed Authority, with more in the make. And while actual mining is not yet taking place, it is expected that the industry will have the technology ready to start mining within four years.
The German Federation for Environment and Nature Conservation (BUND), member of Seas At Risk, called for a ban on deep sea mining together with several other German NGOs (PowerShift, Fair Oceans, Brot für die Welt, MISEREOR, Stiftung Asienhaus, Forum Umwelt und Entwicklung). The ban was called for in the context of the International Conference on deep sea mining hosted by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy in which BUND and Seas At Risk participated.
The answer is provided by two parallel studies carried out by Legambiente, Seas At Risk Member. The analysis of the types of plastic sampled during the 2016 summer campaigns looked at the types of waste collected, their chemical characterisation and possible solutions for stopping the leakage. In 2016 Legambiente carried out a first preliminary study on micro plastic in Italian lakes, in partnership with the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development, the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and ARPA Umbria.
The Blue Eco Forum organised by ENT Foundation, Seas At Risk member, together with Coastal & Marine Union and eco-union, took place end of November at the Maritime Museum of Barcelona. About 350 people attended the event and participated in plenary debates, workshops and exhibitions which counted on the presence of experts and key stakeholders from the Euro-Mediterranean political, economic and social world.
Trump, the EU and the ocean