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Oceans Have Saved Us Now We Have To Save Our Oceans

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Authors: Prakash Sharma and Partha Pratim Mitra*

The rampant consumption of Earth for its resources has caused massive alterations to its responsive ecosystem. Humans desires have separated themselves from the mutual well-being of the other living and non-living entities of the planet. Human needs following various generations of industrial revolution has only resulted in accumulation of piles and piles of waste and pollution. The inefficient development model has invaded the ecological habitats of “others”.

Every year June 08 is celebrated as World Ocean Day. During the 1992 Earth’s submit, Canada proposed the concept of a World Ocean Day. Since then, there have been remarkable measures adopted to this project of Ocean protection. The focus of this year’s Ocean Day celebration centers around the spirit of “together we can”. humanity finds itself confronting with many issues including COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and poisoned plastic. The rise of contagious diseases like COVID-19, SARS, MERS, Zika virus, Ebola etc. are all result of self-consuming model. Perhaps, it reveals the manner in which development has only resulted in manipulating animals and plants, with no integrity or care for their health. In fact, the response during pandemic is no different. For plastic industry, pandemic is seen as an advantage to push suspensions or rollbacks of hard-won environmental measures of reducing plastic pollution. The argument is to follow caution and ensure that the pandemic does not results in epidemic. It in these lines the present writeup outlines various legal instruments entered amongst nation-states; and thereby argues for re-evaluating existing human practices to ensure crucial changes to the health and sustenance of marine ecosystem.

Early Initiative: Convention on Fishing and Conservation of Living Resources of the High Seas, 1958

The Convention of Fishing and Conservation of Living Resources of the High Seas, 1958 is an agreement that was designed to solve through international cooperation the problems involved in the conservation of high seas, considering that because of the development of modern technology some of these resources are in danger of being overexploited. The Convention took place at Geneva on April 29, 1958 under the auspices of United Nations forproblems involved in the conservation of the living resources of the high seas due to development of modern techniques for the exploitation of the living resources of the sea and man’s ability to meet the need of the world’s expanding population for food which has exposed some of these resources to the danger of being over-exploited. The original convention consisting 22 Articles mainly restricting fishing activities of member countries within their territorial seas. It entered into force on 20 March 1966 and at present there are 38 signatories to the convention.

Conventions for Prevention of Marine Pollution during 1970s

The legal framework was also structured to control the marine pollution and conserve the wildlife in marine ecosystem during the period of 1970s. The marine pollution awareness generated after the industrial development in the western countries and mainly after the disasters of Torrey Canyon, a Liberian oil vessel, caused huge damage in marine life of British coasts in 1967, and Santa Barbara near California suffered a huge ecological loss after a blow out of an oil well in 1969. People realized the necessity of strict provision to control oil pollution to protect the marine life and Oslo Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping from Ships and Aircrafts, 1974(Oslo Convention)was introduced to cope with marine pollution in international level. It modified previous Convention for Prevention of the Pollution of the Sea by Oil, 1954and subsequent international efforts were often triggered by major oil spills such as the accidents involving the Torrey Canyon in 1967, the Amoco Cadiz in 1978, the Exxon Valdez in 1989 and the Prestige in 2002.

The Helsinki Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area, was originally signed in 1974,for the protection of the Baltic Sea from all sources of pollution from land, air and sea and also to take measures on conserving habitats and biological diversity and for the sustainable use of marine resources. The original Convention was signed by Denmark, Finland, the German Democratic Republic, the Federal Republic of Germany, Poland, Sweden and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and subsequently was updated in 1992 by Estonia, the European Union, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden.

Barcelona Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea Against Pollution, 1976and came into force in 1978, was the legal framework implemented through the Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP), which aims to protect the Mediterranean Sea basin. Three additional legal instruments i.e. Protocol on pollution from land-based sources, 1980, Protocol concerning Specifically Protected Areas, 1982 and Offshore Protocol, 1994 were adopted by this convention. The contracting parties to the Barcelona Convention included measures to prevent the deterioration of the Mediterranean coast in 1995 and now it is known as Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean came into force on July 9, 2004.

Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, Bonn, 1979 (CMS) assumes relevance in the context of marine migratory species and its Tenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties, adopted about “marine debris” on 2011 Bergen, Norway. Here, marine debris negatively impacts substantial numbers of migratory marine wildlife, including many species of birds, turtles, sharks and marine mammals that are threatened with extinction;

Major pollution accidents in the recent past have created another exception to the exclusiveness of flag State jurisdiction on the high seas, in favour of States whose coastline is threatened with serious pollution damage from a foreign shipping casualty. This right gained rapid recognition after the British action against the American tanker, the Torrey Canyon in 1967 which led to the adoption of the International Convention on Intervention on the High Seas, 1969 in case of Oil Pollution Damage, and ultimately found entry into theLaw of the Sea Convention, 1982 (UNCLOS).

The ship borne wastes generated during normal operation are regulated bytheOslo Convention. But this Convention is not globally applicable and is limited essentially to the North-East Atlantic area. The banned dumping wastes cannot be regulated by the Basel Convention for Transboundary movement of Hazardous Wastes, 1989. In this regard, the London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and other Matters, 1972 (London Convention), is an important international instrument for protection of marine resources and marine biodiversity against the disposal of wastes into the seas.

In 1983, Pacific Island nations proposed an immediate ban on the dumping of nuclear waste into the sea. They made their proposal before the authority established under the London Convention for regulating the sea pollution caused by dumping. The London Convention is a global Convention and is wider than the Oslo Convention. After the 1996 London Protocol, the dumping of all wastes are prohibited and it completely prohibits incineration at sea and the dumping of industrial wastes.

UN Convention on the Law of Sea, 1982

The UNCLOS is the foundation for the modern law relating to international fisheries.It conferred on the nationals of all states the right to engage in fishing on the high seas but this right is subject to their treaty obligations and the rights and duties as well as the interests of the coastal states. All states have the duty to take or to cooperate with other states in taking measures for their respective nationals as may be necessary for the conservation of the living resources of the high seas.

The UNCLOS specifically addresses some categories like highly migratory species, namely tuna, marlin, sailfish, swordfish, dolphin, shark and cetacea listed in Annex I. Then marine mammal’s category includes 12 species including great whales which were previously hunted near extinction, as well as small cetaceans, dolphins, porpoises, seals, dugongs and marine otters. Next categories, Anadromous species which are spawned in freshwater rivers but spend the major part of their lives at sea passing through territorial sea, Exclusive Economic Zone and High Seas and Catadromous species are spawned at sea and send major part of their lives in rivers and lakes.

In particular, the UNCLOS attributes jurisdiction over conservation and use of marine living resources within the various marine zones, and also sets forth certain basic conservation principles applicable therein, within the territorial sea, states have traditionally enjoyed exclusive rights to fisheries as part of the exercise of sovereignty there. In Section 2 of Part IX (Articles 116 to 120) deals with the provisions relating to ‘Management and Conservation of Living Resources of the High Seas’ and Part XII (Articles 192 to 237) totally deal with ‘Protection and Preservation of the Marine Environment’ including Enforcement, Safeguard and International rules to prevent and control marine environment pollution.

Initiatives during 1990’s and onwards

In a ministerial meeting in September 1992, representatives of Oslo Convention and Paris Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution from Land-based Sources, 1974 adopted a new Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, 1992 also known as OSPAR Convention.

Likewise, the Washington Declaration on Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities held on November 1995 for affirming the need and will to protect and preserve the marine environment for present and future generations and also reaffirming the relevant provisions of Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, 1992. This process included among others a week-long meeting of government designated experts, focusing on the Montreal Guidelines for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Sources of Pollution, 1985.

Recently, International Maritime Organization amended the Annexure V of International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) dealing with “Prevention of Pollution by Garbage from Ships” which will prohibit the discharge of all garbage from ships into the sea from January 1, 2013.In March 2019, The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) adopted Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities, Nairobi for retaining the high quality of the coastal and marine environment for ecosystem functions and services in support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals to conserve and sustainably use oceans, seas, and marine resources. It has the plan to implement Bali Declaration, 2018 and Manila Declaration, 2012 for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities which identified nutrient, wastewater and marine litter as priority source categories of marine pollution.

Indian Position on Prevention of Marine Pollution

There is no specific regional convention for South Asian Seas among India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives. The UNCLOS is the only primary legal instrument for guidance. But India ratified various marine safety conventions and has amended the Merchant Shipping Act, 1958 several times to develop and maintain Indian shipping law in the line of international mercantile marine law and Part XB deals with ‘Civil liability for oil pollution damage’.The Territorial Waters, Continental Shelf, Exclusive Economic Zone and Other Maritime Zones Act, 1976 under section 15(2)(e) has vested the power to the Central Government to make rules preservation and protection of the marine environment and prevention and control of marine pollution for the purposes of this Act.The Coastal Regulation Zone Notification, 2018 has also provision for prevention of coastal pollution.

Marine Pollution: Concerns for our Oceans

The United Nation estimates that 13 million tons of plastic are dumped in the sea each year and that half of the plastic produced globally is for single-use items. According to a WWF Report, “if just 1% of the masks were disposed of incorrectly and dispersed in nature, this would result in as many as 10 million mask per month polluting the environment.” The Report further stipulates that “considering that the weight of each mask is about 4 grams, this would result in the dispersion of more than 40 thousand kilograms of plastic in nature.”

Does it mean the biodegradable plastic would act as the better solution? Many suggests that more than plastic solutions, there is a greater need for all waste to be disposed of properly. It is argued that the exposure of biodegradable plastic to different environments showed that “some items disappeared quickly, while you could still shop in some of these bags after four years in the sea. By the time they get to the sea, it’s too late.”

Concluding remarks

Ocean for time immemorial is the source of human prosperity and development through navigation, research, fishing and many others. Protection of oceanic resources and marine ecosystems are very necessary for human’s own survival. As the world is engulfed with unmindful response to COVID-19 pandemic, one could fairly assume that there will be ‘still talks’ and ‘no response’. Earths capacity to support human desires are limited and the talks of nature’s response are somewhat misdirected. For instance, for all the development in science and awareness formed against use of plastic, the COVID-19 pandemic experience only puts us back to square one. It yet again proved that we depend on plastic. Can world afford to move backwards? Present times have conveyed us that there is a greater need for collective efforts in order to bring sustainable alternatives. Yes, ‘together we can’, but, if we are serious and want to take thoughtful actions ‘it is now’!

*The author has written three books on environmental laws.

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Climate Change Problem: an Emerging Threat to Global Security

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Climate Change is one of the greatest challenges faced by humanity. The Greenhouse–gas emissions and over-exploitation of natural resources result in a rise in temperature which brings floods, droughts, a rise in sea level, and other destructive events. The problem is that climate change is a global bad, and it requires collective efforts and cooperation to limit its effects. One state cannot control Climate change alone because it does not take it into borders. Formally, the climate change issue was a matter of low politics, but the inception of the 21st century brought an understanding that it poses greater threats than traditional ones. The Covid-19 plays a major role in the realization of steps taken towards climate cooperation. States often make climate promises but cannot fulfill these promises because of the fascination with development and ignore climate change. But now world leaders have realized that the lessons of COVID-19 can tackle global climate change problems otherwise it will make this world difficult to live in.

 The newly elected President of the United States (US) Joe Biden inaugurated a virtual climate change summit with 42 world leaders. It includes leaders from Russia, China, Turkey, Israel, India, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Setting aside all the differences, he invited leaders from those countries that are a major contributor to Greenhouse gas emission and those who are most vulnerable to climate change risk. In this summit, the Biden administration asked the world leaders to take actions to combat climate change collectively as the climate is a global good and requires collective efforts to tackle climate change. Biden has announced an aggressive new goal policy for greenhouse gas emissions. 2030 committed the US administration to reduce its greenhouse gas emission to 50-53%. The National Intelligence Director of President Avril Haines told world leaders that the climate change issue is no longer remains a peripheral issue but at the center of foreign policy. Other states such as France and Russia also promised to limit their greenhouse gas emission to 42-46% by 2030. It also committed China to play its role in the summit by announcing its willingness towards coal reduction. India reiterated its target of 450 GW of non-renewable energy by 2030 and announced to launch the “US-India 2030 Climate and Clean energy Agenda 2030 Partnership”. The Brazilian Environment Minister argued they need funds to enforce their plan to eliminate deforestation and carbon emission from their country. Vice president Harris argued that climate actions are necessary to tackle climate crises and to promote job opportunities. . Now, the US has put climate change at the center of its security and foreign policy because climate change is not only changing the pattern of the environment but it speeds up the geopolitical competition, undermine security and provoking ethnic conflicts. The climate change results in cyclones, floods, the rising temperature that disrupts social and economic conditions that threaten food security and human security.

By exploring the climate solution, the virtual summit announced the need to increase the public finance for mitigation and adaptation in developing countries. Biden emphasized the importance of investment in the public and private sectors to achieve the collective goal of net zero-emission. Further, climate actions require cooperation at the national and sub-national governments to speed up efforts to transform communities in line with limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Another change that needs to be highlighted at the national level is that the government must not subsidize renewable energy industries and keep their prices high to contain their over-exploitation.  It is easy to make promises as states do, but the problems emerge in its implementation. For decades, climate change has raised concern but states often prioritize development over the environment. This is real-time for states to limit their emission and comply with the promises they have made in the summit otherwise it will lead to never-ended consequences.

COVID-19, a super-fast placed event that emerged from one part of the world and quickly spread throughout the entire world. By its speed of diffusion, it reduced all the emissions at an expensive cost, thus halting the global economy. So still we have time to think about other efficient means of emission reductions to prevent countries from the intolerable burden of Climate Change. But the challenge is how to keep that emission reduction after the pandemic. Second, just an as sharp and instant change of behavior is possible with COVID-19 so to deal with climate change a behavior change is also possible, thus shifting to the low carbon emission all depends on seriousness and credibility to the mortal threat. Third, a key implication of COVID-19 to climate change is that how to reorganize the economy so, in the post-pandemic world, it is the human interaction that would determine the organization of the economy. Thus future will determine whether a low contact economy with a clean environment would be a lower carbon emission economy or not. Further, states must focus on how to open up the economy in the Green Revolution. Another major issue which the world leaders failed to address is the global problem of Covid-19. Despite the technological advancement and huge development, zoom diplomacy began with a distorted voice from the most advanced countries of the world. There is a need to cooperate on a matter of Covid-19 so that states think on the wider notion of climate actions. Thus we have to use all these lessons in the context of climate change to make this world a better place to live in.

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Rails, Roads And Emissions

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It is common knowledge that emissions affecting climate are least for rail travel in comparison with airplanes or road vehicles.  Consequently the $80 billion allocated to rail in an otherwise laudable budget appears paltry. 

Why is the US not investing in rail?  The usual reason given is that distances are so vast that it’s a no-brainer for business travellers to rely on commercial airlines.  But the way the technology is advancing, and as Europeans (and the Chinese) have demonstrated, a network of high-speed rail can offer a greener alternative. 

Trains are getting faster and new innovations like tilting trains lower the cost of replacement tracks.  If 200 mph is being breached more often, then 250 mph should be in our sights.  And Elon Musk has proposed vacuum tubes to remove wind resistance and reach even higher speeds. 

Yet a 250 mph rail network with average speeds in excess of 200 mph would revolutionize the concept of travel.  New York to Chicago in five hours and east to west coast overnight with the possibility of visiting neglected areas out of reach with expressways and airplanes would bring new growth and dynamism where it is needed. 

A point to note is prevailing interest rates.  They are so low historically that railroad bonds at a competitive interest rate would be snapped up  especially if they were guaranteed by the government. 

While one can agree with the aims and compassion clearly evident in the president’s proposals, the process to achieve them is less clear.  In particular on climate change the goal of net zero emissions within a decade is laudable.  But a speedy switchover to electric vehicles raises questions: Simply, how?

The system is geared to internal combustion engines.  Mechanics train for years to become proficient.  Aside from that, has anyone wondered what happens to all those large electric car batteries when they have to be replaced?  Since lithium used in them is a finite resource, it would have to be recovered or the 80 million tons estimated to be the world’s store would eventually be depleted.  

Another issue is the electricity used to charge the batteries.  If it comes from a coal-fired plant, are we back to square one?  Currently about a quarter of the electricity generated in the US comes from coal. Of course dealing with pollution at the source (like a coal plant) is easier. 

The number of Americans living paycheck to paycheck (roughly half) is just one more reason the changeover to electric vehicles might take a while; they just don’t have the funds.  Add to these numbers the elderly living on fixed incomes or the ranks of the unemployed and one can understand the scale of the problem.  

One can laud the US president’s goals but we need to see some action (even proposals) to facilitate them. 

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Global Environmental Governance and Biden’s Administration

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Being the largest emitter of greenhouse gas in the world, it is the responsibility of U.S to contribute expeditiously to manage the environmental issues at domestic and international level but the previous government, under the leadership of Trump, took back seat and reversed all the decisions of Ex-president Barack Obama to combat the climate change. Unlike this, New Elected President, Joe Biden, who is very enthusiastic and firm to fulfill all the promises regarding climate change which were done during the general election’s campaign. Moreover, he views climate change a thwart to national security. One of the biggest achievements associated with Biden’ administration regarding environmental issues is to bring U.S back into Paris Climate Accord and brought executive order’’ Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring science to tackle the climate crisis’’ on the surface.

A flurry of changes to U.S environment policy is going to play a constructive role in global environmental governance under Biden administration. Even before elections, climate change was one of the top priorities and aimed to put the U.S on a path which leads towards ‘’ Zero Net’’ greenhouse gas emission. In the very early of His office days, He is very committed to deal with the climate change as they hosted ‘’ Climate Day’’ to introduce government climate centric approach to emphasize on the climate change.  Biden administration also ordered to revoke a permanent issued for Keystone XL oil pipeline which trump issued for extraction of oil and energy which is dangerous to national ecosystem. In addition to this, they are also very active to promote US role to tackle the climate change at domestic and abroad. At domestic level, Biden’s actions are speaking louder than the words as he has ascribed the climate crisis with a national emergency. At the time of his inauguration, Biden said: ‘’ A cry for survival comes from the planet itself, a cry that can’t be any more desperate or any clearer’’. He also directed his cabinet to work on the policy of ‘’ social carbon cost’’ to measure the cost of actions and how costs will impact the climate change. He endeavors to control the climate change by keeping a strict eye on the big project’s reviewing process before working under the National Environmental Policy Act which calculates the social costs of greenhouse gas emissions.

On international level, Biden has been striving to improve the spoil image shaped by the previous government regarding global environmental governance as he has declared to rejoin the Paris Climate accord which would help to reduce the greenhouse gas emission. In the result of this action, Biden was welcomed by the General Secretary of the United Nations and French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron by saying ‘’ Welcome Back to the Paris Agreement’’. Moreover, Biden Administration is very determined to convene a global climate summit on the earth day to encourage leaders to align themselves with scientist to alleviate the impacts of climate change. On international forums, US need to cooperate and compel the economic trade partner to take actions to combat with climate crisis. One of the essential steps taken by the Biden administration is to manage the climate refugees which aim to make strategies to compensate the climate affected migrants.

The thin majority of democratic in the senate does not only limit the possibility for Biden to achieve climate change reforms along strong anti-climate lobbyist business group who are inimical to the reforms particularly relevant to vehicle, power plants and oil and gas drilling industries. Without new climate legislation from congress, it would be not an easy task to implement the climate agenda across the borders. The vocal resistance comes from the coal production sectors which result in burning of fossil fuels and caused of greenhouse gas emissions. Whereas, few sectors are opposing the agenda there are also companies specially electrical vehicles are exclusively offering assistance to Biden for the sustainable development. Undoubtedly, environmental organizations and scientists community applauded the Biden decisions but few business groups have also filed a lawsuit against Biden to not stop the new permit for oil and gas drilling. There are also concerned raised by the community that climate actions will delete many jobs and cause of upsurge in unemployment percentage across the federation.

It is very evident from the ambitions of Biden’s action regarding climate crisis that he is very interesting to mitigate and curb the climate change but it will require highly comprehensive strategy aims to manage the reforms in laws while taking congressmen in confidence because most of them are not in favor of climate actions due to clash of interests. On the other hand, there is need to work on renewable energy resources at domestic and international level and for this US should compensate the companies to compete with the old capitalized firms which do not want safe and peaceful planet. Moreover, there is need to bring reforms in existing environmental treaties and their compliance process which should be strictly followed by the harsh actions against the violators. The process of financing the agendas which are very environment friendly and transforming the resources to the periphery states should be done swiftly to improve the environment across the globe. The aims of achieving sustainable development should be promoted and supported by the US across the world.

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