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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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Researchers unveil roadmap for a carbon neutral China by 2060

Ma Tianjie

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Chinese president Xi Jinping told the UN general assembly on 22 September that China would achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. The announcement sparked a huge response and gave rise to speculation as to how this would be achieved.

On 12 October, research into a possible route to that target was published by Tsinghua University’s Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development (ICCSD) – the most authoritative roadmap to emerge since the commitment was made. If China follows the recommendations of the report, it could mean tougher energy-saving and emissions-reductions targets for the 14th Five Year Plan (FYP), a more ambitious Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) for 2030, with yet faster and deeper decarbonisation to come from 2030 onwards.  

Decarbonising for the 1.5C target

The 2015 Paris Agreement aims to limit climate warming to 2C (compared to pre-industrial levels) at the end of the century, while pursing efforts to limit the increase to 1.5C. That 1.5C target has been controversial because it requires greater emissions cuts and it was only added to the text of the agreement at the last minute.

Professor He Jiankun, project leader of the new study and chair of the ICCSD’s academic committee, said at a press briefing on the research that “achieving carbon neutrality by 2060 essentially means a long-term deep decarbonisation process oriented at the 1.5C target”. The director of the ICCSD is Xie Zhenhua, formerly China’s special climate envoy. Xie was also overall supervisor of this research project.

According to the roadmap presented in the study, by 2050 China must achieve net zero carbon dioxide emissions, with emissions of all greenhouse gases down 90% on 2020 levels, if it is to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. The authors did not offer a specific roadmap for reducing emissions between 2050 and 2060, but said that emissions cuts should be increased, with negative emissions growth in the energy sector and more capture and sequestration of carbon dioxide using carbon sinks and carbon removal technologies.

The roadmap implies that all greenhouse gases are included in China’s 2060 pledge – something that observers had wondered about. But one expert close to China’s policy on non-CO2 greenhouse gases told China Dialogue that for now it remains an academic assumption, and official documents would be needed to confirm the government position.

Although the recommended roadmap is ultimately closing in on the 1.5C target, this does not mean China will immediately fast-track deep decarbonisation. The roadmap has two stages: before 2030 China will cut emissions according to an “enhanced mitigation scenario”, with a tougher 2030 NDC target and increasing efforts to reduce emissions. But that alone would leave China far from even the 2C target. However, the researchers propose much tougher measures after 2030, which will bring China into line with the 1.5C target. Assuming these recommendations are adopted, China will see a later, but steeper decline in emissions than it would if it set out to hit the 1.5C target immediately, with a carbon peak by 2030, an energy consumption peak around 2035, and carbon emissions approaching zero by 2050.

At the launch, He Jiankun explained that “the economy and the energy sector are hugely complicated systems, with a lot of inertia, so a transition will take time”. Rapid implementation of the absolute carbon cuts needed for the 2C or even 1.5C target would be very difficult, and China still needs to develop. So in the first stage, staving off additional emissions rather than cutting existing emissions should be the priority to bring about a carbon peak. But after 2030, the speed with which China reduces emissions will “far outstrip the developed nations”.

Implications for near-term policy

There is a great deal of interest in how China’s 2060 carbon neutrality target will affect the 14th Five Year Plan (for 2021-2025), which is currently being drafted, with this being seen as a test of China’s level of commitment.

The researchers also make suggestions for energy-saving and emissions-reduction targets in the 14th FYP, such as a 20% share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption by 2025, and a carbon emissions cap of under 10.5 billion tonnes (2020 figures for these are expected to be 16% and 10.3 billion tonnes respectively).

“We have to control any rebound in coal use during the 14th FYP and work towards peak coal, or even negative growth,” said He.

The researchers also recommend China toughens and updates its NDC for 2030, lowering carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by over 65% on 2005 levels and reaching a 25% share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption.

Speaking at the launch, Wang Yi, a member of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (China’s top legislative body) and vice director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Science and Development, said that 14th FYP targets should remain tough and be expanded: for example, by including overall caps – in particular a carbon cap – alongside existing efficiency targets (such as carbon and energy intensity). Other experts have also called for a carbon cap in the 14th FYP.

Wang also pointed out that a package of legislation will be needed to ensure 14th FYP climate targets are met. This includes an Energy Law currently being drafted, an ongoing revision to the Energy-Saving Law, and a Law on Combating Climate Change being prepared. “The Law on Combating Climate Change will only reach the statute books if a carbon cap is at its core – if not, it loses a raison d’etre as other laws can replace it,” Wang said. Lower level regulations, such as for carbon markets, must also keep up, he said.

From our partner Chinadialogue

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COVID-19 has given a fillip to biodiversity

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The COVID-19 outbreak caused many problems for the world, but in return gave the planet’s environment and biodiversity a chance to breathe. The high mortality rate may be worrisome, but it provided us with the opportunity to think more about how we should treat biodiversity in a better way.

Biodiversity is an important feature of life explained by the vast diversity of plants and animals, which is a non-renewable resource and its loss will be irreparable, Kioumars Kalantari, head of the natural environment and biodiversity of the Department of Environment said.

The growing importance of biodiversity is due to its role in maintaining the stability of ecosystems, because in an ecosystem, the greater the species diversity, the longer food chains, resulting in a more stable environment, he added.

According to him, today the protection of biodiversity, habitats, and natural ecosystems is among the most important indicators of sustainable development in the world.

Fortunately, Iran benefits from rich biodiversity due to special climatic, geographical, and topographic conditions and characteristics, and more than 8600 species of plants and 1300 species of vertebrates live in the country, he highlighted.

Unfortunately, the environment faces a variety of threats and challenges, including pollution, habitat destruction, climate change, sand and dust storms, natural disasters such as droughts, floods, and increasing disease outbreaks, he noted.

He went on to say that despite all the efforts that have been made nationally as well as internationally worldwide, the environment today is no better than it was in the early twentieth century.

The sudden prevalence of COVID-19, followed by lock-downs and restrictions around the world, reduction in human activity, the evacuation of highways, reduction in travel, air, and land transport, and a significant drop in greenhouse gas emissions, has benefited the nature much, he explained.

It greatly improved air quality and reduced the risk of lung and cardiovascular diseases, key environmental indicators that have been steadily deteriorating for more than half a century, remained fixed, or moved towards improvement, he emphasized.

The extent of the disease and the human casualties may be so painful that it does not give us a chance to rejoice in the healing process of nature and the environment, but the good condition of climate and nature can be a fillip for each of us on this planet, especially those in charge, to think more about our past actions and slow down our exponential pace of unsustainable development and the destruction of valuable biological resources, he also highlighted.

Perhaps changing our plans and behaviors to use more of renewable energy, while increasing the use of telecommunications facilities such as video conferencing, webinars, online meetings, can greatly reduce travel as well as greenhouse gas emissions and thus help preserve nature and valuable biodiversity treasures, he said.

Biodiversity conservation is in fact the protection of ourselves and the resources without which we cannot survive, he stated, adding, human health depends on the health of other creatures and the environment in which they live.

The outbreak of the coronavirus and its pathogenic consequences highlights the importance of the dependence of the health of all organisms on the planet on each other and the environment.

“Our Solutions Are in Nature” which expresses the importance of nature in responding to the challenges we face in terms of sustainable development and the necessity of comprehensive cooperation to achieve a future in harmony with nature, he added.

According to experts, “the most important and largest public asset of any country is the environment”, unfortunately, due to the wrong approach and underestimation of its vital importance, its capacity is declining every day, and it cannot be exchanged or bought, although some officials, especially economists, suggest ways to price these environmental resources, they are invaluable, he stated.

Kalantari further expressed hope that by living in harmony with nature, humans will be able to benefit as much as possible from the valuable resources and to protect and preserve the biological richness of the world in the best possible way.

Why human absence prospers nature?

Pointing out that protecting the planet is important to humans, and we need to maintain the best conditions on Earth after Coronavirus, Mohammad Darvish, a member of the National Security Council for the environment, said that the pandemic has caused the earth to breathe deeply, and now the wise man is faced with the question that “why, when human activity as a member of the ecosystem decreases, not only does nothing happen, but the condition of nature improves.”

Think of bees being removed from nature. In this case, the integrity of the Earth’s environmental property, the reproduction of many species and humans themselves will be damaged, or if brown bears are removed, soil fertility will decrease, or if wild boars are removed, water permeability will decrease and floods will increase, he explained.

Therefore, there have been wise in the creation of all plant and animal species or even insects, and have contributed to the earth’s resilience, he emphasized.

Why has it now happened that man, who considers himself the best of creatures, that must be more responsible, has behaved in such a way that his absence is in favor of nature and the earth?

Such happening should give us a lesson to change our development programs in favor of nature and try to understand the laws of nature, instead of spending budgets on warfare, larger and more horrific weapons, he noted, implying that environmental research and health is now more essential as well as improvement of the education system so that in the post-corona crisis world we can appear wiser, more knowledgeable, and more responsible.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Global Warming: Past as Prologue to the Future

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Dr. Arshad M. Khan and Meena Miriam Yust

If the vice-presidential debate lacked direction, hurricane Delta did not.  It slammed into the Louisiana coast as a Category 2 causing widespread damage with its 100 mph winds, then continued inland as a Category 1 storm.  If Delta sounds like an unusual name for a hurricane, it is. 

The World Meteorological Organization has a list from A to W of 21 potential storm names.  The letters Q, W, X, Y and Z are omitted.  In all there are six lists meaning that the 2020 list will be repeated in 2026.

Using names for storms facilitates identification in communications when compared to the prior method using latitude and longitude particularly when the storm itself is moving. 

So here we are in 2020 with 25 storms so far.  The residents on the Louisiana coast have had a double whammy with hurricane Laura slamming them earlier in the last week of August.  It was a deadly Category 4 with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph.  Just 7 mph short of a Category 5 (the deadliest) Laura was only the fourth Category 4 to strike Louisiana since records were kept.  

In addition to the numbers of storms, there are other climate anomalies.  September this year has been the hottest on record and Death Valley reached a temperature of 130 F (54.4 C) the highest ever observed.  September 2019 in turn had also been the hottest on record for our planet. 

If there are storms along the coasts and flooding due to a warming ocean, inland it is not only warmer but drier.  Forests are like tinder needing only a lightning spark or a downed electricity line to set them off.  Thus the forest fires in southeastern Australia and California.

Europe too is warmer.  Forest fires particularly in the south, and inundation are more frequent.  Reading in England for example has just suffered the wettest 48 hours ever. 

The south of France usually associated with blissful weather experienced torrential downpours with more than a half meter of rain (about 20 inches) in a day.  It was an event Meteo-France noted that occurs once in a hundred years.  And then it happened again.  Storm Alex, the cause of this misery, hit France and also Italy and England.  Floods and landslides caused serious damage north of Nice destroying roads, bridges and houses.  In adjoining Italy a section of a bridge over the Sesia river collapsed in the rising waters.  Affecting the Piedmont, Lombardy and Liguria regions, it dropped over 23 inches (0.63 m) of rain.  The Po river rose more than 9 ft (3 m ) in 24 hours. 

The key lesson from all this is that global warming is making rare events more common, that the window for action is narrowing, and that the longer such action is delayed the more onerous will be the burden on humanity.  In the meantime, the global warming already built into the system will continue to affect climate for the foreseeable future. 

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