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Canada leads push to safeguard world’s oceans

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World Oceans Day on June 8 is a time to celebrate and honour the oceans that feed us, regulate our climate, and generate most of the oxygen we breathe. They also serve as the foundation for much of the world’s economy, from tourism and fisheries to international shipping. Careful management of this essential global resource is necessary for a sustainable future.

Every year, an estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic waste end up in the world’s oceans from activities on land.  Tackling marine plastic pollution is a priority, considering the impacts to economies, wildlife, and ecosystems.  On World Oceans Day, we celebrate the efforts made worldwide to protect the marine environment.

Canada and the Ocean Plastics Charter

The Government of Canada is at the forefront of critical international efforts to protect the marine environment. As the country with the longest coastline in the world, Canada spearheaded the Ocean Plastics Charter under its G7 presidency in 2018.

“The health of our oceans is critical to reducing climate change, growing economies, supporting coastal communities and protecting ocean biodiversity and ecosystems. Plastic pollution knows no borders and requires global action. Through the Ocean Plastics Charter, Canada is partnering with governments, businesses, and organizations from around the world to move toward a sustainable and circular economy for plastics. Together, we are working towards a future of zero plastic waste,” said Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change in Canada.

The charter outlines concrete actions to eliminate plastic pollution and recognizes the need for urgent action to address the impacts of marine litter on the health and sustainability of our oceans, seas, coastal communities, and ecosystems.

As of May 2020, 26 governments and 69 businesses and organizations have endorsed the Charter, committing to more sustainable approaches to produce, use, and manage plastic and reduce plastic pollution in the oceans. 

In support of the charter, Canada has also committed Can$ 100 million (more than US$ 71 million) for developing countries to prevent plastic waste from entering the oceans, to address plastic waste on shorelines, and to better manage existing plastic resources.

National Action
To achieve its international commitments under the Ocean Plastics Charter, Canada is taking ambitious domestic action, which includes a vision to achieve zero plastic waste by 2030, whereby plastics stay in the economy – and out of the environment. Federal, provincial and territorial governments are working together to implement the Canada-wide Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste – a path forward to better prevent, reduce, reuse, recover, capture, and clean up plastic waste. By engaging with industry and other levels of government, Canada aims to recover 100 percent of all plastics by 2040.

The initial phase of the Canada-wide Action Plan on Zero Plastic Waste, launched in 2019, focuses on activities  to increase the recovery of plastics in the economy. These include establishing consistent extended producer responsibility programs; providing support for innovations and infrastructure to better manage plastics; increasing the responsible use and recycling of single-use products; facilitating greening government operations and purchasing; and developing standards for recycled content in plastic products and bio-based plastic products.

A second phase under development this year will complete the set of actions to implement the strategy by improving consumer, business, and institution awareness; reducing waste and pollution from aquatic activities; advancing science; tackling debris in the environment; and continuing to contribute to global action.

Canada is among the 8 percent of countries in the world to ban toiletries containing plastic microbeads. Through sustainable procurement and reducing the use of unnecessary single use plastics at its events, meetings and in its operations, Canada has also committed to diverting 75 percent of its plastic waste from federal operations by 2030.

The Canadian government is also investing in robust science to address priority research gaps. Canada’s Plastics Science Agenda and Plastics Science for a Cleaner Future  are recent steps in investments in research to better understand the impacts of plastic pollution and support solutions across the value chain.

As another source of marine litter is lost fishing and aquaculture gear, the Sustainable Fisheries Solutions and Retrieval Support Contribution Program, a Can$ 8.3 million investment (from 2020-2022), supports the prevention and retrieval of so called ghost gear – discarded, lost or abandoned fishing and aquaculture gear. It will also support fish harvesters to acquire new gear technologies to reduce gear loss. This is the first fund of its kind that dedicates a significant source of funds specifically to combat ghost gear.

Partnering with UNEP

In 2017, Canada joined the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Clean Seas Campaign. So far, over 60 countries have joined this campaign aimed at transforming habits, practices, standards, and policies around the globe to dramatically reduce marine litter and the harm it causes. This first engagement set the path to the creation of the Oceans Plastics Charter and Canada’s national commitments and strategies.

Today, Canada supports the global efforts of UNEP to address marine litter through many avenues. One is the participation in the Ad Hoc Open-Ended Expert Group on Marine Litter and Microplastics, an outcome of the third UN Environment Assembly, to assess effective means to combat marine plastic litter and microplastics from all sources, and to examine options to strengthen multilateral action.

Canada is also part of the steering committee of the Global Partnership on Marine Litter for which UNEP provides the secretariat. The global partnership seeks to protect the global marine environment, human well-being, and animal welfare by addressing the global problem of marine litter. As part of this partnership, Canada supported the Caribbean region to develop educational materials, and engage stakeholders in strategic planning for advancing the regional marine litter action plan for the Caribbean. Canada also provided financial support to enable other countries to participate in the Basel Convention’s Partnership on Plastic Waste meeting.

In March this year, UNEP and Canada signed a five-year agreement whereby Canada provides Can$ 3.1 million annually to the Environment Fund of UNEP, placing Canada among the top-10 contributors of core, flexible resources to UNEP in 2020.

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No pathway to reach the Paris Agreement’s 1.5˚C goal without the G20

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“The world urgently needs a clear and unambiguous commitment to the 1.5 degree goal of the Paris Agreement from all G20 nations”, António Guterres said on Sunday after the Group failed to agree on the wording of key climate change commitments during their recent Ministerial Meeting on Environment, Climate and Energy.

“There is no pathway to this goal without the leadership of the G20. This signal is desperately needed by the billions of people already on the frontlines of the climate crisis and by markets, investors and industry who require certainty that a net zero climate resilient future is inevitable”, the Secretary General urged in a statement.

The UN chief reminded that science indicates that to meet that ‘ambitious, yet achievable goal’, the world must achieve carbon neutrality before 2050 and cut dangerous greenhouse gas emissions by 45 % by 2030 from 2010 levels. “But we are way off track”, he warned.

The world needs the G20 to deliver

With less than 100 days left before the 2021 United Nations Climate Conference COP 26, a pivotal meeting that will be held in Glasgow at the end of October, António Guterres urged all G20 and other leaders to commit to net zero by mid-century, present more ambitious 2030 national climate plans and deliver on concrete policies and actions aligned with a net zero future.

These include no new coal after 2021, phasing out fossil fuel subsidies and agreeing to a minimum international carbon pricing floor as proposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

“The G7 and other developed countries must also deliver on a credible solidarity package of support for developing countries including meeting the US$100 billion goal, increasing adaptation and resilience support to at least 50% of total climate finance and getting public and multilateral development banks to significantly align their climate portfolios to meet the needs of developing countries”, he highlighted.

The UN Chief informed that he intends to use the opportunity of the upcoming UN General Assembly high-level session to bring leaders together to reach a political understanding on these critical elements of the ‘package’ needed for Glasgow.

A setback for Glasgow

The G20 ministers, which met in Naples, Italy on July 23-25, couldn’t agree to a common language on two disputed issues related to phasing out coal and the 1.5-degree goal, which now will have to be discussed at the G20 summit in Rome in October, just one day before the COP 26 starts.

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Western Indian Ocean region has declared 550,000 square kilometers as protected

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The Western Indian Ocean region has declared 143* marine and coastal areas as protected – an area covering 553,163 square kilometers, representing 7 percent of the total Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for the region – according to a new publication by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)-Nairobi Convention and the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association.

The Marine Protected Areas Outlook, released today, indicates that almost half of the total area – an estimated 63 percent of the overall square kilometers – was brought under protection in the seven years since the 2015 adoption of Sustainable Development Goal 14.5, which committed countries to conserving at least 10 percent of their marine and coastal areas by 2020.

This Outlook examines the current and future status of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Comoros, Kenya, France (in its Western Indian Ocean territories), Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, South Africa, and Tanzania, emphasizing the increased commitment of countries to strengthen marine protection. In 2019 alone, Seychelles brought 30 percent of its Exclusive Economic Zone under protection, safeguarding the habitats of 2,600 species, while South Africa declared 20 new MPAs – enabling both countries to exceed the 10 percent target. Comoros has developed new MPA-specific legislation, while over three hundred Locally Managed Marine Areas – i.e., areas in which coastal communities shoulder the mantle of conservation – have been declared across the region.

The publication further documents the dozens of proposed MPAs currently under consideration by countries, which would cover an additional 50,000 square kilometers or more. Nevertheless, with only 7 percent of the region’s total EEZ under protection, greater momentum and investments will be required by countries to reach the more ambitious target of 30 percent protection by 2030, as proposed under the Global Biodiversity Framework.  

Although the ocean provides us with resources essential for survival, including food, employment, and even oxygen, the world is damaging and depleting it faster than ever. Soon, the region may no longer be able to count on the many jobs, health, and economic benefits – valued at 20.8 billion USD – that the Western Indian Ocean provides. Marine protected areas offer one of the best options to reverse these trends. 

“A well-managed MPA can bring significant economic, social, and environmental benefits to a country,” said Yamkela Mngxe, Acting Director of Integrated Projects and International Coordination in South Africa’s Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment. “They can increase food security by preventing the overexploitation of fish stocks; create and protect jobs in the tourism and fisheries sectors; build resilience to climate change; and protect species and habitats.”

Though countries in the region have made significant strides in protecting its marine and coastal areas, the Outlook outlines best practices, challenges, and several opportunities to build on thisprogressto ensure the entire region meets future Global Biodiversity Framework targets on marine protected areas. The Outlook’s assessment of the management effectiveness of MPAs indicates that MPA frameworks and institutions do not always function effectively. Nor is relevant legislation consistently implemented, due to financial or personnel capacity gaps; weak enforcement on MPA boundaries; and management decisions that are not guided by science.

Key recommendations from the Outlook therefore include:

  1. The need for dedicated budgets for MPA management;
  2. Adopting proactive law enforcement and compliance strategies to ensure MPA regulations and guidelines are being respected which could be informed by the best practices in fishery reserves like Mauritius, which have helped to restore fish stocks and protect biodiversity;
  3. Incorporating research and monitoring programmes on biodiversity and ecosystems into decision-making in MPAs;
  4. Strengthening community engagement in marine protection by implementing lessons learned by the MIHARI Network, which brings together more than 200 Locally Managed Marine Areas in Madagascar.

“The MPA Outlook comes at a time when the region has embarked on large-scale socio-economic developments that are equally exerting pressure on MPAs,” said Hon. Flavien Joubert,Minister of Agriculture, Climate Change, and Environment of the Seychelles. “The Outlook thus provides some answers and innovative approaches to minimize the scale of negative impacts on MPAs.”

The MPA Outlook concludes that by seizing the opportunities it presents, countries in the region can capitalize on this progress to safeguard the Western Indian Ocean’s immense natural beauty and resources for generations to come – and sustain momentum towards achievement of the post 2020 biodiversity framework targets.

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Deadly flooding, heatwaves in Europe, highlight urgency of climate action

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Floods have affected cities across Europe, including Zurich in Switzerland. Unsplash/Claudio Schwarz

Heavy rainfall that has triggered deadly and catastrophic flooding in several western European countries, is just the latest indicator that all nations need to do more to hold back climate change-induced disasters, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Friday.

The agency said that countries including Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands had received up to two months’ rain in two days from 14 to 15 July, on ground that was “already near saturation”.

Photos taken at the scene of some of the worst water surges and landslides show huge, gaping holes where earth and buildings had stood until mid-week, after media reports pointed to well over 100 confirmed fatalities in Germany and Belgium on Friday morning, with an unknown number still missing across vast areas.

“We’ve seen images of houses being…swept away, it’s really, really devastating”, said WMO spokesperson Clare Nullis adding that that the disaster had overwhelmed some of the prevention measures put in place by the affected developed countries.

In a statement issued by his Spokesperson, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, said he was saddened by the loss of life and destruction of property. “He extends his condolences and solidarity to the families of the victims and to the Governments and people of the affected countries.”

The UN chief said the UN stood ready to contribute to ongoing rescue and assistance efforts, if necessary.

“Europe on the whole is prepared, but you know, when you get extreme events, such as what we’ve seen – two months’ worth of rainfall in two days – it’s very, very difficult to cope,” added Ms. Nullis, before describing scenes of “utter devastation” in Germany’s southwestern Rhineland-Palatinate state, which is bordered by France, Belgium and Luxembourg.

Highlighting typical preparedness measures, the WMO official noted In Switzerland’s national meteorological service, MeteoSwiss, had a smartphone application which regularly issued alerts about critical high-water levels.

The highest flood warning is in place at popular tourist and camping locations including lakes Biel, Thun and the Vierwaldstattersee, with alerts also in place for Lake Brienz, the Rhine near Basel, and Lake Zurich.

Dry and hot up north

In contrast to the wet conditions, parts of Scandinavia continue to endure scorching temperatures, while smoke plumes from Siberia have affected air quality across the international dateline in Alaska. Unprecedented heat in western north America has also triggered devastating wildfires in recent weeks.

Among the Scandinavian countries enduring a lasting heatwave, the southern Finnish town of Kouvola Anjala, has seen 27 consecutive days with temperatures above 25C. “This is Finland, you know, it’s not Spain, it’s not north Africa,”, Ms. Nullis emphasised to journalists in Geneva.

“Certainly, when you see the images we’ve seen in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands this week it’s shocking, but under climate change scenarios, we are going to see more extreme events in particular extreme heat,” the WMO official added.

Troubled waters

Concerns persist about rising sea temperatures in high northern latitudes, too, Ms. Nullis said, describing the Gulf of Finland in the Baltic Sea at a “record” high, “up to 26.6C on 14 July”, making it the warmest recorded water temperature since records began some 20 years ago.

Echoing a call by UN Secretary-General António Guterres to all countries to do more to avoid a climate catastrophe linked to rising emissions and temperatures, Ms. Nullis urged action, ahead of this year’s UN climate conference, known as COP26, in Glasgow, in November.

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