The Biodiversity Committee of the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR) that met this week in Gothenburg, Sweden, has endorsed the scientific robustness of a proposed Marine Protected Area in the Arctic high seas, roughly the size of the UK. By endorsing the proposal this technical committee recognizes that there is enough scientific evidence for the OSPAR Commission to take action to protect the proposed area, which would cover almost 10% of the Arctic high seas ‘doughnut hole’ around the North Pole.
“Today something extraordinary happened and a crucial step towards protecting a vital part of the Arctic was taken. For two years these countries have argued over whether it was worth protecting a unique place on the top of the world, a place which will come under increasing pressure as climate change and melting sea ice opens the waters for human exploitation. Denmark, Iceland and Norway have done all in their power to ignore the scientific case for protection, but after today that is no longer an option”, said Sara del Río from Greenpeace’s political delegation at Gothenburg.
Del Rio continued: “A group of countries, led by Germany and supported by Sweden, Spain, France and the Netherlands have shown that they will no longer stand for attempts to invent new technicalities to stall the process. Instead, the scientific evidence today has been formally accepted. This means that when the politicians meet in May and June, they no longer have any excuses not to act, but must take the next logical step and protect this unique area from industries, who see the melting ice as yet another business opportunity.”
For more than two years Greenpeace has been following this process closely, demanding recognition of the environmental value of this part of the Arctic. During this week a group of activists sent a direct message to the OSPAR delegates in Gothenburg hanging a banner reading “You Can Save The Arctic”. The decision to protect the proposed area now falls on the OSPAR government officials during the annual OSPAR Commission meeting that will take place in Spain from 20th to 24h of June.
“The scientific endorsement achieved by the Biodiversity Committee in Gothenburg is a milestone for Arctic protection. It is a significant win for the Arctic. There is now nothing to prevent the 15 member states from establishing the Marine Protected Area as soon as June. During the meeting in Spain, government officials should face up to their responsibilities and make the right call. More than seven million people have signed Greenpeace’s petition to Save The Arctic, including a call to create a highly protected reserve, or Arctic Sanctuary, covering the whole high seas area around the North Pole. The delegates of OSPAR know that when they meet again in June, the eyes of millions of people around the world will be watching them, like they were this week in Gothenburg,” concluded Del Río.