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Yeosu World Expo

U.N. Launches New Oceans Compact Following Expo 2012

At this Bonaire reef, the olive-green coral is alive, but the mottled-gray coral is dead. / Credit:Living Oceans Foundation/IPS

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 13 2012 (IPS) - As the three-month-long international exhibition Expo 2012 came to a close in the South Korean coastal town of Yeosu last week, the United Nations announced the launch of an “Oceans Compact” aimed at the preservation of marine resources worldwide.

The announcement was viewed as a successful offshoot from Expo 2012, whose primary theme was the protection of the world’s fast-degrading oceans, including overfishing, chemical pollution and warming oceans.

The new Compact, “Healthy Oceans for Prosperity”, described as an initiative of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, is expected to marshal the resources of the entire U.N. system to improve the coordination and effectiveness of the work of the United Nations on oceans.

Speaking Sunday at the Yeosu international conference to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Ban said the world’s oceans are key to sustaining life on the planet, constituting a conduit for 90 percent of world trade, and for connecting people, markets and livelihoods.

“But humans have put the oceans under risk of irreversible damage by overfishing, climate change and ocean acidification, increasing pollution, unsustainable coastal area development, and unwanted impacts from resource extraction, resulting in loss of biodiversity, decreased abundance of species, damage to habitats and loss of ecological functions,” he said.

Besides the new Compact, the secretary-general also announced the creation of an Oceans Advisory Group, composed of executive heads of relevant U.N. organisations, high-level policy-makers, scientists, leading ocean experts, private sector representatives, representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society organisations.

The Advisory Group would focus on strategies for mobilising resources needed for the implementation of the Oceans Compact Action Plan.

Asked for a response, Sebastian Losada, senior oceans policy analyst at Greenpeace International, told IPS that Greenpeace welcomes the announcement of the secretary-general, and added, “We don’t need more statements of concern nor more summaries of the problems we face.

“What we do need is urgency in the negotiation rooms to move from words to action. Solutions to the oceans crisis exist and are well known, but they continue to be blocked by short-sighted national interests,” Losada said.

Before 2014, the United Nations is expected to make a decision to launch a global oceans rescue plan, “a new binding instrument under UNCLOS designed to end the current Wild West management of our oceans”.

“This will be a critical test case to judge on the success or failure of this panel,” Losada added.

The proposed rescue plan was one of the few concrete agreements reached at the Rio+20 U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil last June.

In a statement released here, the United Nations said the new Oceans Compact establishes three objectives: protecting people and improving the health of the oceans; protecting, recovering and sustaining the oceans environment and natural resources; and strengthening ocean knowledge and the management of oceans, according to the United Nations.

The Compact sets out “a strategic vision for the U.N. system on oceans, consistent with the Rio+20 outcome document, ‘The Future We Want’, in which countries agreed on a range of measures to be taken to protect the oceans and promote sustainable development”.

The Oceans Compact also supports the implementation of existing relevant instruments, in particular the 1982 UNCLOS.

According to the United Nations, the launch of the Oceans Compact follows the announcement by the secretary-general earlier this year of his Five-Year Action Agenda, which includes oceans as a main category.

In that context, the United Nations said, Ban decided to give strong emphasis to the importance of oceans and their role in sustainable development by putting forward the idea of an Oceans Compact that would commit the wide U.N. system to furthering healthy oceans for prosperity.

At the Expo 2012 U.N. Pavilion in Yeosu, about 20 U.N. agencies and international organisations showcased their collective work in helping to protect the world’s oceans and maritime resources.

Under the theme “Oceans and Coasts: Connecting Our Lives, Ensuring Our Future”, the United Nations highlighted the various contributions made by marine life to humans, including biodiversity, food security and renewable energy.

The U.N. Pavilion had a virtual “Pledge Wall” where thousands of visitors made commitments to protect the world’s oceans and coasts.

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