Final Outcomes for Our Oceans in Rio+20 Negotiations

At the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, action happens on two tracks.  On the “inside track," representatives of governments meet over the course of many months to negotiate the official outcome document.  Today, after grueling negotiations that lasted until the wee hours of the mornings, delegates finished the text of the Oceans section of the official Rio+20 agreement “The Future We Want”. 

On the inside track: deep in negotiations on the high seas agreement.

The final agreement features some wins on important issues.  In particular, the agreement includes a commitment to take action to reduce marine pollution from land-based sources, especially plastics, as well as persistent organic pollutants, heavy metals, and nitrogen-based compounds.  Highlighting plastic as a pollutant of particular concern is a very important step, spearheaded by Guatemala, Ecuador on behalf of the G77, and with the support of the European Union.  By calling out plastic as one of the most problematic forms of marine debris, we will now be better able to focus on the right solutions, which reduce plastic waste at its source. We are helping to showcase these solutions with the Global Goal and Commitment to Stop Plastic Pollution.

The agreement also included a commitment to take action on ocean acidification, fishing subsidies and overfishing.  These actions, if vigorously implemented, will help reverse the decline of our oceans.

Unfortunately, the agreement also has a serious problem, described by NRDC’s International Ocean Program Director Lisa Speer:

We are exceedingly disappointed that no decision was reached to negotiate a new agreement for the conservation and management of biodiversity beyond national jurisdictions.  But the acknowledged urgency for moving forward on this critical biodiversity issue is at least a step forward.

At the same time, on “outside track," non-governmental organizations, the public, and businesses delivered a clear message to governments that a global agreement to save the high seas is of the utmost importance.  This message came from voting and discussion in the Sustainable Development Dialogue on Oceans.  In the  dialogue, experts discussed topics that had been nominated through online voting in the weeks before, by hundreds of thousands of people from around the world.  In the pre-voting, actions to "avoid ocean pollution by plastics" was the number one choice among the Ocean issues, and number 5 of all the issues in all topical areas.  Then, in the official dialogues, hundreds of experts voted that protecting the high seas and creating an international network of marine protected areas were among the most important actions needed to protect our oceans for current and future.

Here at Rio+20, it's clearer than ever that we all must play our part to protect our oceans and the planet.  Whether you work in government, business, or civil society, we all must make decisions today that will create the future we want.

On the outside track: NRDC's President Frances Beinecke, Founder John Adams, and Oceans Program Director Sarah Chasis

Results of the final voting on the big screen in the Ocean-focused Sustainable Development Dialogues

This blog originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard.