An international meeting dedicated to Antarctica’s fragile ocean ecosystems has again come to a deadlock.
For the sixth consecutive year, members of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources(CCAMLR), a part of the Antarctic Treaty System, failed to agree on any new marine protected zones in the fragile Southern Ocean.
This is despite the support from a majority CCAMLR’s members parties. Only China and Russia declined to support marine protected areas (or MPAs) this year. Similar proposals have been blocked by the same two members in previous years.
This is the latest example gridlock that was sparked by just one or two members of the Antarctic Treaty System. It could be part of a worrying trend. Experts believe that some countries, most often China and Russia, are using “spurious science,” and other bad-faith arguments to block conservation measures that the majority of other members support.
The motives may not always be clear. They may be motivated by a growing interest to expand fisheries and other economic opportunities in the Southern Ocean.
“It’s this strange politicization of science,” said Tony Press (adjunct professor in the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania), former head of Australia’s Antarctic Division and Australia’s former CCAMLR Commissioner.
At the CCAMLR meeting that concluded Nov. 4, members expressed concern about political maneuvering getting in the way the commission’s objective.
” The cooperation and open collaboration required by CCAMLR has been its strength,” stated the U.S. delegation during an opening statement. It is now preventing progress. We are unable to meet the shared conservation goals .”
because countries have prioritised their individual needs.
In recent years, these types of stalemates have included disagreements about catch limits for certain Antarctica fisheries and new protections for species like emperor penguins.
Impasse is a long-standing example.
CCAMLR, established under the Antarctic Treaty System in 1982, is charged with protecting Antarctica’s marine life and sustainably managing its fisheries. It has the power to designate marine protected zones in the Southern Ocean.
In 2002, the commission committed to creating a network of MPAs around Antarctica. Yet 20 years later, it has successfully implemented only two–an MPA near the South Orkney Islands in 2009 and another in the Ross Sea in 2016.
This year’s meeting saw the introduction of three new MPAs: one around the Antarctic Peninsula and one in the Weddell sea, and one off the coast East Antarctica. These proposals have been around for years and almost all CCAMLR members support them. According to an official report this year’s proceedings, they are based on the best available science.
But Antarctic Treaty proceedings are based on a consensus system. This means that decisions can only be made after all parties have ratified them. China and Russia did not provide the required support for any of these proposals.
Both nations raised a variety of objections. Partly, they expressed concern about the fact that MPAs would not address all of the climate-related threats to Antarctica’s marine ecosystem.
Yet MPAs aren’t just for climate change concerns, said Ricardo Roura. Ricardo Roura is a senior advisor to the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition. This conservation organization has official observer status and can attend meetings within Antarctic Treaty System.
MPAs offer special refuges for marine life and reduce the risk of pollution, overfishing, and other disturbances. They can also help to protect species from further declines caused by climate change.
“MPAs are in Antarctica. What they do is they create resilience,” Roura stated.
China expressed concern that the East Antarctic MPA was based on scientific evidence that was compiled eight years ago. This suggests that the commission should look at more recent data. Other member nations pointed out, however, that the MPA proposal was blocked by China and Russia year after year.
It’s a argument that “wouldn’t be so frustrating,” Roura said.
‘ A very dangerous precedent ‘
It’s not just MPAs that cause disputes.
Russia has also repeatedly blocked efforts to set catch limits for Patagonian teethfish (also known as Chilean Seabass) near the South Georgia islands. They object to some of the methods used in developing the proposals. The proposed limits are supported by most members and are based upon the best science.
Several members made statements expressing frustration at the issue at the CCAMLR meeting.
” We cannot find any reason why Russia continues to disregard new data and analyses which disprove its hypothesis. We simply conclude that Russia’s approach is intended for sowing discontent and crushing the spirit of collaboration, that many of us share with CCAMLR,” the U.S. delegation stated in a statement according to the official CCAMLR report.
The report states that members of CCAMLR’s scientific panel stated that Russia has said that “no science could be presented that would alter its position.”
The issue has already had some serious consequences.
The issue has already had some repercussions. The United Kingdom quietly issued its own fishing licences for the area earlier this year, without CCAMLR-approved catch limit limits in place. The United States has indicated that it would likely ban imports of seabass caught in the South Georgia islands.
The issue highlights the dangers of “knock-on consequences” of disputes within a commission, according to Press, an ex-Australian CCAMLR commissioner.
“Russia’s inability to reach consensus on the basis of really spurious arguments and lack of engagement is a dangerous precedent,” he stated.
It’s not just CCAMLR that is facing these types of science-related disputes. They are now affecting other Antarctic Treaty meetings.
A slew of nations supported a proposal that the Antarctic Treaty’s Protocol on Environmental Protection grant special protection status to the emperor penguin. This was at the annual Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting which concluded in June.
Studies indicate that the planet’s warming will lead to a decline in emperor penguin numbers. Scientists believe that new protections could be put in place to protect the species from other disturbances like pollution and tourism, which could lead to even greater losses.
The move was blocked by a single country–China (Climatewire, June 17).
China suggested the science linking emperor penguins to climate change may not be clear. It was largely based on two articles by Susan Crockford (a self-described blogger and zoologist) who published articles through the Global Warming Policy Foundation. This conservative think tank is known for challenging the science of climate change.
It’s unclear what motivates such contrarianism Press stated. He suggested that Russia and China are likely to be interested in avoiding “any lawmaking in marine environment that would forego future opportunities for them .”
At the moment, most of these options involve Antarctic fisheries.
Mining has been prohibited in Antarctica since 1998 under an environmental protocol to the Antarctic Treaty. The protocol is immutable until 2048, at which point a member of the Antarctic Treaty could potentially call for a review. The mining ban could be overturned by the member parties.
The likelihood of that outcome is up for debate–Press, for his part, has suggested that it probably would be difficult to accomplish. He said that there is still the possibility of future mining opportunities.
Another question: How can these disputes be solved?
“Nobody wants to change the consensus approach,” Roura, the ASOS adviser, said. “But, there must be ways to facilitate the consensus process and ensure that it happens .”
Press pointed out that there are some international dispute provisions countries can use when they have serious disagreements. In 2010, Australia brought a case against Japan to the International Court of Justice over its Antarctic whaling activities. The court ruled against Japan in 2014.
Also, he stated that “concerted, high level diplomatic activity” was probably the best strategy.
It is crucial to avoid future disputes over Antarctic conservation, and to protect its valuable resources, Press said.
“Climate Change is the greatest threat to Antarctica. He said that the Antarctic will be an incredibly important part of global food security in the future. “So, resolving the politicization and use of spurious science in order to block consensus is a major problem and must be dealt with .”
Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2022. E&E News delivers vital news to professionals in the energy and environment industries.