There’s good news and bad in the world’s ocean this week, and both stories are related to climate change. On the one hand, a historic treaty has been signed which could protect biodiversity across international waters. On the other, further cyclones barrage the country of Vanuatu with level-four storms.
Let's start with the good news.
The UN high seas treaty.
On Saturday, the 4th of March, after a full two decades of decision-making, the UN has finally come to an agreement of sorts surrounding the protection of the ‘high seas’. The treaty will be enforcing the same pledges made at the UN biodiversity conference last December, a treaty which would place a third of the world’s oceans under protection by 2030.
How the UN will manage to implement this policy is another question entirely. To draw a parallel to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the sea, twelve years were needed to establish a body that would put said law into practice (this body being the International Seabed Authority). Another sixteen have passed without an established mining code to protect the seabeds.
Progress is unbearably slow. And the ramifications of this current ocean treaty have yet to be realised in any detail, so a lot of work is needed yet before we get too excited.
The high-seas treaty may also fail to enforce marine protection in action, much as national boundaries have failed to prevent bottom trawling and illegal fishing. The ‘penalty’ is a fine that doesn’t particularly deter the attempt at illegal fishing, despite the environmental ramifications of wide-scale trawling and commercial fishing operations. But the real support comes down to effective policing and an established agreement between nations. And in this respect, it appears everyone means to do their bit.
So will this treaty change anything? Well, the goal is to place at least 30% of the ocean under protection by 2030 in what’s called the ‘30X30’ deal. The decision comes from the UN Biodiversity Conference, COP15, which aims to protect 30% of the planet’s lands, coastal areas and inland waters.
With no agenda set in stone and only the bare outlines of an agreement, the likelihood of 30X30 reaching its goals isn’t certain. For one, members of the UN have to agree on who is responsible across several bodies of international water, as well as acceptable levels of catch and bycatch, based on the needs of individual countries.
How far people stray beyond those guidelines will depend on how committed the members of the UN are to this agreement. Historically, Japan’s entry into the International Whaling Treaty has been repeatedly violated and completely ignored to continue its fishing practices while maintaining ocean boundaries.
Whether we’ll see similar disagreements over fair ocean usage in this new treaty is unknown. But one thing is for sure; it won’t be an easy fix.
Cyclone category four hits Vanuatu.
The recent Cyclone Kevin over Vanuatu has been less divisive but assuredly bad for all involved. Following shortly after two earthquakes, both Cyclone Kevin and Cyclone Judy struck the nation island over the 4th-6th of March, with winds of up to 230 kilometres an hour, heavy rainfalls and extreme flooding.
As of yet, no casualties have been reported, although much of the island has been flattened by the storm, including homes and businesses. Many still are without power, including the capital of Port Vila.
Originally, it had been forecasted that the Fijian Tropical Cyclone Season of 2022/2023 would see less activity, while a revised statement in January predicted no less than seven tropical cyclones for the region. Yet Fiji, as well as Vanuatu, has been under massive flooding from Cyclone Kevin and its predecessors, Cyclone Judy.
Vanuatu is now undertaking a six-month clean-up effort to return the island to normal. But with flights cancelled, families out of homes and widespread architectural destruction, normal seems a long way off.
The link is obvious.
We’ve talked a lot about this in the climate column, but our planet is precious. The extreme weather events we’ve experienced have been predicted for a long time and, although not unique in our earth’s history, are happening much more frequently, widely and at a more violent scale with the increase in the earth’s temperature.
Over the course of the next few decades, we can expect to see these events repeated every five years or less, increasing in intensity and frequency. The closer we edge over 2.0℃, the more likely we are to see this pattern repeat itself. It’s time to clean up the planet and its pollutants.
What you can do.
We’re excited as anything to be holding our first-ever Eartha beach cleanup! We’ve talked a lot about plastics and microplastics in our oceans, breaking down into harmful CO2 and other potentially toxic chemicals. Now, we’re calling on our Earthans to come help remove them!
Details will be announced soon! We aim to clean as much of the beach as possible, so please, share this blog with your friends and get a cleanup gang together.
We’ll keep you in the loop as we get closer to the day. Hope to see you all there, Earthans!
- “Clean-up continues in Vanuatu as two category 4 cyclones barrage country” on ABC. Date Published: 6th March. 2023. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3F8nvkV.
- Kim, Juliana, Treisman, Rachel. “What to know about the new U.N. high seas treaty — and the next steps for the accord” on npr. Date Published: 7th March, 2023. Site Link: https://n.pr/3L5NOfm.
- McCulloch, Gabrielle. “'They've lost everything': Ni-Vanuatu Kiwis' concern amid cyclone Kevin” on Stuff. Date Published: 4th March, 2023. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3F9YpBY.
- McVeigh, Karen. “High seas treaty: historic deal to protect international waters finally reached at UN” on The Guardian. Date Published: 5th March, 2023. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3ZTRwgd.
- “UN conference concludes with ‘historic’ deal to protect a third of the world’s biodiversity” on United Nations. Date Published: 19th December, 2022. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3l1uchQ.
- Rovoi, Christine. “Cyclone crises: Fijians 'lucky', Vanuatu counts losses as aid pours in” on Stuff. Date Published: 8th March, 2023. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3YDINh8.
- Standing, Guy. “UN high seas treaty is a triumph, but it will need teeth to be effective” on The Guardian. Date Published: 6th March, 2023. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3Yx7yvp.
- Tonga, Nuku'alofa. “Severe Tropical Cyclone Kevin no longer a threat” on Matangi Tonga Online. Date Published: 6th March, 2023. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3ylskUh.
About the author - meet Earthan James McCulloch
James is a literary student and environmental enthusiast who likes thinking about the better futures we could have (and those we best avoid). When not playing with other people’s dogs or taking long, mindful walks, he’s usually found reading and writing, often at the local library. You can check him out on his blog for something a little different, where he talks about all things literary or otherwise.