Save the Oceans to Save the Planet, Part 3: A Framework for Implementation
As we have seen in the first two parts of this series, an existential crisis is facing, not only humanity, but the entire world. We have explored a number of aspects of this crisis and begun to understand the various types of solutions that will be required to solve this crisis in a timely manner. Part 3 explores the necessity and the ability of humanity to join together to solve this crisis as one. There are no border walls that can insulate one country from another. There are no solutions, implemented solely by one country or another, that will realistically deal with the magnitude and complexity of the issues confronting the oceans, and by extension, the entire planet. As has been popularized in the growing concern about climate change, a deeply intertwined issue with the plight of the oceans, “there is no Planet B”.
There is a hopeful sign. In 1982, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Law of the Sea, which came into force in November 1994. The Law of the Sea Convention (we shall refer to it as LOSC henceforth) represents the recognition by and collaboration of the nations of the world to frame a comprehensive outline and working set of legally binding requirements to achieve – among other goals - the protection of the world’s oceans. The LOSC specified “that the problems of ocean space are interrelated and need to be considered as a whole” in its preamble. The first Article comprehensively defines pollution of the marine environment, encompassing all activities, not only those that demonstrably result in “deleterious effects”, but also those that are likely to so result, thereby introducing a powerful and mandatory precautionary criterion as well. This treaty recognizes the impossibility of erecting boundaries to protect the ocean, and thus, a wholistic view and basis for sustainable solutions must be developed. In article 192 of the LOSC, it requires all States to “protect and preserve the marine environment,” without exceptions or qualifications. It is the single most powerful environmental treaty so far concluded.
The expansive framework recognizes that the LOSC must encompass the entire marine environment, which is not just the oceans themselves, but the rivers and tributary streams that feed into the oceans, all land and air-based sources of pollution, as well as all the elements of the marine environment, which includes coastal regions, reefs, life forms in the myriad food webs and chains in the ocean, the seabed, and seawater, and all the eco-systems, including those on land, that are connected to or dependent upon or whose destruction could adversely ffect the health of the seas. This also encompasses all human activity in and on and affecting the seas themselves, which would include fishing, transport, and recreational activities, all of which must be brought into the comprehensive solutions to the deterioration of the oceans and their resources.
Various articles in the LOSC also make it clear that the effort must go beyond the water systems of the world to include other sources that affect the oceans, particularly the atmosphere and the land. Once again, here are no solid borders that prevent air pollution, including greenhouse gas emissions from adversely affecting the sea; on the contrary, it is clear that greenhouse gases are seriously harming the marine environment. Similarly, pollution originating from land-based activities finds its way into the oceans with similarly negative consequences. This includes land-based mining, industry, agricultural runoff and other unsustainable agricultural practices, plastic and other forms of pollution, and heavy metal runoff. More recently, with note of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, we also have to recognize that radioactive waste from the land is harming the oceans.
The LOSC therefore provides a framework and requirement for all nations to address climate change and land-, air- and sea- based activities that result or are likely to result in harm to the marine environment. The LOSC even goes further in Articles 145 and 234 to mandate protection of the “ecological balance of the marine environment,” demonstrating a holistic approach to the oceans so far sadly lacking in the actions the world’s States have taken. Article 234 specifically and presciently addresses the ice-covered areas of our planet. With the extreme rise in global temperatures we have seen, with especially severe effects in the polar regions, enormous ice-melt from the Arctic, Antarctica and Greenland is sending enormous amounts of freshwater into the oceans, changing the temperature and salinity of the oceans, and raising sea levels, all of which are likely to or already do “cause major harm to or irreversible disturbance of the ecological balance.”
Part XII of the LOSC requires all States to prevent, reduce and control – in that order - pollution of the marine environment, not just within the seas, but also from the land and the air. This pollution includes greenhouse gas emissions. Article 194(2)states: “States shall take all measures necessary to ensure that activities under their jurisdiction or control are so conducted as not to cause damage by pollution to other States and their environment, and that pollution arising from incidents or activities under their jurisdiction or control does not spread beyond the areas where they exercise sovereign rights in accordance with this Convention.”
We see here, then, that the nations of the world have recognized the essential unity of the entire eco-sphere of the planet, the inter-connected nature of the oceans with the air and the land, and the requirement, adopted by the nations of the world acting together, to control the adverse effects on the ocean from whatever sources they arise, in the ocean, on land or in the air. This provides a mandatory framework for implementation of detailed actions by all nations.
There is sometimes a concern that unless “all” nations act at once and together, that therefore some nations have an excuse not to move forward. Such an approach can only lead to disaster. We see in human history that some people or nations act as leaders, to get out in front of the need and show the way. It is clear that the vast majority of the negative effects on the oceans has come about, and still comes about, through the actions of the more developed countries. Less developed countries, struggling with the need to develop their infrastructure to provide a decent standard of living for their people, have had to deal with the burdens of exploitation and colonization for centuries, now further exacerbated by the impacts of climate change. It is therefore up to the technologically more developed nations to take the lead in enforcing upon themselves the LOSC which they helped formulate, and have adopted as a binding commitment for the future survival of humanity and the life-sustaining balance of the planet we depend on for our survival.
In the next part we shall begin to address specific issues and suggest a relative order of priority. Many things need to be done, and many of them need to be tackled simultaneously. It is not sufficient to choose and address selected individual items on a list and thereby declare the mission completed. A comprehensive and well-organized program to tackle numerous issues, through State action, as well as through NGO, student, community and corporate initiatives, will be required to slow and perhaps even reverse the damage done thus far and return to a state of ecological balance in the face of the mass extinction event we are already experiencing in the world.self

Author's Bio: 

Santosh Krinsky has been involved in the natural products industry since 1974. Prior to that time he took up the practice of the integral yoga of Sri Aurobindo and has remained active in both of these areas ever since.