Some Progress at Rio, But No Time to Waste

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Today, Susan Lieberman, director of International Policy for the Pew Environment Group, released the following statement at the close of the Rio Earth Summit (Rio + 20).

“It would be a mistake to call Rio a failure, but for a once-in-a-decade meeting with so much at stake, it was a far cry from a success.

“We came to Rio with high expectations for action to address the ocean crisis. There was some progress: a large number of countries now recognize the need for international management of the sea and there were commitments to deal with some of the key challenges that are accelerating the deterioration of the marine environment. The final outcome document also contains good recommendations on ending overfishing, taking action to stop illegal fishing, phasing out harmful subsidies, eliminating destructive fishing practices, and protecting vulnerable marine ecosystems.

“There were other groundbreaking moments such as the pledge to ensure protection of the boreal forest in Quebec and the announcement by the Australian government that it was proposing the world's largest system of marine protection in its waters.

“It would be a mistake to call Rio a failure, but for a once-in-a-decade meeting with so much at stake, it was a far cry from a success.”- Susan Lieberman

“However, the lack of progress on managing and conserving the high seas, which can and will only be addressed through international action, is discouraging and should have been dealt with here and now. It is frankly astonishing that world leaders all agreed that this is a major problem needing an international, coordinated solution and then deferred any decision on action for another two and a half years.

“Many countries made strong closing statements expressing their concern for the current state of the ocean. We now look forward to future commitments and action both domestically and internationally.”

Editors Notes:

Marine Reserves

One of the most important moments for the summit did not occur in Rio, but was noticed and celebrated here. Last week, the Australian government announced that it was proposing the world’s largest system of marine protection in its waters. By designating some 500,000 square kilometers (193,000 square miles) of the Coral Sea as a fully protected no-take marine reserve, and also fully protecting marine areas in Australia’s southwest, north, and northwest marine regions, covering more than 282,130 square kilometers (108,930 square miles), Australia made it clear that ocean conservation and management are critical to the world’s economic prosperity and environmental health.

The government of Venezuela also aided marine species this week by prohibiting shark finning in its waters and establishing a new large protected area that is an important breeding ground and nursery for populations of several species of sharks.

Boreal Protection

One of the highlights of the summit was the announcement by Quebec Premier Jean Charest to ensure that the province’s Plan Nord, a sustainable development initiative covering a region twice the size of France, will protect half that area from industrial activity. While in Rio, Charest committed to strengthen pending legislation on Plan Nord and create the single largest land conservation initiative in history. Later in the week, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger also made a commitment to boreal forest protection.

By working with aboriginal communities and implementing science-based ecological planning, the Quebec government will create a new global model for sustainable development. We also applaud Premier Selinger for recognizing the global importance of Manitoba’s boreal forests and his pledge to conserve them.

Rio+20 Dialogues and the Ocean

Taking place simultaneously to the workings of the High Level Summit, were the Rio+20 dialogue days developed by the Brazilian government to provide civil society with a tangible opportunity to contribute to the Conference outcome. Three recommendations from each of the 10 dialogues were developed through the combination of voting and input from an appointed panel.

The ocean dialogue yielded recommendations to launch a new agreement to protect the high seas, to tackle plastic pollution through education and community collaboration, and to establish a global network of marine protected areas and foster ecosystem based fisheries management.