03/20/2009 - We live on a blue planet—71 percent of the earth’s surface is covered by ocean. The world’s oceans play a critical role in sustaining life. They help regulate the earth’s climate, generate much of the oxygen we breathe, detoxify and recycle pollution and absorb vast quantities of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas.
Yet the unrestrained impact of human activity—particularly industrial fishing—is imposing fundamental changes on the world’s oceans. Recent studies suggest that 90 percent of the world’s large fish have disappeared and close to one-third of all commercial fisheries have collapsed. Unless current trends are reversed, the world’s remaining commercial fisheries are likely to fail by 2048.
For more than 15 years, the Pew Environment Group has been promoting solutions to problems affecting the world’s oceans. We ground our work in up-to-date, accurate and peer-reviewed science, the findings of which we convey to the public, the media and policy makers, including resource management agencies and regulatory bodies. Our goals for the coming five years are both specific and ambitious. Within the United States, we are committed to ending overfishing in federal waters by 2012. Internationally, we seek to improve governance of high-seas fisheries and create at least four large-scale marine reserves in areas of the oceans that require comprehensive protection from fishing and other extractive activities.
In addition, we are committed to developing model standards for marine aquaculture that will lessen the detrimental impacts of fish farming on the marine environment; ensuring the sustainable management of krill, the basis of the marine food web in Antarctica; securing permanent bans on bottom trawling and other destructive fishing practices in both national and international waters; strengthening fisheries conservation in the European Union; increasing protection for whales; and continuing to sponsor critically important research aimed at informing and guiding the responsible management of ocean resources.
Preserving the Earth’s outstanding wilderness is no less important. Merely 17 percent of the world’s terrestrial surface remains essentially unspoiled, and extinction threatens innumerable animal and plant species on land. Consequently, we have also campaigned for more than 15 years to protect some of the world’s largest and most important remaining wilderness areas; during that time, we have safeguarded well over 200 million acres in the United States and Canada, equivalent to twice the size of California.
Over the next five years, we are seeking the long-term protection of millions of acres in the United States, Canada and Australia. All three nations have vast wilderness areas that are biologically and ecologically rich. Moreover, all benefit from functioning democracies characterized by the rule of law, together with a citizenry that places a high value on conservation. As a result, once an area has been protected in these countries, restrictions on extractive activity and development are likely to be enforced.
The Pew Environment Group recognized the serious implications of climate change in the early 1990s, and we have made global warming—which is arguably the foremost environmental challenge of the 21st century—a central focus of our work since then. We have made major investments in energy and climate-change research and policy design, public and policy-maker education, and the promotion of innovative policy solutions. These efforts have not only produced significant results but also laid the foundation for the adoption of strong climate policies by the United States in the next several years as well as U.S. participation in global climate accords.
We are committed to continue working with our colleagues across a number of different sectors to gain passage of a national policy that will constrain greenhouse gases in ways that will have demonstrable economic as well as environmental benefits for the United States and the world. In addition, we are engaged in efforts to promote a post-Kyoto agreement in which key developed countries, together with the major developing ones, agree to substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, including explicit reduction commitments for each nation.
Our work is undertaken in concert with other environmental groups that recognize, as we do, that multiple organizations working together can often accomplish far more than a single entity on its own. In addition to the conservation community, we partner with a diverse set of other constituencies, including businesses, the philanthropic community, hunters and anglers, outdoor enthusiasts, religious leaders and native peoples.
The 21st century brings the greatest environmental challenges that civilization has ever faced. The consequences of not addressing the destructive trends that threaten to transform the Earth’s natural systems will be severe. Moreover, the window of opportunity in which we can act is small and closing. An estimated half of all species of life on Earth could be extinct in 50 years. Human society has never experienced species loss at this level—and there will be no second chances to fix the situation. We will not have an opportunity, once they are gone, to bring them back.
Joshua S. Reichert
Managing Director, Pew Environment Group
Read more about Pew’s work in Pew Prospectus 2009 (PDF).