A Promising Start for a High Seas Treaty

Elizabeth Wilson is the director of international ocean policy at The Pew Charitable Trusts.

By Elizabeth Wilson
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 9 2016 (IPS)

Delegates from 83 countries came together at the United Nations from March 28 to April 8 for the first in a series of landmark meetings on ocean protection. This Preparatory Committee will help forge an agreement to determine how nations move forward to protect the high seas—the 64 percent of the ocean that belongs to everyone but is governed by no one.

The high seas—which begin beyond each country’s exclusive economic zone, 200 miles from shore—were once thought to be devoid of life. But science has now shown that they’re full of diverse species, from highly migratory sharks and turtles to the smallest microscopic organisms that help build the base of ocean food webs.

As yet, no cohesive management structure exists: While regional fisheries management organizations can set rules for fishing, the International Maritime Organization can do the same for shipping, and the International Seabed Authority controls mining, there’s no way for them to all work together.

And that’s why this U.N. meeting was so important.

While there are four core parts of the proposed agreement, two provisions are particularly important: the creation of marine protected areas and reserves on the high seas, and the development of environmental impact assessments for high seas activities.

High seas marine protected areas are increasingly important. Science has demonstrated that these types of protections—and in particular, large-scale, fully protected reserves—are critical for protecting biodiversity, rebuilding fish stocks, and building resilience to climate change. But to date only 2 percent of the ocean is fully protected—the majority within exclusive economic zones.

The U.N. has adopted a Sustainable Development Goal for the ocean that calls on countries to protect 10 percent of the ocean by 2020. But even that might not be enough. New science suggests that 30 percent of the world’s ocean needs to be set aside. Such a level of protection would be nearly impossible in practice without including the high seas.

The good news is that during the Preparatory Committee meeting, many representatives spoke in favor of a new global regime to implement high seas marine protected areas—evidence that the momentum for such action is growing.

Delegates also floated fresh ideas for effective environmental impact assessments. For example, while we have scientific studies on many of the factors affecting the marine environment, new and emerging activities on the high seas could affect biodiversity in the future. The world community must find a way to evaluate the impact of any activities before they’re allowed to occur.

It’s encouraging that this meeting fostered robust discussions, active participation, and a high level of interest from governments and from intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations. All regions of the world—including small islands and landlocked states—had a seat at the table.

This is just the beginning of the conversation. At the end of August, the same group will come together for the second of its four meetings. By the end of next year, the preparatory meetings will be over—and moving forward with an agreement will be in the U.N. General Assembly’s court to consider. If the momentum that has brought us this far continues, the assembly could fully adopt a treaty by 2020.

The meetings that concluded April 8 offer real hope that strong language will be developed on marine protected areas, including marine reserves, and environmental impact assessments. The high seas, and the biodiversity within them, require no less.

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Clash or Dialogue?

By Jan -E-Alam Khaki
Apr 9 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

The emergence of a global village, where people from different civilisational bacle grounds are coming together in increasing numbers to work, study, and live together, is creating fault lines that often erupt in violence.

This phenomenon has led to an academic and political debate heightened by Samuel Huntington`s thesis on the `clash of civilisations`. Predicting future inter and intra-civilisational conflicts, he argues: `The most pervasive, important and dangerous conflicts [in the future] will not be between social classes, rich and poor, or other economically defined groups, but between peoples belonging to different cultural entities. Tribal wars and ethnic conflicts will occur within civilisations.

These projections have been given further credence by the unfortunate events of 9/11.

The `clash position`, so to speak, sees the encounter of civilisations as an occasion to heighten or revive historical confrontations, while completely hiding or understating historical symbiotic links among civilisations.

On the other hand are those who perceive civilisational encounters as desirable, productive and necessary. They believe in promoting civilisational exchanges and building a culture of dialogue among civilisations.

These dialogues occur at three levels: Individual, institutional and state.

At the individual level, people, including writers, media, and many far-sighted community leaders, are promoting dialogue.

Enormous quantities of literature are published to promote better understanding among civilisations.

At the institutional level, many civil society organisations and educational institutions have structured programmes to teach diversity and pluralism as a `language` of the civilisational discourse. John Esposito in The Future of Islam provides some examples of these programmes in the Western context.

Many organisations, whose actions were previously restricted to their own communities, are now opening up to, and welcoming, others. Schools, colleges, universities, and social welfare institutions, are good examples of this. In fact, they are an example of dialogue within civilisations, a lofty feat indeed.

This dialogue is not necessarily restricted to verbal discussions or conference presentations. It has to do with a wider meaning which encompasses people-to-people contact, as well as cultural, educational and diplomatic exchanges. Such channels of communication, which focus on the perspectives of others in a non-judgemental, and what Marshall Rosenberg calls `non-violent communicative mode`, give further impetus to the dialogue of civilisations.

An international Muslim leader once remarked that in a pluralistic world, the con-sequences of ignorance can be profoundly damaging ignorance of other people, and a lack of understanding of the valuable benefits of plurality, can lead to contempt, hatred and even war. It culminates in misery for all.

On the other hand, knowledge of other cultures and civilisations can promote better understanding among nations. Learning more about other cultures leads to a better understanding of oneself.

Dr Ali Asani, a professor of religion at Harvard University, in an interview with the Harvard Gazette in November 2015 argues, `As we engage [in a dialogue] with `the other`, we see that we`re actually engaging with other viewpoints, and in the process, coming to know ourselves better.

At the state level, many countries (a prime example being Canada) have promoted policies, laws and positive actions aimed at cultivating diversity.

Globally, there is heightened awareness about dialogue although much more needs to be done. For example, in December last year, Muslims, Jews, Christians and Hindusjointly celebrated the births of the Prophets Hazrat Esa and Hazrat Muhammad (peace be upon them) at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.

The event was intended to highlight the role played bythese great prophets.

A good number of people participated in the gathering, appreciating the effort of bringing people of different faiths together on common themes such as peace.

Admittedly, cultural clashes have always been part of the human story. However, inter-cultural cooperation has also equally been a major part of the mosaic of history. So, what should we opt for today clash or dialogue? Those who support dialogue among civilisations also support building on historic traditions of acceptance, accommodation, and even celebrating each other`s heritage.

In sum, we may say that dialogue among civilisations today is not just a pragmatic need, but a strategy to better understand oneself and others. If this is the case, we then need to ask ourselves: what can support dialogue and contribute to mitigating clashes? To conclude this discussion, let us recall one of Rumi`s verses that remind us of the need for coming together: `Tu barai wasl kardan aamadi; Ne barai fasl kardan aamadi` (you have been commanded to unite, not divide [the people]).

The writer is an educationist with an interest in the study of religion and philosophy.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan