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European government representatives, attending this week's meeting of the Biodiversity Committee of the OSPAR Convention in Cork (Ireland), have the opportunity to move towards the urgent protection that the Arctic needs. And OSPAR delegates are already adept at taking forward-looking and determined action on environmental protection.
The OSPAR Convention (which took its name from the Oslo and PARis Conventions) is the legislative instrument for the protection of the marine environment of the Northeast Atlantic. It is the only regional Convention that can establish a marine protected area (MPA) in part of the international waters of the central Arctic Ocean, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS, in its acronym in English).
Indeed, if progress is made on the declaration of the proposed Arctic MPA, it will not be the first time that OSPAR has used this specific mandate to protect areas under the influence of the Convention in areas beyond national jurisdiction. The Charlie-Gibbs MPA and six other MPAs, established by OSPAR in 2010 and 2012 to protect the unique natural qualities associated with the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, were the first set of conservation areas established in international waters in the North Atlantic and the first global network. of high seas AMP.
The icy waters of the Arctic may be the next MPA. In 2014, WWF named "Arctic ice on the high seas" and developed the scientific rationale for the protection of the MPA to be designated by the OSPAR Commission and which corresponds to the waters permanently covered (to date) under the ice of the basin of the Central Arctic. The Convention on Biological Diversity has already recognized that this area meets the scientific criteria to be a marine area of ecological or biological importance (EBSA, in its acronym in English). Although it represents only a part of the glacial habitat of the Arctic included in the OSPAR zone and the Arctic 'permanent' sea ice as a whole, the protection of this zone would represent a decisive step for the OSPAR member countries to fulfill their obligations regarding the protection of the marine environment.
The next step for the declaration of this area as a protected area is precisely the meeting of the Biodiversity Committee that takes place in Cork from this Monday. Protecting the Arctic and its ecosystems is not just for the gallery. The frozen waters of the high Arctic allow the existence of unique habitats linked to the diversity of characteristics of the ice pack, including diverse animal species already threatened or in danger of extinction. Unfortunately, predictions of ice disturbances due to climate change indicate that the total volume of frozen sea will continue to decline over the next few decades. Governments must take the urgent actions necessary to address climate change in other treaties and conventions. And now, under the OSPAR Convention, they have the opportunity, as well as the responsibility, to establish those measures that help protect habitats and species from other pressures, thus providing them with greater resilience to face current global changes.
The OSPAR Convention has been a pioneering engine for change since 1998, when the Commission adopted decidedly progressive and ambitious strategies to address environmental protection issues, including the agreement to legally prohibit the sinking at sea of oil and gas platforms.
It's time to make history again. For the sake of the Arctic and the diversity of species it supports, we cannot afford to miss another opportunity: the countries present at OSPAR can once again assume environmental leadership by agreeing on measures aimed at the urgent and necessary protection of the Arctic.