Call to Protect Southern Ocean

July 8, 2021

The European Parliament calls on European Commission President, Ursula Von Der Leyen, to protect the Southern Ocean.

Strasbourg, France, July 8, 2021: In a unanimous vote, 588 of the 705 members of the European Parliament have voted in favor of a resolution calling on European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, to secure protection of the Southern Ocean this year.

The EU is proposing two large-scale marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica. If designated it would be the largest act of ocean protection in history, at more than 3 million sq.km. The proposals are being considered by the consensus based organization, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).

Geopolitics have stalled progress as CCAMLR Members cannot reach consensus on these proposals. In her State of the Union speech in September 2020, European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, committed to, “… use our diplomatic strength and economic clout to broker agreements that make a difference – such as designating maritime protected areas in Antarctica.” Today’s resolution is calling on the President to act on that commitment in the coming weeks.

Today’s vote is a clear and unambiguous call on Ursula von der Leyen to overcome geopolitical tensions and secure protection of the Southern Ocean in the coming weeks” said Claire Christian, Executive Director of Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, “Antarctica is the continent of peace and science, and protection of the Southern Ocean would be a decisive act of global solidarity in the face of the climate and biodiversity crisis.”

The overwhelming support for this resolution is a clear message to President von der Leyen and world leaders that urgent action is required to protect the habitats and species that are critical to safeguarding Antarctic biodiversity,” said Dr. Antonia Leroy, Head of Ocean Policy at WWF European Policy Office, “High-level engagement in the lead up to the annual CCAMLR meeting is essential to make progress towards establishing a representative network of marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean. The EU has the opportunity to lead on securing the greatest act of marine conservation in history.”

Using the European Union’s diplomatic strength to secure marine protected areas in the Antarctic would be a perfect example of how President von der Leyen might use her tenure to secure lasting change for the planet. The strength of feeling in the European Parliament to do just that is clear: this is a mandate for the urgent leadership needed to protect one of the last great wildernesses.”, said Will McCallum, Head of Greenpeace’s Protect the Antarctic campaign. “We need a step change in Antarctic diplomacy if we are to ensure this unique ecosystem survives for future generations.”

The resolution was drafted and led by Members of the European Parliament Grace O’Sullivan (Greens/EFA IE) and Catherine Chabaud (Renew FR), both of whom have crossed the Southern Ocean to Antarctica on conservation work.

  • Text of resolution
  • CCAMLR is a consensus-based organisation made up of 25 countries and the EU.
  • On June 4, MEPs Catherine Chabaud and Grace O’Sullivan gave an expert webinar on, How the EU is leading on the largest act of ocean protection.
  • State of the Union Address by President von der Leyen at the European Parliament Plenary
  • Antarctica and the Southern Ocean contain approximately 90 percent of the world’s ice and around 70 percent of the planet’s freshwater, both of which are vulnerable to warming air and waters. Find out more here.
  • Antarctic ice is melting at an ever faster rate, with potentially catastrophic effects for coastal zones around the world – a record high temperature of 18.30C has been recorded on the Antarctic Peninsula and the melting of the Thwaites glacier in West Antarctica risks a 0.5 metre sea level rise. Read about it here and here.
  • A recent speech by the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, on the need to designate the EU’s Southern Ocean MPAs at the conclusion of the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting is available here.
  • In 2009, CCAMLR Members agreed to establish a network of MPAs throughout the Southern Ocean – in 2016 the first large-scale MPA was agreed in the Ross Sea (proposed by the U.S. & New Zealand; 2.02 million sq.km).
  • The EU is proposing designation of two large-scale MPAs: the East Antarctic (led by France, 0.95 million sq.km) and the Weddell Sea (led by Germany, 2.18 million sq.km).
  • Consensus on the Ross Sea MPA came as a result of significant advocacy by the United States and New Zealand.
  • The EU can achieve the largest act of environmental protection in history while securing significant geopolitical impact by winning consensus for the existing proposals.

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