2014 ‘crunch time’ for ocean, says David Miliband

The year 2014 needs to be the time when ‘we reverse the degradation of the high seas’, says Global Ocean Commission Co-chair David Miliband MP in an article for the UK’s Observer newspaper.

Mr Miliband warns that humanity is in the midst of ‘the ecological equivalent of the financial crisis’.

Scientists are finding ever more evidence that the deep ocean floor is not a lifeless desert (AD Rogers, Uni of Oxford/NERC)

‘The long-term costs of the mismanagement of our oceans are at least as great as long-term costs of the mismanagement of the financial system,’ he said.

‘We are living as if there are three or four planets instead of one, and you can’t get away with that.’

In 2007, the World Bank calculated that mis-management of fisheries is costing the global economy an estimated $50bn (£32bn) per year – a cumulative $1.5 trillion over three decades.

The mis-management has consequences for food security, employment and nature, with important marine habitats such as seamounts being damaged by destructive fishing practices.

One strand of the Commission’s work will be to look further at the economics of the high seas. The value of many ocean ecosystem services, such as absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen, has not been thoroughly costed.

The Commission’s work will span the entire range of threats, challenges and opportunities regarding the high seas, including climate change impacts, piracy, human rights, global security and equity. A central theme concerns the governance system, and how it should evolve to take account of current realities and potential new uses.

‘The high seas were protected for thousands of years because people simply could not get there,’ Mr Miliband told The Observer.

‘Exploitation has increased over 30 years, but the governance framework has not kept up.’

A former UK Environment Secretary and Foreign Secretary, Mr Miliband jointly chairs the Global Ocean Commission with South African cabinet minister Trevor Manuel and former Costa Rican President José María Figueres.

The Commission will issue its recommendations and report early in 2014. Later that year, the United Nations General Assembly is due to debate protection of biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) – a decision made at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in 2012.