For the Flotilla End of Year Round Up, we discuss what we have learned from ocean coverage this year. We look at the lows and highlights of the anticipated ‘Ocean Super Year,’ as well as upcoming opportunities for 2021.
Lows and Highs from 2020
The much anticipated ‘Ocean Super Year’ did not happen as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the obstacles posed by the postponement and cancellation of many important ocean events, work to protect the planet’s life support system forged on. However, it remains to be seen just how far back the global lockdown has pushed urgently needed protection measures.
Data collection and analysis of ocean coverage in legacy and social media across the pandemic demonstrated individuals the world over experienced an increased value for nature during lockdown – including the ocean. There was a clear sense that we have lost balance with the natural world and that the pandemic is evidence of that. However, they did not necessarily equate this with specific measures to protect the environment.
Coverage of the ocean dropped significantly across the year, and as an issue in the political and public consciousness, it was set back by several years.
All the ‘Ocean Super Year’ meetings were cancelled or postponed into 2021 and beyond. By the end of the year, very few decision-making meetings had moved online. Some Regional Fisheries Management Meetings were held and made poor decisions for ocean health such as CCAMLAR which relegated an important protection decision to AOB and the WTO which failed to cut subsidies that support overfishing.
Efforts to progress negotiation of the new High Seas Treaty through online means have been unable to make significant inroads into the discussions still needed and with no expectation that actual negotiation will move online in 2021.
There is as yet no signal that international negotiations can succeed online. Officially recognised obstacles include a lack of bandwidth for least developed states, time zone and language barriers but unofficially, it is clear that the real negotiations – those which happen in corridors and outside of plenary – cannot be conducted online. There is as yet little appetite to find a way to move beyond this way of working into something which is more transparent and can, therefore, be conducted virtually.
In the UK and beyond, NGOs advocating for marine protection report having come up against a virtual door shutting at key moments, as decisions appear to be made in closed fora or passed more rapidly than would otherwise be the case.