Indian billionaire Ratan Tata leads calls for UN ocean treaty

Heavy pollution and climate change are threatening long term health and productivity of high seas

(Pic: NOAA)

(Pic: NOAA)

By Ed King

The former head of one of India’s top multinational companies is leading calls for the UN to adopt tougher rules to prevent ocean pollution.

Ratan Tata, who led the US$100 billion Tata Group from 1991 to 2012, says governments must target protecting a “healthy, living planet” when they gather at the UN General Assembly next week.

He wants leaders to “extend the rule of law” to the oceans, with a new UN convention on the law of the sea, specifically focusing on ocean health.

“Marine and coastal resources are worth US$3 trillion a year – around 5% of the world’s GDP – and worldwide, 350 million jobs are linked to the ocean while 97% of fishers live in developing countries,” writes Tata.

“But without the enforcement of strong laws to protect a living ocean, a minority will continue to abuse the freedom of the high seas, plunder the riches that lie beneath the waves, take more than a fair share, and benefit at the expense of the rest of us, especially the poorest.”

Tata’s call comes at a time when leading ocean scientists are becoming increasingly concerned about the levels of manmade pollution seeping into the planet’s oceans.

This week the World Meteorological Organisation said levels of ocean acidification linked to manmade carbon emissions were at “unprecedented” levels.

Last year researchers working for the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) warned the health of oceans was “spiralling downwards far more rapidly than we had thought”.

Its report said the “deadly trio” of ocean warming, acidification and hypoxia/anoxia were now being joined by a “cocktail” of chemical contaminants such microplastics, nanomaterials and recreational drugs.

According to a recent report by the Global Ocean Commission, “habitat destruction, biodiversity loss, overfishing, pollution, climate change and ocean acidification are pushing the ocean system to the point of collapse”.

The Commission, headed up by former Costa Rica president Jose Manuel Figueres, says “anarchy” currently rules the oceans and warns this is impacting the livelihoods of poor communities that solely rely on the sea for food and incomes.

Only last month Australia’s environment minister Greg Hunt admitted the iconic Great Barrier Reef was facing some “real negatives”, after a government study said climate change and other human activities were causing its health to “deteriorate”.

A working group set up by the UN is set to present plans for a new legal instrument to govern the oceans when the General Assembly meets in New York next week, with a final decision expected in September 2015.

Ocean protection is also likely to be enshrined in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals when they are agreed next year.

It is currently goal 14 of 17: aiming to “attain conservation and sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources”.

Read more on: Nature |