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Kent County chapter encourages engagement in the UN Conference on Oceans, June 5-9

Chapter activist Ann Pohl

The Council of Canadians Kent County chapter is highlighting the importance of the upcoming United Nations Conference on Oceans on June 5-9.

As noted on the website for the conference, “The high-level United Nations Conference to Support the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development will be convened at United Nations Headquarters in New York.”

Chapter activist Ann Pohl says, “For an United Nations event like this one, the UN expects its nation members to consult broadly with all concerned organizations, communities, industries, and other stakeholders, to develop a national consensus and commitments. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, known as DFO, is the lead department doing that piece of work for Canada, who held key consultations last week.”

Pohl and Halifax-based Council of Canadians organizer Angela Giles joined a DFO teleconference consultation on April 12.

They learned Canada is planning to have a prominent role in the Ocean Day Celebration on June 6 and that Canada’s main commitment will be their ongoing work on creating protected areas. Also, they found out that Canada will share its involvement with partners on marine spatial planning.

In a subsequent conversation with Pohl, Memorial University of Newfoundland professor and marine conservation scholar Dr. Rodolphe Devillers commented, “Spatial planning of the oceans will create policy to keep shipping and fisheries in their own spaces and not in key habitat areas. Right now, the ocean is like the ‘wild west.’ The only thing we might be able to control is our own species.”

That said, Pohl highlights, “The UN conference’s mandate is less than ideal. Talking about ‘sustainable use’ is an anthropocentric approach to protection of 70 per cent of this planet. Our oceans are inhabited by no human beings, and an immeasurable variety of other life.  Oceans produce one-half of our planetary oxygen, and have absorbed one-third of the C02 we humans have produced. Our species needs a plan to help the ocean, not just sustainably ‘use’ the resource.”

These key points were raised during the DFO consultation by allied marine health NGOs, who requested that Canada lobby for improvements in the UN Co-Chairs’ Second Draft of a Call to Action by:

  • including recognition of Indigenous people and rights throughout, which is noticeably absent

  • including language that talks about spiritual connection to the water

  • strengthening other language such as in clause C, the use of the word “promote” in reference to “multi-stakeholder partnership” means almost nothing

  • pushing strongly for the UN community to include recognition of underwater noise and issues related to shipping in the marine pollution clause G

  • making firm commitments around clean-up after an accident.

Pohl says she hopes, “Council of Canadians chapters and our allies in coastal communities and environmental organizations will find a way to share with the DFO consultation team, and with the UN conference as a whole. This conference is important because it engages almost all nations on the planet in dialogue around protecting  our oceans.”

Noting that DFO consultation only extends to national Indigenous organizations, she also hopes that chapters might encourage our allies in Indigenous communities to bring forward their views through the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples at the United Nations. Chapters are also encouraged to inform allies in coastal eco-tourism and independent/small scale fisheries about this upcoming conference.

The main contacts on this at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Global Affairs branch are Acting Director Andrew McMaster at 613-991-0493/ Andrew.McMaster@dfo-mpo.gc.ca, assisted by Lise Kay at 613-990-0199/ Lise.Kay@dfo-mpo.gc.ca.

The Kent County chapter has been playing a lead role on ocean and marine life protection issues since 2016. This past February, the Kent County chapter initiated this open letter signed by 30 chapters that asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for a meeting to discuss ocean and coastal issues.