Fish may all be gone before reserves are in place

Posted: 5 February 2007

Scientists estimate that rising demand for seafood and other marine produce will lead to a collapse of today's commercial fish stocks by 2050 - unless better management is introduced. This would include an extended network of marine reserves. But, says the latest GEO Year Book, the pace at which new marine reserves are being listed means the goal will be achieved three decades after the collapse of today's commercial fisheries.

The fate of the world's fisheries underlines the challenges facing governments in a globalized world a new report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) says. And climate change may aggravate the situation by increasing the acidity of the oceans and seas and by bleaching coral reefs-important nurseries for fish.

One management technique for countering the collapse includes a dramatic expansion of the number of marine protected areas.

Experts have found that marine protected areas, which currently cover just 0.6 per cent of the world's oceans, increase numbers of fish species by over a fifth and can boost catches in waters nearby.

Governments at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in 2002 backed a plan to develop a network of marine reserves by 2012.

But the UNEP Global Environment Outlook (GEO) Year Book 2007 says "At the current rate of designation, the target will not be reached until2085".

Big question

Speaking at the opening of the UNEP's 24th Governing Council-Global Ministerial Environment Forum in Nairobi, Kenya this week, Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, said: "Globalization is one of the defining issues of our time. Wealth is being generated on an unprecedented scale and millions are being lifted out of poverty. But a big question mark hangs over its future and its sustainability for current and future generations".

"If rising living standards and inefficient methods of production and consumption intensify pressure on nature's natural resources - from fish,freshwater and the atmosphere to forests and fragile lands - globalization could become a spectacular failure rather than a saviour," he added.

"The question is not whether globalization is good or bad but whether we have in place the regulations, creative economic instruments, guidelines, rules and partnerships that ensure it delivers the widest possible benefits at the minimum price to the planet and thus to its people - in other words do we have the international environmental governance structures in place, firing on all cylinders, to match and guide the powerful engine of globalization".

The GEO Year Book flags the challenge of forestry and the importance of certification. An estimated 10.5 million hectares - or three per cent - of 'natural production forests' - in International Tropical Timber Organizationmember states are now covered under certification schemes.

These could be expanded to other natural resources and complimented by green procurement policies. Here governments need to set in place environmental standards right along the supply change says the GEO Year Book.

Panama Canal

The GEO Year Book highlights the case of the Panama Canal, an economically important man-made waterway that moves an estimated 279 million metric tonnes of goods between the Atlantic and the Pacific.

The canal depends on water from reservoirs to lift boats up over the isthmus cordillera. "Over the last few decades deforestation around thehigh reservoirs has led to a number of problems for the Panama Canal System - especially a shortage of water in some seasons," says the report.

A forestry re-insurance company is proposing a 25 year bond, paid for by ship owners, some of the profits from which will pay for re-afforestation of vulnerable water catchments.

The Year Book also underlines how 'pump priming' and relatively small amounts of well targeted and creative financial support can radicallypropel markets onto a more sustainable track.

It cites the three-year-old partnership between organizations like UNEP and two Indian banks aimed at promoting solar power on the Indian sub Continent.

By using the economic instrument of preferential interest rates, the partnership has led to the financing of over 17,000 solar home systemssupplying clean energy to over 100,000 people.

A similar initiative is underway in Tunisia aimed at benefiting consumers and the international fight against climate change.

The GEO Year Book 2007 can be found at www.unep.org/geo/yearbook or purchased at www.earthprint.com at US $20.00.