Oceans and US policy of self-interest

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Recently in New York, US

DID you know Zimbabwe’s foreign trade depends heavily on goods cleared at Namibian, Mozambican and South African ports?
These ports handle goods that would have used the Atlantic or the Indian Ocean to reach their destination.
Did you know that the home to the popular imported mackerel fish from Namibia is the Atlantic Ocean?
Did you know that El-Nino, that devastating weather phenomenon, is caused by the unusual warming of temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific?
El-Nino-induced droughts right in the heart of landlocked Zimbabwe are still fresh in our minds.
The above rhetorical questions, are meant to demonstrate that although landlocked and several kilometres from the nearest ocean or sea, Zimbabwe’s experiences are greatly influenced by these water bodies.
Although Zimbabwe is one of the many landlocked countries, it is important to note that the greater part of oceans and seas are collectively owned by all the nations and not necessarily by coastal countries only.
“… territorial waters of countries with shorelines only go for 200 km, the rest belongs to humanity, to all countries,” emphasised Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi.
That is why the inaugural High-Level Conference on Oceans held in New York last week was attended by 193 UN member-states at various levels and 1 300 organisations.
Hence Zimbabwe’s keen interest in the conference.
The High-Level Conference ‘to conserve and sustainably use oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development’, was held from June 5-9 last week.
This is the essence of UN Sustainable Development Goal 14.
All in all, the UN has 17 goals on sustainable development targeted to be achieved by 2030.
These include combating climate change, establishment of resilient infrastructure, gender equality, promotion of healthy lives and ending hunger, among others.
At the just ended UN conference on SDG 14, speaker after speaker emphasised the importance of oceans and seas.
For a start, as pointed out by Bolivian President Evo Morales, an outstanding significance of oceans and seas is their size as they cover three quarters of the earth.
More staggering statistics include the fact that about 90 percent of all fishing activities are carried out in seas and oceans.
Oceans and seas also provide about 97 percent of the planet’s water.
Thus key life sustaining elements like our drinking water and our rain water are from our seas and oceans.
Seas and oceans also play a vital role in stabilising temperatures.
Co-president of the conference, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of International Development Co-operation and Climate Ms Isabella Lovin of Sweden described oceans and seas as global conveyer belts that supply 50 percent of all the oxygen that sustains our lives.
Not only that.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe also pointed out the importance of seas and oceans in availing goods to Zimbabwe through trade.
“Sea freight will be a preferred choice for its environmental friendliness and higher carrying capacity than airfreight,” said President Mugabe.
The capacity of seas and oceans to sustain lives and livelihoods is therefore a given.
And what is indisputable is that these benefits of seas and oceans affect coastal as well as landlocked countries, Zimbabwe included.
One would then expect care and appreciation of seas to be the concern of all, regardless of geographical location.
Unfortunately, this is not so.
President Mugabe expressed alarm at the rapid deterioration of conditions of the seas and oceans.
His sentiments were echoed by co-president of the Conference and Prime Minister of Fiji, Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, who mourned the reduction of oceans and seas into ‘rubbish dumps’ or ‘septic tanks’ as Cde Mbengegwi put it.
Tonnes and tonnes of plastics and other debris are being offloaded daily into oceans and seas.
And the subsequent ‘plague of plastics’ is driving fishing activities to a point of collapse.
For unfortunately, plastic material is then swallowed as marine food with the usual devastating effects on the marine environment.
This has led to an inevitably depleted marine population, fish in particular, because this is key in sustaining the livelihoods of people as a source of food.
Outside the UN Headquarters were sculptures of salmon fish, a shark and a whale moulded out of plastic material and other debris from oceans.
The powerful exhibition was meant to highlight the plight of marine species in danger of extinction because of plastic material and other debris being dumped in seas and oceans.
The responsibility of stopping the free flow of plastic material is not limited to coastal areas only.
Environment, Water and Climate Minister Oppah Muchinguri stressed that 80 percent of plastic pollution came from deep inland.
There is a growing campaign, even in landlocked Zimbabwe, to reduce use of plastic material for the plastic material we carelessly throw away is eventually washed down to the sea through rivers.
Any form of pollution of our waters, be it from misuse of fertilisers to gas emissions by the industrialised world, pose danger to a diminishing marine population.
We can’t expect sustainable fishery when fish are dying daily through the acidification of water caused by pollution.
No wonder Ms Lovin said oceans were rapidly developing into deserts full of debris without fish.
Cde Morales who justifiably spoke much more than the five minutes allotted to him, had no kind words for capitalists.
He said these are the people driven by desire to maximise on profits as they illegally and deliberately stray into developing countries’ waters to exploit their fish resources.
They have up-to-date gigantic trawlers and are unconcerned about the consequences of their illegal over-fishing.
Cde Morales argued that it is an essential human right to ensure that landlocked countries have access to marine life for sustainable development.
However, uncontrolled fishing goes on unabated even though there have been binding agreements as a guide to the exploitation of water resources.
The bullying mentality by some of the developed countries continues to be a stumbling block in attempts to achieve sustainable development for all without prejudice.
For instance, President Mugabe questioned the rationale of denying Zimbabwe financial and technical assistance to mitigate against climate change because of illegal sanctions.
The IMF and the World Bank have established a fund for maritime-related infrastructure in developing countries.
Zimbabwe, however, continues to be excluded due to the illegal sanctions.
But the best way to guarantee safety of marine life should be through consensual action by member-states as equals.
Unfortunately, this is not so.
That is why President Mugabe lamented the delay in effecting a binding agreement at the Rio+ summit of 2012 which sought to ensure universal observance of regulations to guarantee conservation of marine diversity.
However, the US has been the leading deviant in scuttling joint efforts to save seas and oceans.
The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) adopted in 1982 is an instrument with obligations on how to carry out activities on seas and oceans.
The US has refused to ratify the convention.
Only recently, US President Donald Trump withdrew his country from the Paris Climate agreement.
The US fears these agreements might restrict it in dumping waste and other polluting substances in the sea – the very causes of the deterioration of the marine environment SDG 14 is all about.
Self-interest, regardless of everything else, is what guides US policy vis-à-vis SDG 14.
And of course any other of the 17 goals.
The Americans would rather have the freedom to pollute the seas by testing bombs that are meant to kill people.
Perhaps the US might like to take note of President Mugabe’s concluding remark when he addressed the Oceans Conference on June 5.
“I believe that it is in the best interest of all of us that we prioritise life above everything else,” said President Mugabe.
Anyway, the Oceans Conference ended with the adoption of a declaration dubbed: ‘Our Oceans, Our Future – Call to Action’.
This includes efforts to reduce use of plastic material, to control ocean acidification and to uphold the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
As expected, the US and curiously enough, Egypt, opposed the inclusion of the phrase ‘climate change’ in the Call to Action.

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