One Government Advocating Opposing Policies?

At this past weeks U.N. Conference on Biodiversity in Nagoya, Japan we saw Japan’s ability to shine as a global environmental leader. During tense negotiations on protecting our planets biodiversity it appears they mediated a deal among nations to set aside more area of the world as protected and even stepped up contributing $2 billion for conservation of life on earth.  Yet- while this noble effort was underway - Japan’s whaling fleet is finishing up preparations for their annual trek to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary around Antarctica to kill nearly 1000 whales.

Anyone else find this just a tad ironic?

With credit to Japan, delegates agreed early Saturday morning to expand protected areas with the hope of slowing the rate of extinction of the world's animals and plants and preventing further damage to its ecosystems.  Meanwhile, Japan’s whaling vessels (don’t even get me started about sharks and tuna) plunder protected waters granting no safe harbor to the very whales the Southern Ocean Sanctuary intends to protect.  Japan’s Fisheries Agency defiles one sanctuary while the same government's representatives in Nagoya advocate for more protected areas.  Maybe the whaling fleet just hasn't gotten the memo?  Perhaps all that's needed to end commercial whaling is for the representative in Nagoya to give the Fisheries Agency a call and tell them to stop with the harpooning because Japan is for conservation.

Certainly Japan’s delegation must know that whaling is speeding up biodiversity loss, don’t they? Even though less than 5% of our oceans has been explored and many species have yet to even be discovered, scientists estimate that the Earth is losing species somewhere between 100 to 1,000 times the historical average.  This means that our planet now faces the greatest extinction period since the dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago. Unless something is done to end further biodiversity loss our intricately connected web of life could collapse with horrific consequences.

The delegates from 193 countries reached an agreement to increase protected areas after negotiations stretched into the wee hours of Saturday morning and finally came out agreeing to protect 17 percent of earths land areas and 10 percent of oceans by 2020.  An admirable goal however these same delegates agreed to have 10% of the world’s ocean protected by 2010 and that fell far short of ever happening. Additionally any protections will be difficult to measure since many of the world's poorer nations lack ability to enforce and manage protected areas, whether land or sea.  Oh, and did I mention Japan seems to ignore protected area boundaries too?

Of the worlds 197 million square miles of surface area almost 140 million square miles are covered by ocean and meager 1% of that ocean area is considered protected.  While developing countries are struggling to protect parcels of ocean to make the 2020 goal, Japan could simply not send its whaling fleet to the Southern Ocean and make a huge step forward in advancing the fight against biodiversity loss.

It’s terrific that this weeks meeting ended with a successful agreement to protect our ocean but unless Japan respects the boundaries of existing protected areas the precipitous rate of biodiversity loss will only continue.

-JL

For more information on IFAW efforts to protect whales, visit http://ifaw.org

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