One Ocean Summit : Op-ed by Claire Nouvian in Le Monde

From the empty announcements to the avoidance of fundamental problems, the One Ocean Summit is a failure according the founder of Bloom association in an article published in Le Monde.

The ocean summit confirmed Macron’s environmental method: instrumentalize announcements before the elections.

Unsurprisingly, the ocean summit organized in haste by France, and held in Brest from February 9 to 11, was not only an embarrassing diplomatic flop. It was a missed opportunity to seriously reflect on how to reinvent our relationship with the ocean so that it becomes sustainable, responsible and respectful of humans and ecosystems. By writing these politically correct lines, by suggesting that the opportunity was only “missed”, I give myself a chance to convince my potential detractors, but I also contribute to the deception. Since the clock is ticking to maintain the planet’s livability, what choice do we have but to stop lying to ourselves? Political correctness is no longer an option, and in reality this summit served no other purpose than to confirm the “Macron method” for environmental matters: instrumentalize announcements before elections and calibrate them to optimize their media effect while minimizing their environmental impact.

Admittedly, the president has reached such a degree of mastery in terms of communication that, without having an expertise on the issues, it is almost impossible not to be fooled. The Ocean Summit is a textbook case for anyone who wants to analyze his “environmental method”. He starts by neuro-linguistic programming: he hammers out language that makes him sound like a planet activist. Then he spells out the issues on the international agenda. With great conviction he calls, for example, for the success of the World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations to end subsidies that lead to overfishing around the world. It’s cunning, it works: without making the slightest commitment, or even clarifying France’s position on this major topic, the president creates the illusion of being courageous on structural issues. In reality, he carefully avoids or even backs down on said challenges. Let us recall that his government supported the reintroduction of the most dangerous categories of public aid for the ocean during the reform of the European financial instrument for fisheries.

Marine “Protected” areas and trawlers

The presidential method continues with deceptive environmental announcements supported by impressive figures. Behind smoke and mirrors are ways out that do not harm financial, industrial or commercial interests. For example, the President announced that he had exceeded the international objectives of protecting 30% of our marine territory, thanks to a decree signed that very morning. Incredible. Applause.

But what is it really? Are these French marine protected areas really protected? No. 98% of the so-called Marine “Protected” Areas do not protect marine ecosystems from extractive activities with high environmental impact, such as bottom trawling. Emmanuel Macron has acknowledged this by promising to increase the number of “strongly protected” marine areas from 2% to 4%, while avoiding the words “full protection”, which are the only unambiguous ones. Why call these areas “protected” if they do not protect anything? To display a virtue of which they are devoid. It is customary to call this “greenwashing”, but I prefer to return to what it is: a lie. A lie with disastrous implications for the environment, since the scientific study Dureuil et al. in Sciences in 2018 showed that the majority of European so-called Marine “Protected” Areas were 1.4 times more intensively trawled than unprotected areas!

The last essential point of Emmanuel Macron’s “environmental method”: avoid tackling the real problems. The president performed a truly remarkable slalom between the “elephants in the room” that all ocean forums in the world address head-on, except for France. Not a word on the destructive carbon-emitting fisheries nor on the diversion of subsidies to these same high-impact industrial fisheries, recognized as the first cause of ocean destruction. Not a word on the predation of marine resources in developing countries by their subsidized fleets, causing food insecurity and socio-economic destabilization. There was a deafening silence on deep-sea mining, the only place on the planet that has not been exploited by humans. Today, some nations such as France are putting pressure on the UN agency that has authority over the seabed to start exploiting the last virgin biotope on our planet as soon as possible. If the shot is fired, it is an assured carnage. Researchers warn that the damage done to the ocean will be irreversible.

Alternatives do exist, which allowed Renault to announce on February 11 that it would never source metals from the deep sea. The carmaker thus joined a growing number of industrialists who support the demand for an international moratorium demanded by more than 30 countries, hundreds of NGOs and more than 600 scientists. France should definitively renounce on any exploitation of mineral resources in international waters. Instead the France 2030 plan, contradicting the objectives of the UN Agenda 2030, seeks to allocate hundreds of millions of euros to the “exploration” of the deep sea for exploitation.

“Breaking the mold”

If Emmanuel Macron were a modern man, he would invest this money in the search for industrial solutions compatible with the imperative of preserving the planet. On the contrary, he is looking at the world through the rear-view mirror and, consistent with his implacable liberal logic, he sees in nature a reservoir of resources, in resources an opportunity for exploitation and in exploitation a potential for growth.

Both our president and our global economy are failing to “break the mold,” as John Kerry, the U.S. president’s special climate envoy, urged them to do in his high-flying speech that deepened the chasm between visionaries of his ilk and the outdated liberals that Emmanuel Macron embodies. Kerry summed it all up by saying, “We are stuck.” Yes, stuck on a planet with finite resources that no longer suffers infinite growth. Stuck with an educated but poorly trained elite, that is completely missing the challenges of the millennium. Stuck with a caste of political leaders who have become public menaces for the common good.

For every problem, humanity has already invented solutions, that is what makes our era exciting. The impasse of political will however, that is what makes our era so distressing.

Claire Nouvian, winner of the 2018 Goldman Prize for the Environment, is founder of the association Bloom for the defense of the ocean.

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