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Envoys wade in to help US waters despite Trump climate snub
By Dave Clark
Lorton, United States (AFP) June 6, 2017

Protected areas in ocean are key tool against climate change
Miami (AFP) June 5, 2017 - Having more areas of the ocean that are protected from fishing, mining and tourism can be an important tool in the fight against climate change, international researchers said Monday.

Such areas can guard coastlines that are vulnerable to sea level rise and storms, and help restore marine species that are struggling due to warming and polluted waters, said a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences based on peer-reviewed studies on the impact of marine reserves around the world.

The report was released on the opening day of the United Nations' first-ever global conference on protecting the oceans, taking place in New York.

"Many studies show that well-managed marine reserves can protect wildlife and support productive fisheries, but we wanted to explore this body of research through the lens of climate change to see whether these benefits could help ameliorate or slow its impacts," said lead author Callum Roberts, professor at the University of York.

"It was soon quite clear that they can offer the ocean ecosystem and people critical resilience benefits to rapid climate change."

Marine reserves can lessen the impact of ocean acidification -- which kills coral reefs -- and provide refuge for species that are in decline, it found.

They can also "promote uptake and long-term storage of carbon from greenhouse gas emissions, especially in coastal wetlands, which helps reduce the rate of climate change," the study said.

Just 3.5 percent of the world's oceans are set aside for protection, and only 1.6 percent are fully protected from fishing and other exploitation.

International efforts are underway to raise the total to 10 percent by 2020.

At a meeting of the International Union for Conservation of Nature last year, delegates agreed that at least 30 percent should be protected by 2030.

Studies show the most benefits come from large, well-managed reserves that are protected from fishing, oil and mineral extraction.

"We were keenly aware that marine reserves can increase species' abundance and help alleviate food scarcity," said Beth O'Leary, a co-author and research fellow at the University of York.

"But our evaluation showed reserves are a viable low-tech, cost-effective adaptation strategy that would yield multiple co-benefits from local to global scales, improving the outlook for the environment and people into the future."

President Donald Trump may have torpedoed the Paris climate accord as US diplomats brace for huge cuts to their environmental programs.

But on Monday, American officials joined world diplomats wading out into the Potomac estuary to replant seagrass in a telling gesture paired with an unlikely photo opportunity.

Embassy staff from 13 countries -- from great power China to tiny island nation Malta -- joined helpers from the State Department to restore a small corner of the waterway.

Their grass had germinated six months ago under a previous administration that had made environmental protection a foreign policy priority.

The shoots were nurtured in foreign embassies in Washington, then wrapped in damp newspaper for the hour-long road trip to Mason Neck State Park in Virginia.

Soggy headlines in several languages recalled the political and diplomatic chaos in Washington as the Trump administration beds in.

The heading on one editorial -- covering part of the grass that Costa Rica was to contribute to Belmont Bay's underwater ecosystem -- stood out: "Climate change hypocrites."

It was an unfortunate note at an otherwise quietly positive event to help a mighty waterway.

Once badly polluted, America's biggest estuary network is slowly recovering. Water snakes swam by and ospreys dove for fish as the volunteers waded in.

But even as the diplomats worked, a new batch of headlines was being written elsewhere.

In New York, UN chief Antonio Guterres urged countries to put aside national interests to focus on saving the oceans and prevent "global catastrophe."

In Beijing, the senior diplomat at the US embassy -- which is still waiting for its new ambassador to arrive -- resigned abruptly, reportedly over opposition to Trump's climate stance.

And a new poll, conducted for ABC News and The Washington Post, found that US voters oppose Trump's decision on the Paris pact by a margin of two to one.

Although China and Europe have vowed to increase their support for the 2015 Paris accord's plan to cut greenhouse emissions, the US boycott leaves a gap in leadership.

Several US climate-related programs would disappear under a proposed budget presented by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of oil giant ExxonMobil.

- Malta summit -

The Bureau of Oceans and International and Scientific Affairs, which had several staff on hand for Monday's event, will not suffer that fate. Its budget is slated to be cut by only $1.7 million to around $13.3 million.

Another program dear to the previous secretary of state, John Kerry, will also continue: the annual Our Oceans summit promoting maritime conservation.

Kerry hosted the 2016 summit in Washington, and the European Union will host this year's conference in Malta, which holds the rotating presidency.

Malta's ambassador Clive Agius, who joined the volunteers to plant a batch of seagrass, confirmed Europe's concern at Trump's Paris decision.

"We cannot not feel a bit disappointed that we're not all pulling the same rope," he said on the muddy foreshore.

After Malta, Indonesia takes up the Our Oceans banner, and their team was also at the park.

US officials point out that Trump's "America First" policy, while opposed to a global pact on climate change, nevertheless insists on the value of clean water and air.

Indonesia's second secretary for economic affairs, Anggarini Sesotyoningtyas, said her country shares that goal and is working hard to collect ocean debris.

- Entryway to the Americas -

But climate change is also "a big issue," she said, adding that Indonesia remains committed to an ambitious 26 percent cut in greenhouse emissions.

The fortuitously named Cliff Seagroves, acting director of the US State Department's Office on Foreign Missions, remained upbeat.

"I think we're all committed to doing what we can for the environment in whatever way we can," he said of his colleagues.

He cited seagrass planting as "an example of a simple project that can be done anywhere in the world."

The plants should reduce erosion, boost oxygen levels in once-polluted rivers and bays, help clean the water and store carbon that could fuel climate change.

But if the State Department and its foreign partners are happy to help, the US federal government as a whole may be about to back away.

The president's budget plan abolishes the $73 million Chesapeake Bay program, noted Rebecca LePrell, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for Virginia.

An area of 64,000 square miles (165,000 square kilometers) and home to 18 million in six states, the Chesapeake basin was an entryway to the Americas for European explorers.

The states and the District of Columbia agreed in 2010 on a 15-year clean-up plan that has had some success, but was due to run until 2025.

All that, as well was Washington's leadership role in the global climate debate, is now in question.



First UN talks to save oceans kick off Monday
Miami (AFP) June 4, 2017
World leaders convene at UN headquarters next week for the first major bid to solve the toughest problems facing our oceans, from coral bleaching to plastic pollution, overfishing and rising seas due to climate change. The Ocean Conference in New York June 5-9 attempts to rally nations big and small to make meaningful changes to preserve what is arguably the Earth's most important resource, ... read more

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