Europe agrees to create marine protected areas
Oslo (AFP) Sept 24, 2010
European countries agreed Friday to create six protected marine areas in the northeast Atlantic in a bid to step up the protection of the region's environment.
The decision was taken at a meeting in the southwestern Norwegian city of Bergen of the OSPAR Commission, a body through which 15 regional countries, along with the European Union, work to protect the environment of the northeast Atlantic.
They defined six zones or marine protected areas (MPAs) over a total area of 185,000 square kilometres (71,400 square miles) where human activity should be limited.
These zones comprise "a range of vulnerable deep-sea habitats and species", the OSPAR Commission said in a statement, adding that it wanted to create "a precedent" worldwide.
"This moment is historic, it is a world first," French Ecology and Marine Affairs Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said in a statement.
"We are going to show that we are finally capable of protecting oceans in their entirety and not be closed in by our legal limits," he said in a statement.
However the environmental group Oceana criticised European governments for pushing back the creation of the MPAs to 2012, when they were obligated to do so this year under international law, and for still only having a third of the protected areas needed.
Oceana said the six new areas will take the total MPAs to 165, but that will make up "less than three percent of the marine surface area of the northeast Atlantic OSPAR region, and significantly less than the 10 percent minimum required by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity".
European countries' failure to meet their obligations "endangers the health and future of an ecosystem on which millions of Europeans depend", explained Ricardo Aguilar, Director of Research at Oceana Europe.
At the same meeting, European countries rejected a German proposal to ban deep-sea offshore drilling in order to avoid an environmental disaster comparable to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
The proposal was quickly withdrawn following pressure from the region's oil-producing countries -- Britain, Denmark and Norway, Greenpeace said.
"Deeply concerned by the accident on the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year, we reaffirm our commitment to take all possible steps to prevent and eliminate pollution from offshore oil and gas activities," participants said in a ministerial statement.
The countries said they would review the existing frameworks as a precautionary measure, "including the permitting of drilling activities in extreme conditions".
Environmental organisation Greenpeace, which is also pushing for a ban of deep-sea offshore oil drilling, said the failed proposal was a "total victory for the oil industry".
Officials meeting in Bergen "did not have the political courage to protect us against another accident like Deepwater Horizon, while it was in their reach to do so", said Truls Gulowsen of Greenpeace Norway.
Shortly after the BP-leased Deepwater Horzion oil rig exploded in April, killing 11 and causing a catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, US President Barack Obama ordered a six-month freeze on deepwater offshore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
Activists from Greenpeace have since Tuesday occupied a Chevron-operated oil drilling ship anchored off the Shetland Isles to push for a ban on deepwater drilling in the North Sea.
At the end of August, Greenpeace activists climbed on to an oil rig operated by Scottish oil exploration group Cairn Energy off the coast of Greenland and halted drilling for more than a day.
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