South Africa was the only country at the G7 summit that has not committed to protecting 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030, according to endurance swimmer and maritime lawyer Lewis Pugh, who addressed the UN on the campaign last week.
World Oceans Day was on Tuesday June 8, just ahead of the 47th G7 summit, held from Friday to Sunday, in Cornwall, in the UK. The G7, or Group of Seven, is an organisation of the world’s seven largest so-called advanced economies: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and America. South Africa, along with Australia, India and South Korea, attended this year’s summit as an invitee.
Mr Pugh, of Noordhoek, is the UN Patron of the Oceans. He was asked to offer a pre-recorded video message to the world body by the UK ambassador to the UN, Dame Barbara Woodward.
The UK and UAE hosted this virtual meeting specifically to encourage nations to support the call for ocean protection.
Mr Pugh said that while South Africa’s waters were some of the most diverse and important globally, currently only 1% of the country’s waters were highly protected, with several iconic species, such as the African penguin, at risk of extinction.
Scientists, he said, predicted that the African penguin was likely to go functionally extinct on the West Coast in less than 15 years, unless we take urgent action.
Ahead of the summit, Mr Pugh urged President Cyril Ramaphosa to ensure that South Africa was part its “nature compact” where the member countries pledged to conserve or protect at least 30% of the world’s land and ocean waters by 2030.
“We need to be good ancestors. Protecting 30% of the world’s oceans is a commitment to our children’s very survival,” said Mr Pugh.
Climate change, overfishing and plastic pollution had created a “perfect storm”, with devastating effects, he said, adding that full and proper marine protected areas offered the best chance for our seas and oceans to recover.
He addressed the UN by saying that justice is a universal concept. “When we see injustice, it burns inside us,” he said.
“I believe there are three reasons why we should protect at least 30% of the world’s oceans, and they are justice, justice and justice.“
He went on to describe three forms of justice: the first, inter-species justice, being between humans and the animal kingdom
“In my lifetime, we have lost nearly 70% of the world’s wildlife. Think about that for a moment; 70%. My point is, we have no right to push any animal into extinction. A polar bear, a blue whale, an emperor penguin – they are all precious. And the natural world is interconnected. Every species has a role to play. You destroy one species and it will impact the others,” he said.
Inter-generational justice was between ourselves and future generations, he said, and there was something incredibly wrong about us leaving a world to our children that was not sustainable.
“Why would you do this to your own children? Now is the time for us to become good ancestors. To leave a world which is healthier, more bio-diverse, and richer than the one we inherited.“
The final form of justice, he said, existed between nations: international justice.
“Animals don’t know national boundaries. This is especially the case for fish. Some are highly migratory. What use is it, for example, for a nation to protect the great white shark if it can be caught and killed on the other side of the world, in another nation’s waters?“
When we damaged the environment, we created conflict, he said.
“People fight over dwindling resources. So when we protect the environment, what we are actually doing is we are building peace.”
He described the race against time to save the natural world – and ourselves – as the defining issue of the generation.
Mr Pugh noted that South Africa was the meeting point of three oceans – the Atlantic, Indian, and Southern oceans.
“It has a rich biodiversity. Yet we’re only protecting 1%. We have to do better. Kruger National Park, Addo National Park, iSimangaliso Wetland Park and many more national parks are the pride of the South Africa, yet when it comes to oceans, we have been very poor at protection,” he said.
Eighty-five nations have now committed to “30×30”, the campaign to protect 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030. Visit https://lewispughfoundation.org/30×30 for the full list.