Vladimir Ryabinin is feeling “cautiously optimistic—and this is indeed surprising.” It is not often that ocean scientists have been given cause for optimism. The ocean covers almost three-quarters of the Earth’s surface, supplying us with food, water and oxygen. It is also critical for combating climate change, as the ocean absorbs a quarter of the carbon dioxide emitted by humans, and supports the livelihoods of 3 billion people. Despite its importance, the ocean has been neglected by governments and side-lined from global climate negotiations, pushing its ecosystems close to collapse.
Recently, however, there has been progress, with countries reaching two major international deals. In December, UN member states hammered out an agreement to protect the ocean at a UN biodiversity summit in Montreal. The Kunming-Montreal global biodiversity framework set a goal to conserve 30% of the planet’s ocean and land by 2030 (known as the 30×30 goal). Then, on March 4th, countries agreed on the first ever treaty to safeguard international waters. The High Seas Treaty was almost two decades in the making. Without it, the 30×30 goal would have floundered.
What is behind this recent momentum? Ocean biodiversity losses are so severe that even countries that benefit the most from unrestricted access to marine resources are finding reason to take action, argues Dr Ryabinin. “What is happening now is so bad that it has started to touch those who have it all. Even presidents understand they are doomed to experience the tragedy of the commons,” he argues. “The tragedy of the commons is getting close attention from everyone on climate, biodiversity and the ocean.”