Writing in the International Herald Tribune on October 3rd, 2003, John Temple Swing recounted the late start and slow progress in developing an international regime to address international ocean resource and environmental issues:
The oceans are in big trouble. Historically slow to exhibit change, oceans are suffering an accelerated transformation that has caught most people, even in this scientific age, unaware. Fish stocks are being depleted at an alarming rate. Environmental changes endanger the nearly two-thirds of the world’s population that lives within 50 miles of a coastline.
The world has been slow to react. Only in 1972 did the Stockholm Conference on the Environment awaken the world to the global nature of these problems. It took another 10 years of hard negotiation to produce the Convention on the Law of the Sea.
This “Constitution for the Oceans” established binding principles to stabilize and set limits to state and private claims to ocean resources and territories, and it imposed a duty on all states to conserve fish and the marine environment. The convention has now been ratified by 142 states, including the EU and all its members. Yet, it has yet to become a serious force. It is yet to be ratified by Canada and the United States, and the international community has yet to provide strong enforcement mechanisms.
After recounting the dangers of overfishing and environmental pollution of the sea, John turned to the 1995 Fish Stocks agreement as a sign of progress:
Luckily, there is a base to build on. The 1995 agreement relating to “the conservation and management of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish species” proved that international cooperation can work. Much more can be done everywhere to establish marine protected areas of various sizes and shapes.
In the United States this fall, after years of neglect, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee may finally hold hearings on what most lawyers consider to be the bedrock principles of oceans governance embodied in the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea. The president’s own Commission on Ocean Policy unanimously endorsed this step in its preliminary report last December. Canada may act to ratify the convention even sooner.
Within two months of John's article his prognosis was proven partially correct when Canada joined the LOS Convention, Hearings were held by Senator Lugar at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Committee was unanimous in recommending the Convention for approval by the entire Senate. But a few well-placed senators joined with the small but active opposition to use rules of procedure and control of the Senate calendar to stymie supporters, a pattern that would be replicated in 2007-08 and 2011-12.
A full copy of John's article may be downloaded below.