It was the 3 am coup. Early on Tuesday morning, an unlikely coalition of the US and Venezuela, helped by Canada, Russia and Japan, vetoed a plan to launch talks for a UN treaty to protect the international high seas. The plan had been a chance for this week’s Earth Summit to salvage some green kudos from a diplomatic quagmire, environmentalists said.
And it proved to be the last chance. Hours later, the Brazilian hosts gave up on reaching further agreements. They called time on talks to agree a Rio+20 declaration, even though the agreed text had been widely derided as hopelessly weak, and ministers were only then arriving in the city for three days of deliberations that might have dramatically improved matters.
Action to save the oceans could have been a highlight of the week, said the High Seas Alliance, a coalition of oceanographers and campaigners from Greenpeace to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The European Union and many nations had backed their call for the world to start work on a treaty to protect the last huge areas of the planet outside national jurisdictions.
“We came here excited that oceans were going to be a top priority,” said Susan Lieberman of the Washington-based Pew Environment Group.
But in a secret session behind closed doors, the negotiators of Hugo Chavez and Barack Obama scuppered the scheme and forced through wording that would postpone for three years even a decision on whether to draw up a treaty. Both countries have long-standing objections to international oversight of the oceans.