Rio+20: Sir Paul backs Greenpeace Arctic campaign

By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News, Rio de Janeiro

image captionCampaigners want environmentally damaging activities in the Arctic to end

Greenpeace is launching a campaign to have the Arctic region declared a sanctuary by the United Nations.

The group aims for a million signatures on a petition calling for an end to oil exploration and unsustainable fishing, which will be planted on the sea bed.

Celebrities such as Sir Paul McCartney, actor Robert Redford and the boy band One Direction are among the backers.

The move comes as a response to what the environment group regards as the "epic failure" of the Rio+20 summit.

'War footing'

The summit aimed to put the global economy on a more sustainable footing - enhancing economic wealth, especially for the poorest on earth, while protecting the environment.

But environment groups are bitterly disappointed that governments have chosen not to press forward on issues such as ending fossil fuel subsidies, enhancing energy efficiency and espousing the idea of a "green economy".

"The fightback starts here," said Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International.

"The Arctic is coming under assault, and needs people from around the world to stand up and demand action to protect it.

"A ban on offshore oil drilling and unsustainable fishing would be a huge victory against the forces ranged against this precious region and the four million people who live there."

Mr Naidoo, who previously campaigned to end apartheid in his native South Africa, told the Guardian newspaper on the fringes of the Rio+20 summit that Greenpeace was moving to a "war footing" as a result of the Rio outcome.

The first 100 signatories on the new petition include explorers, business leaders, actors and musicians.


Film director Pedro Almodovar and his sometime leading lady Penelope Cruz, Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, actor Javier Bardem and businessman Sir Richard Branson are on the list unveiled at Rio+20.

"It seems madness that we are willing to go to the ends of the earth to find the last drops of oil when our best scientific minds are telling us we need to get off fossil fuels to give our children a future," said Sir Paul.

"At some time, in some place, we need to take a stand. I believe that time is now and that place is the Arctic."

Rio summit jargon buster
Use the dropdown for easy-to-understand explanations of key terms:
Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS)
Granting countries the right to gain financially from the exploitation of biological resources discovered on their territory. Aims to prevent biopiracy. Agreement made at the UN CBC meeting in Nagoya, Japan in 2010. Rio+20 will see further discussion particularly of resources from international waters.

Thom Yorke added: "An oil spill in the Arctic would devastate this region of breathtaking beauty, while burning that oil will only add to the biggest problem we all face, climate change."

Another signatory, Xena and Battlestar Galactica actress Lucy Lawless, is due to be sentenced in September for blocking operations on a Shell oil rig in the Arctic earlier this year.

The Arctic is warming up faster than almost any other part of the planet.

The area of ocean covered by sea ice each summer is shrinking. If current trends continue, it will set a new record low for the satellite era this year.

As the sea ice recedes, it becomes easier for companies to prospect for oil and gas, with the US, Canada, Greenland and Russia among countries pursuing this nascent industry.

Greenpeace is calling for an agreement to ban environmentally damaging activities in the Arctic region, just as they were banned in the Antarctic 21 years ago under a protocol added to the Antarctic Treaty.

It is not the first organisation to call for such an agreement. Proposals date back to the 1970s, but have never gained political traction.

In 2007, acting under instruction from Moscow, explorer Artur Chilingarov planted a Russian flag on the seabed beneath the pole, laying claim to the area.

The Greenpeace action aims to counteract that by planting a scroll signed by at least a million people in the same place, claiming it as a sanctuary.

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  • What is the Rio summit about?
Population chatrt
  • The Rio summit will focus on efforts to reduce poverty, while protecting the environment. This task is made harder as the world's population is expected to rise steeply in the years ahead.
  • The planet's population could be 15 billion people by 2100. Wealth is also expected to rise but its effect on the environment is unclear.
  • In the past, more people, with more wealth has meant increased consumption.
  • Since the last Rio summit in 1992, the
    number of people on Earth has gone up by
  • 22%
  • Seafood consumption has gone up by
  • Meat by
  • The average person eats 43 kg of meat a year. In 1992 it was 34 kg.
  • Source: UNEP, 2011. Figures relate to 2007
  • While food consumption is rising, there are still large numbers of people who are undernourished.
  • It is one of the UN's many development goals to halve the number of people who suffer from hunger by 2015.
  • How able is the planet to meet increasing demand?
  • In 1960, a little over half the planet's land, forests and
    fisheries were needed to meet human consumption.
  • By the late 1970s, consumption was equal to one planet.
  • By the first years of this century, one-and-a-half planets
    were needed to meet consumption.

    This deficit can only be met by the depletion of renewable
    resources and increased pollution.
Global resource consumption
  • Consumption isn't equal. North Americans and Europeans consume far more resources than are available solely within their borders.
Living planet index
  • As human populations increase, the number and diversity of birds
    and animals is falling.
  • Decreasing biodiversity undermines the planet's ability to sustain humanity. Its reductions typically affect the poorest the most. These issues are right at the heart of the Rio talks.
Chart showing stress on each system
  • Some argue that the planet has limits to the stress its different systems can undergo, beyond which a stable future cannot be guaranteed.
  • This graphic from the scientist and sustainability expert Johan Rockström suggests those limits have already been broken for climate change, biodiversity and the nitrogen cycle.

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