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MEPs demand Brussels break global deadlock over Southern Ocean protected status

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By Euronews
In this Jan. 22, 2015 file photo, Gentoo penguins stand on rocks near the Chilean station Bernardo O'Higgins, Antarctica.
In this Jan. 22, 2015 file photo, Gentoo penguins stand on rocks near the Chilean station Bernardo O'Higgins, Antarctica.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko   -   Natacha Pisarenko
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European lawmakers urged Brussels on Thursday to step up efforts to break the international deadlock over plans to protect large swathes of the Southern Ocean.

In a resolution passed on Thursday, MEPs overwhelmingly called on the Commission to demand the intensification of bilateral and multilateral efforts in order to reach an agreement over the creation of two so-called Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

The two MPAs, proposed by the European Union, would lead to more than 3 million km2 of ocean in Antarctica being protected, thus creating one of the largest marine protection areas in history. But negotiations over the creation have ground to a halt.

The resolution is calling on the Commission to engage in talks "in particular with countries that have repeatedly opposed an agreement" using "all its diplomatic leverage and outreach capacities" to help broker agreements.

The vote by parliamentarians in Strasbourg has been welcomed by environmental NGOs, including Greenpeace, whose Protect the Antarctic campaign head said in a statement that "using the European Union’s diplomatic strength to secure marine protected areas in the Antarctic would be a perfect example of how [European Commission] President von der Leyen might use her tenure to secure lasting change for the planet."

"We need a step change in Antarctic diplomacy if we are to ensure this unique ecosystem survives for future generations," Will McCallum added.

Dr. Antonia Leroy, Head of Ocean Policy at WWF European Policy Office, also reacted, saying that “the EU has the opportunity to lead on securing the greatest act of marine conservation in history.”

Claire Christain, Executive Director of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, said meanwhile that "Antarctica is the continent of peace of science and protection of the Southern Ocean would be decisive act of global solidarity in the face of the climate and biodiversity crisis."

Oceans are the world's largest active carbon sink but global warming is weakening their resilience.

Antarctica and the Southern Ocean surrounding it contain approximately 90% of the world’s ice and around 70% of the planet’s freshwater. But its ice is melting at a rapid rate, which is impacting its ecosystem — the area is home to nearly 10,000 different species — as well as weather patterns worldwide.