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Global biodiversity conference opens in southern France

The summit will aim at creating an international ocean law, Macron said.

MARSEILLE, France (AP) — Ahead of a global summit on biodiversity in France, President Emmanuel Macron has called for better protection of the world's high seas, which largely don't fall under any national jurisdiction but are threatened by fishing and other human activities.

Macron will formally open later Friday the World Conservation Congress in the southern city of Marseille, on France's Mediterranean coast.

He is expected to urge world leaders and institutions to safeguard biodiversity as they work to curb climate change and support human welfare. Thousands of people are set to attend the event, both in person and virtually, amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The conference, held every four years, focuses on urgent action needed to protect wildlife. Several recent studies have reported that many of the planet's ecosystems are severely strained by global warming, overuse and other threats.

Oceanic shark populations have dropped by 71% since 1970. More than half of all bird of prey species worldwide are declining in population — and 18 species are critically endangered. Warming temperatures and melting ice are projected to imperil 70% of Emperor penguin colonies by 2050, and 98% by 2100.

Speaking to reporters, Macron announced the creation of a new global event meant to protect the high seas — which cover about half the planet's surface. The “One Ocean Summit” will be organized in France in coming months in coordination with the United Nations, he said.

“When we talk about oceans, 60% of these areas do not fall under a (national) jurisdiction,” Macron stressed.

The summit will aim at creating an international ocean law, he said. “Because otherwise, some nations do whatever they want in the high seas and may destroy biodiversity and at the same time may also make choices which, from a geopolitical point of view, are bad.”

On Friday morning, Macron and other conference participants, including European Council President Charles Michel, took a boat to Calanques National Park, a marine reserve near Marseille known for its blue waters topped by high white cliffs.

Macron said he wants to extend the French parts of the Mediterranean Sea under “very high protection," which implies a ban on fishing. They now represent a very small area.

“We see that when we protect well, we succeed in regenerating species, regenerating biodiversity,” Macron said after his boat trip to the Calanques reserve, which is home to dolphins, fin whales, turtles and a variety of fish. Its coastal area also includes 1,600 plant species and 25 protected bird species.

The conference is hosted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, made up of 1,400 private and government entities.

A French top official, speaking anonymously in accordance with the presidency’s customary practices, said Macron would convey a message about the “environmental emergency” unfolding at the local, national and global levels.

“Our ecosystems and their protection are an essential solution to face the challenge of climate change...Lots of examples show that biodiversity helps with absorbing greenhouse gas," the official said. "On the contrary, we know that climate change is a major factor in biodiversity loss.”

Macron wants to follow the path started at the One Planet Summit in January, which led 70 countries to commit to protecting at least 30% of the world’s land and oceans over the next decade to halt species extinction and combat climate change.

The conference runs until Sept. 11. Topics include links between climate change and biodiversity loss, and the ethics of genetic enhancement to increase species' chances of survival.

“With changing temperatures, we are seeing kelp move, sea otters move, seals move,” said Stuart Sandin, a marine biologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego.

U.S. weather officials recently reported that July 2021 was the hottest month in 142 years of record-keeping. A U.N. report released in June examined ways in which climate change was exacerbating the loss of biodiversity.

Talks at the Marseille conference are also meant to inform the U.N.’s global climate summit, the COP26, scheduled in November in Glasgow, Scotland.

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By DANIEL COLE and SYLVIE CORBET Associated Press

Corbet reported from Saulieu, France. Associated Press science writer Christina Larson contributed from Washington.

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