After almost two decades of negotiations, United Nations member states have reached a historic deal to protect the high seas, providing a legal framework for parts of the ocean outside national boundaries. This treaty is crucial for enforcing the 30×30 pledge made by countries at the UN biodiversity conference in December, committing to protect a third of the sea and land by 2030. Without this treaty, the pledge would certainly fail, as until now, no legal mechanism existed to set up marine protected areas (MPAs) on the high seas.
Covering almost two-thirds of the ocean that lies outside national boundaries, the treaty will establish a conference of the parties (COP) that will meet periodically and enable member states to be held accountable on issues such as governance and biodiversity. It will also provide a legal framework for establishing vast marine protected areas to protect against the loss of wildlife and share out the genetic resources of the high seas.
Veronica Frank, the political adviser for Greenpeace, said that while the organization had not seen the latest text, “we are really happy. The world is so divided, and to see multilateralism supported is so important.” The Pew Charitable Trust welcomed the “landmark international agreement” and emphasized that high-seas marine protected areas can play a critical role in mitigating the impacts of climate change.
The negotiations, which ran over two weeks from February 20, were the fifth round of talks after earlier negotiations ended last August without agreement. One of the key stumbling blocks, which divided developing and developed nations, was how to fairly share marine genetic resources (MGR) and the eventual profits. MGR, which consists of the genetic material of deep-sea marine sponges, krill, corals, seaweeds, and bacteria, is attracting increasing scientific and commercial attention due to its potential use in medicines and cosmetics.
In a move seen as an attempt to build trust between rich and poor countries, the European Union pledged €40m ($42m) in New York to facilitate the ratification of the treaty and its early implementation. Monica Medina, the US assistant secretary for oceans, international environment, and scientific affairs, who attended the negotiations in New York, said: “We leave here with the ability to create protected areas in the high seas and achieve the ambitious goal of conserving 30% of the ocean by 2030. And the time to start is now.”
She said the US was pleased to agree on the major element of a high seas treaty that includes a strong, coordinated approach to establishing marine protected areas. The Global South led the way in ensuring the treaty could be put into practice in a fair and equitable way.
Ocean ecosystems produce half the oxygen we breathe, represent 95% of the planet’s biosphere, and soak up carbon dioxide, making them the world’s largest carbon sink. Yet until now, fragmented and loosely enforced rules governing the high seas have rendered this area more susceptible than coastal waters to exploitation. With this new treaty, what happens on the high seas will no longer be “out of sight, out of mind.” Instead, we can now look at the cumulative impacts on our ocean in a way that reflects the interconnected blue economy and the ecosystems that support it.
In conclusion, after years of talks, UN member states have agreed on a historic treaty to protect the high seas. This treaty will provide a legal framework for establishing marine protected areas and holding member states accountable on issues such as governance and biodiversity. It will also allow us to better understand the impacts of our actions on the high seas and work towards mitigating them.
What is the high seas treaty?
The high seas treaty is a legal framework for protecting marine life in the vast areas of the ocean that lie beyond national boundaries. The treaty enables the establishment of marine protected areas (MPAs) to conserve marine biodiversity, which is essential for the health of ocean ecosystems and the well-being of humans.
Why is the high seas treaty important?
The high seas cover two-thirds of the ocean and play a critical role in regulating the Earth’s climate and supporting marine life. However, the lack of legal mechanisms to protect the high seas has made this area vulnerable to overfishing, pollution, and other threats. The high seas treaty is crucial for establishing a legal framework for protecting the high seas, preserving marine biodiversity, and ensuring sustainable use of ocean resources.
What does the high seas treaty cover?
The high seas treaty covers a range of issues related to marine conservation and management, including the establishment of marine protected areas, sharing of marine genetic resources, environmental impact assessments, and capacity building for developing countries. The treaty provides a framework for international cooperation and coordination on high-seas governance and biodiversity conservation.
Who negotiated the high seas treaty?
The high seas treaty was negotiated by United Nations member states, with input from civil society organizations and other stakeholders. The negotiations involved several rounds of talks over a period of almost 20 years, with the final agreement reached in 2021.
What is the 30×30 pledge?
The 30×30 pledge is a commitment made by countries at the United Nations biodiversity conference to protect 30% of the world’s land and sea areas by 2030. The high seas treaty is critical for achieving this goal, as it provides a legal mechanism for establishing marine protected areas in the high seas.