In March of this year, world leaders met for the High Seas Treaty negotiations but were unable to make a decision that was supposed to create a legal framework for establishing marine protected areas, overseeing fishing activities and sharing resources. Back then, head of oceans at Greenpeace, Will McCallum, commented: “The glacial pace of negotiations at the UN over the past two weeks and the lack of agreement on a number of key issues just doesn’t reflect the urgency of the situation. Climate breakdown is transforming our oceans. Wildlife populations are declining.”
From today until 26 August, world leaders will once again meet at the UN in New York to discuss a potential High Seas Treaty in a second attempt to reach an agreement. Environmental groups are urging the nations present to come up with a plan to implement a legally binding treaty that will protect the High Seas for the first time in history.
As we reported on in Issue 23 of Oceanographic, the international waters of the High Seas, that lie outside any country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), make up 64% of the global ocean and cover 46% of Earth’s surface. However, just 1.3% of the High Seas is protected, compared to 17% of land. Additionally, the High Seas has the fewest rules and even fewer ways to enforce them, while fishing, shipping, drilling, plastic, and pollution are all taking their toll on this important habitat.
UN secretary-general António Guterres said at the UN Ocean Conference in June that the “egoism” of some governments was the reason for not agreeing on a High Seas Treaty previously. With all eyes on New York in the coming days, the High Seas Alliance implemented a ‘treaty tracker’ to rate each country’s negotiating positions and keep track on the progress of the talks.
While at least 49 countries have committed to achieve an outcome at the talks, it is yet to be seen what exactly this will entail. One of the main issues to figure out is how the new international body that would be set up following an agreement, would be working alongside other organisations.
If you want to find out more about the first round of High Seas Treaty negotiations and the importance of the high seas, read Issue 23’s cover story.
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Photography courtesy of Ocean Image Bank – Thomas Horig & Jeff Hester.