UN member states fail to agree on High Seas treaty

Written by Oceanographic Staff

Scientists, conservationists and environmentalists are blaming UN member states of “dragging their feet” during the final round of negotiations to implement a legal framework protecting the High Seas.

Since 2018, UN member states have met at the UN for three two-week negotiating sessions to discuss a Global Ocean Treaty that promised to deliver a much-needed framework to protect the High Seas.

The fourth and final negotiating session was held in March 2022 to turn the BBNJ (biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction) ocean treaty into reality. The treaty is supposed to create a legal framework that establishes marine protected areas, oversees fishing activities and shares resources.

Our latest cover story stated: “Nearly half of our planet is beyond the reach of any enforceable law or governance. The international waters of the High Seas, that lie outside any country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), make up 64% of our global ocean and cover 47% of Earth’s surface.”

It continued: “They contain a vibrant, awe-inspiring alternate world of hidden wonders. A supersized world where we find our planet’s highest mountains, deepest canyons, most important carbon sinks, and its biggest creatures that live the longest and travel the furthest. Yet, only 1.3% of the High Seas is protected, compared to 17% of the land.”

Throughout March, the UN had a historic chance to help protect the High Seas from further exploitation but unfortunately, the member stated failed to agree on a treaty. When the fourth round of negotiations came to an end last week, no further discussions were scheduled. The world is now waiting for the United Nations general assembly to give green light to another round of talks.

Rena Lee, the Singaporean president of the BBNJ conference, commented: “I believe that with continued commitment, determination and dedication, we will be able to build bridges and close the remaining gaps.”

Head of oceans at Greenpeace, Will McCallum, said: “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.”

“And as industrial fishing empties the seas of life, coastal communities around the world are seeing their livelihoods and food security threatened. These aren’t hypotheticals, our oceans are in crisis right now and in dire need of a rescue plan.”

He added: “Government promises to protect at least a third of the world’s oceans by 2030 are already coming off the rails. It’s clear our oceans are in crisis, and if we don’t land the strong Global Ocean Treaty we need in 2022, there’s no way to create ocean sanctuaries in international waters to allow them to achieve that 30×30 goal. This treaty is crucial because all of us rely on the oceans: from the oxygen they give to the livelihoods and food security they provide.”

Read the full feature ‘High Seas, High Stakes, High Time’ in Issue 23 of Oceanographic.

For more from our Ocean Newsroom, click here.

Photography courtesy of Unsplash.

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