After 20 years of talks UN member states have agreed a High Seas Treaty to protect 30 per cent of the world’s oceans.
But it could be another decade before any real action is taken to implement the treaty.
The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (High Seas Treaty) sets out a range of legally-binding principles to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity, pledges more money for marine conservation and establishes new rules for mining at sea.
Two thirds of the world’s oceans are currently deemed to be international waters and to date only about one per cent of these waters (the high seas) are protected. Now all the High Seas will be covered by the new conservation treaty.
Despite general agreement around the terms of the new High Seas Treaty framework it could be a decade or more before any real action is taken as more than 60 countries must now negotiate and agree on how the treaty will be implemented, and paid for, by individual nations.
The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea is driven, at its heart, by Article 5 and its general principles and approaches:
The polluter-pays principle; the principle of the common heritage of humankind which is set out in the Convention; the freedom of marine scientific research, together with other freedoms of the high seas; The principle of equity, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits; Precautionary principle or precautionary approach, as appropriate;
An ecosystem approach; An integrated approach to ocean management; An approach that builds ecosystems resilience, including to adverse effects of climate change and ocean acidification, and also maintains and restores ecosystem integrity, including the carbon cycling services that underpin the ocean’s role in climate;
The use of the best available science and scientific information; the use of relevant traditional knowledge of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, where available;
The respect, promotion and consideration of their respective obligations, as applicable, relating to the rights of Indigenous Peoples or of, as appropriate, local communities when taking action to address the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction;
The non-transfer, directly or indirectly, of damage or hazards from one area to another and the non-transformation of one type of pollution into another, in taking measures to prevent reduce, and control pollution of the marine environment;
Full recognition of the special circumstances of small island developing States and of least developed countries; and Acknowledgement of the special interests and needs of landlocked developing countries
“This High Seas Treaty breakthrough, which covers nearly two-thirds of the ocean, marks the culmination of nearly two decades of work and builds on the legacy of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” said Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General.
“This action is a victory for multi-lateralism and for global efforts to counter the destructive trends facing ocean health, now and for generations to come. It is crucial for addressing the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. It is also vital for achieving ocean-related goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.”