The UN Opens the Negotiation to the First Treaty of Protection of the High Seas

  • Almost two-thirds of the ocean are unprotected because they do not belong to any country
  • The current system does not protect the high seas from the ecological threats of this century
  • It is a historic opportunity to take care of marine biodiversity

United Nations begins negotiations in New York (United States) on Tuesday to reach a new international treaty on marine biodiversity that protects life on the high seas or international waters, thus closing one of the most important legal gaps in the oceans.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Convemar), qualified as the ‘Constitution of the Oceans’, was approved in 1982 but does not include marine biodiversity in areas outside the national jurisdiction of the countries, so that almost two-thirds of the ocean waters are unprotected.

Therefore, the treaty that begins to be negotiated today is considered as the greatest opportunity to change the direction of deterioration and the loss of diversity in the oceans, in a year in which the problem of the proliferation of plastics has been placed on the international agenda that end up in the seas.

The ocean is the largest biosphere on Earth and a fundamental component of the climate system, while the high seas provide essential ecosystem services for coastal areas and for the planet in general, according to the High Seas Alliance, made up of more than 40 environmental NGOs and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

After a decade of debates at the UN, the two-week Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) is the first in a series of four negotiating sessions that will run until 2020 with a view to achieving a new legally binding treaty to protect the marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, commonly known as the high seas.

The ocean located beyond the 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres) of the coasts of a country is considered international waters (that is, the high seas) and is shared globally. There is no supreme legislation that safeguards its biodiversity or its vital role in the provision of services, such as oxygen generation and climate regulation.

“It’s a historic opportunity”

Peggy Kalas, the coordinator of the High Seas Alliance, said that “the high seas cover half of our planet and is vital for the functioning of the entire ocean and all life on Earth.” “The current system of governance of the high seas is weak, fragmented and inadequate to address the threats we face now in the 21st century, stemming from climate change, illegal fishing and overfishing, plastic pollution and loss This is a historic opportunity to protect biodiversity and the functions of the high seas through legally binding commitments, “he added.

The key role of the ocean in mitigating climate change, which includes the absorption of 90% of the additional heat and 26% of excess carbon dioxide created by human sources, has had a devastating effect on marine ecosystems.

Managing the multiple added stress factors that are exerted on it will increase its resilience to climate change and acidification, and will protect unique marine ecosystems of its kind, many of which remain to be explored and discovered. Given that these are international waters, the necessary conservation measures can only be introduced through a global treaty.

Alex Rogers, a professor at the University of Oxford (United Kingdom), who has provided evidence to support the UN process with a view to a treaty, said that “half of our planet consisting of the high seas is protecting the terrestrial life in front of the worst impacts of climate change “.

“Despite this, we are doing very little to safeguard it or to protect life within the ocean, intrinsic to our collective survival.” Protecting biodiversity on the high seas, implementing good governance and law in the entire ocean, is without a doubt the more important than we can do to change the course of the blue heart of our planet, “he said.

Through the UN, States will discuss how to protect and conserve the high seas through the establishment of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), which enjoy wide recognition as an essential element to build the resilience of the ocean, but without a treaty, there is no mechanism that allows its creation on the high seas.

Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) will also be analyzed since there is no legal framework for their implementation with a view to preventing potential environmental damage, although certain activities are partially regulated in some areas of the high seas.

The UN Opens the Negotiation to the First Treaty of Protection of the High Seas

Another issue to be discussed is the sharing of benefits and technology transfer, since many countries are concerned that they will not be able to benefit from research on high seas species and thus lose access to new marine genetic resources of enormous potential reach, such as the discovery of marine genetic resources that could offer new pharmaceutical and nutraceutical uses, among others.

Negotiations will also focus on improving capacity building and technology transfer mechanisms in developing countries within the environment of the high sea.


Source: Ecodiario el Economista