For the first time, members of the United Nations on Saturday agreed on a single treaty to protect the biodiversity of the high seas, a fragile and vital treasure that covers almost half of the planet.
More than 190 countries have reached a landmark agreement to protect biodiversity in the oceans, agreeing for the first time on a common framework for the creation of new protected areas in international waters.
This is victory for versatility, says @antonioguterres as UN delegates agree to a legally binding instrument for ensure conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in international water. https://t.co/k0kkQdBaNI
– UN News (@UN_News_Centre) March 5, 2023
The agreement was signed on Saturday night, after two weeks of negotiations at UN Headquarters in New York, and culminated in a massive final meeting that lasted more than 36 hours but took two decades to prepare.
Conference Chair Rina Lee of Singapore announced the signing of the treaty at UN Headquarters in New York just before 0230 GMT on Sunday to applause from delegates.
The exact wording of the text was not immediately released, but campaigners hailed the agreement as a “breakthrough” for biodiversity protection after more than 15 years of discussion.
A historic treaty is needed to meet the 30/30 commitment made by nations at the United Nations Conference on Biological Diversity in December to protect 30 percent of the world’s land and oceans by 2030.
The agreement will provide a legal basis for the creation of vast marine protected areas (MPAs) to protect against loss of wildlife and to share genetic resources on the high seas (materials from marine plants and animals used in industries such as pharmaceuticals).
It will establish a Conference of Parties (COP), the highest governing body of any international agreement, which will meet regularly and hold Member States accountable on issues such as governance and biodiversity.
On Sunday, EU Environment Commissioner Virginius Sinkevičius called the treaty “a decisive step forward for the conservation of marine life and biodiversity, essential for us and future generations.”
After two weeks of intensive negotiations, including a marathon session from Friday to Saturday, the delegates put the finishing touches on the text of the treaty, which, in my opinion, indicated to the negotiators that it was not subject to modification, change or negotiation.
She announced that the agreement would be formally adopted later, after it had been reviewed by lawyers and translated into the six official languages of the United Nations.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres paid tribute to the delegates and said, in the words of a spokesman, that the agreement was “a victory for multilateralism and global efforts to counter the destructive trends that the oceans face now and for future generations.”
a vital role
The high seas begin at the borders of countries’ exclusive economic zones, which extend up to 200 nautical miles (370 km) from the coast. Therefore, it is under the jurisdiction of any country.
Although the high seas contain more than 60% of the world’s oceans and almost half of the planet’s surface, it has long attracted far less attention than coastal waters, home to several notable species.
Ocean ecosystems produce half of the oxygen that humans breathe and limit global warming by absorbing most of the carbon dioxide released by human activities.
But it is threatened by climate change, pollution and overfishing. Only about 1% of the open sea is currently protected.
When the new treaty enters into force, it will allow for the establishment of marine protected areas in these international waters.
“Offshore MPAs can play a critical role in building climate resilience,” said Liz Karan of Pew Charitable Trusts, calling the agreement “a huge achievement.”
The treaty will also require countries to conduct an environmental impact assessment of proposed activities on the high seas.
The extremely sensitive chapter on sharing the potential benefits of newly discovered marine resources was one of the hotbeds of tension before it was finally overcome.
Developing countries, lacking the funds to conduct costly research, are scrambling to catch windfall from the commercialization of potential substances found in international waters.
It is likely that the ultimate profit will come from the pharmaceutical, chemical or cosmetic use of newly discovered marine substances that no one owns.
Observers noted that, as in other international forums, in particular the climate negotiations, the discussion centered around the question of ensuring equality between the poorer South and the richer North.
In an attempt to build confidence between rich and poor countries, the European Union has pledged 40 million euros ($42 million) in New York to help speed up the ratification and implementation of the treaty.
The European Union also announced $860 million for ocean research, monitoring and conservation in 2023 at the Our Ocean conference in Panama, which concluded on Friday. Panama said the countries pledged a total of $19 billion.