UN member states agreed to a legally binding international treaty to protect the high seas(Opens in a new tab) on Saturday night, finally ending a decade and a half of discussion.
More than 100 countries have accepted the text of the treaty, which aims to conserve marine biological diversity and use ocean resources sustainably, in the hope of curbing humanity’s habit of destroying the world.
“The ship has come ashore,” announced Singapore’s UN ambassador and conference chair Rena Lee, who received a standing ovation at the UN headquarters in New York.
The treaty sets new rules for ocean mining, promises financial investment in marine conservation and will be instrumental in ensuring the UN meets its 30×30 target. Set in December of last year, the 30×30 promises(Opens in a new tab) aims to conserve and protect one third of the world’s land and oceans by 2030.
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High seas are all waters that are 200 nautical miles or more from the coast of a country and, therefore, are not under any jurisdiction. Previously, there was no formal legal mechanism to establish marine protected areas(Opens in a new tab) in high sea. As such, the high seas are currently largely unprotected, with around 99 per cent of them open to whatever exploitation and desecration any country can dream of.
“This breakthrough, which covers almost two-thirds of the ocean, marks the culmination of almost two decades of work and builds on the legacy of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.” said UN Secretary General António Guterres(Opens in a new tab).
In addition to protecting marine habitats, the new UN treaty is a significant step in the fight against climate change. The oceans absorb around 25 percent of all carbon dioxide(Opens in a new tab)and produce about half of the world’s oxygen. They also capture up to 90 percent of the heat produced by greenhouse gas emissions, making the planet far less warm than we deserve.
The main stumbling block that halted the negotiations was how marine genetic resources should be shared,(Opens in a new tab) as different countries have different levels of resources available to invest in such research. Such material can be used in the development of medicines, cosmetics and food.
he draft agreement(Opens in a new tab) now stipulates that no country can claim ultimate authority and rights over marine genetic resources that have been harvested on the high seas. Furthermore, any research using such materials must be “for the benefit of all mankind” and “shall be carried out exclusively for peaceful purposes.”
Although UN member states agreed on the wording of the treaty, technically it is not yet in force. UN delegates will meet again to formally adopt it at a future date, finally taking action to protect one of Earth’s most precious assets.