States gathering at the United Nations (UN) in New York next week (28 March) will begin work towards an agreement to protect life in the high seas, closing some of the largest legal loopholes in the ocean.
The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) was negotiated more than 30 years ago but did not address marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, leaving nearly two-thirds of the global ocean largely unprotected. The ocean is the largest biosphere on earth and a central component of the climate system; comprising approximately 75% of the ocean, the high seas provides ecosystem services that are critical to coastal areas and the planet as a whole.
This two-week meeting of the agreement’s Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) is the first of four that will take place before the end of 2017. This is when states will determine the elements that will form the basis for a formal and final treaty negotiation to commence in 2018. It is during this crucial phase that key issues such as the scope of the treaty; how marine protected areas should be created and managed; the inclusion of environmental impact assessments; access to and benefit sharing of marine genetic resources and technology transfer, will be addressed.
This negotiation is complicated because the high seas are the common concern of humankind and belong to no one; activities already take place there and the interests of a number of sectors such as shipping and fishing have to be addressed. The agreement’s advocates are optimistic that a robust outcome can be achieved, however, pointing to the recent success at the Climate Negotiations in Paris, Jessica Battle, Marine Manager at WWF International said: “In Paris we managed to take action to protect the global climate system; now we need to transfer that energy to the global ocean. Both are essential for the functioning of the planet and the ocean is on the sharp end of climate impacts and climate solutions.”
The High Seas Alliance (HSA) has been campaigning for what will be the first ocean treaty focused on marine biodiversity, since it was founded in 2011. High Seas Alliance Coordinator Peggy Kalas said: “Providing half the oxygen we breathe and as one of the largest carbon sinks on earth, the ocean is what makes our planet habitable. Ensuring its health and resilience is not a choice, but a necessity and this landmark marine biodiversity agreement being negotiated is our chance to create real change on how our shared ocean resources are protected.”
“We now have the historical opportunity to change the way two thirds of our ocean are managed and develop a comprehensive global regime that will ensure the conservation of marine life for future generations” said Veronica Frank, senior political advisor at Greenpeace International. “People around the world will be watching this process closely and expect governments at the UN to take the right decisions for our ocean and for the life of millions of people who depends upon it.”
The PrepCom will meet for a total of eight weeks in 2016 and 2017, with the second
meeting scheduled to take place at UN Headquarters from August 26-September 9th.
The negotiation opens following the June 2015 adoption of a UN General Assembly
resolution to develop a treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of marine
biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.
UNGA Resolution 69/292 which calls for the start of this process, stresses “the need
for the comprehensive global regime to better address the conservation and
sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.”
The PrepCom has a single Chairperson, Ambassador Eden Charles of Trinidad and
Tobago and a bureau to assist on procedural issues. The Bureau consists of 10
persons, with two representatives from each UN regional group.
The move to a treaty came about after Heads of State at the Rio+20 conference in
2012 committed to address high seas protection.
High Seas Alliance members will be attending the negotiations and reporting on
twitter via #ThisWay2Treaty ad @highseasallianc. Highseasalliance.org
The High Seas Alliance is made up of 32 environmental NGOs and the International
Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), representing millions of people around