UN member states finally agreed on Saturday on text for the first international treaty after years of negotiations to protect the high seas, a fragile and vital treasure that covers nearly half the planet.
“The ship has reached shore,” announced conference chair Rena Lee at the UN headquarters in New York just before 9:30 p.m. (0230 GMT Sunday) to loud and sustained applause from delegates.
The exact text of the text was not released immediately, but activists hailed it as a breakthrough for biodiversity protection after more than 15 years of debate.
The treaty is seen as essential to conserving 30 percent of the world’s land and ocean surface by 2030, as agreed by the world’s governments in a historic accord signed in Montreal in December.
“This is a historic day for conservation and a sign that in a divided world, conservation of nature and people can triumph over geopolitics,” said Greenpeace’s Laura Meller.
EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius described the deal on Sunday as “a crucial step forward in preserving marine life and biodiversity that is essential for us and for generations to come.”
After two weeks of intense discussions, including a marathon overnight session Friday through Saturday, delegates finalized a text that cannot now be changed significantly.
“There will be no reopening or substantive discussions,” Lee told negotiators.
The agreement will be officially adopted at a later date, once it has been reviewed by lawyers and translated into the six official languages of the United Nations, she announced.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hailed the delegates, according to a spokesman who said the deal was a “victory for multilateralism and for global efforts to reverse the destructive trends facing ocean health now and for generations to come.”
The high seas begin at the borders of countries’ exclusive economic zones, which extend up to 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) from the coast. They therefore do not fall under the jurisdiction of any country.
Although the high seas make up more than 60 percent of the world’s oceans and almost half of the earth’s surface, they have long attracted far less attention than coastal waters and some iconic species.
Marine ecosystems produce half of the oxygen that humans breathe and limit global warming by absorbing much of the carbon dioxide released by human activities.
But they are threatened by climate change, pollution and overfishing.
Only about one percent of the high seas is currently protected.
When the new agreement enters into force, it will allow for the creation of marine protected areas in these international waters.
“Marine protected areas on the high seas can play a critical role in building resilience to the impacts of climate change,” said Liz Karan of The Pew Charitable Trusts, who called the deal a “significant success.”
The treaty will also oblige countries to carry out environmental impact assessments for planned activities on the high seas.
A highly sensitive chapter on sharing potential benefits of newly discovered marine resources was one of the flashpoints of tension before it was finally resolved when talks, which were due to end on Friday, were delayed by a day.
Without the resources to afford costly research, developing countries had struggled not to be left out of the expected windfall from commercializing potential substances discovered in international waters.
Any profits are likely to come from the pharmaceutical, chemical, or cosmetic uses of newly discovered marine substances that belong to no one.
As in other international forums, notably the climate negotiations, the debate ended on a question of ensuring justice between the poorer global South and the richer North, observers noted.
In a move seen as an attempt to build trust between rich and poor countries, the European Union pledged 40 million euros ($42 million) in New York to facilitate the treaty’s ratification and early implementation.
The EU also announced $860 million for ocean exploration, monitoring and conservation in 2023 at the Our Ocean conference in Panama, which ended on Friday. A total of $19 billion has been pledged by the countries, according to Panama.
In 2017, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling on nations to conclude a high seas agreement.
It originally planned four negotiating sessions, but had to pass two resolutions to ensure two additional sessions.
“We can now finally move from talking to making real changes at sea,” Greenpeace’s Meller said.
© 2023 AFP
Citation: UN States Agree on ‘Historical’ Agreement to Protect the High Seas (2023, March 5), retrieved March 5, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-03-states-historic-high- seas.html
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