UN member states finally agreed on Saturday on a 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,” conference president Rena Lee announced at UN headquarters in New York shortly before 9:30 p.m. (02:30 GMT Sunday), to loud and prolonged applause from delegates.
The exact wording of the text was not immediately released, but activists hailed it as an important moment to protect biodiversity after more than 15 years of debate.
The treaty is seen as essential to conserving 30 percent of the world’s land and oceans by 2030, as agreed by world governments in a historic deal signed in Montreal in December.
“This is a historic day for conservation and a sign that in a divided world, protecting nature and people can triumph over geopolitics,” said Laura Meller of Greenpeace.
EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius on Sunday called the treaty “a crucial step forward in preserving the marine life and biodiversity that are essential for us and future generations”.
After two weeks of intense talks, including a marathon overnight session from Friday to Saturday, delegates finalized a text that now cannot be significantly amended.
“There will be no more opening or substantive discussions,” Lee told negotiators.
The agreement will be formally approved at a later date after it has been reviewed by lawyers and translated into the six official languages of the United Nations, he said.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres praised the delegates, according to a spokesman who said the agreement was “a victory for multilateralism and global efforts to address the devastating 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 km) from the coast. Therefore, they do not fall under the jurisdiction of any country.
Although the open seas make up more than 60 percent of the world’s oceans and nearly half of the planet’s surface, they have long received much less attention than coastal waters and a few iconic species.
Ocean ecosystems create half the oxygen that humans breathe and limit global warming by absorbing much of the carbon dioxide emitted by human activities.
But they are threatened by climate change, pollution and overfishing.
Only about one percent of the open sea is currently protected.
When the new treaty enters into force, it will allow the creation of marine protected areas in these international waters.
“High seas marine protected areas can play a critical role in building resilience to the effects of climate change,” said Liz Curran of The Pew Charitable Trusts, who called the agreement a “significant achievement.”
The treaty would also oblige countries to carry out environmental impact assessments of proposed activities on the high seas.
A highly sensitive chapter on the sharing of potential benefits from newly discovered marine resources was one of the focal points of tensions before it was finally overcome as the planned talks, due to end on Friday, ran into a day.
Developing countries, without the means to afford expensive research, had struggled to avoid being shut out of the expected windfall from the commercialization of potential substances discovered in international waters.
Contingent profits are possible from the medicinal, chemical or cosmetic use of newly discovered marine substances that no one owns.
As in other international forums, notably the climate negotiations, the debate has come down to ensuring equality between the poorer global South and the richer North, observers noted.
In a move seen as an effort to build confidence 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 research, monitoring and conservation in 2023 at the Our Ocean conference in Panama that ended on Friday. Panama said that in total the countries pledged $19 billion.
In 2017, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling on nations to conclude a treaty on the high seas.
It originally planned four negotiating sessions, but had to pass two resolutions to secure two additional sessions.
“We can finally move from talk to real sea change,” Greenpeace’s Meller said.
© 2023 AFP
Reference: UN states agree ‘historic’ agreement to protect 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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