Ubuntu | Thoughts | Landmark treaty agreed upon to establish marine protected areas in high seas

Landmark treaty agreed upon to establish marine protected areas in high seas

Landmark treaty agreed upon to establish marine protected areas in high seas

Ubuntu Thoughts  /  Article  /  4 min read
March 7, 2023
Ubuntu | Thoughts | Landmark treaty agreed upon to establish marine protected areas in high seas
Ubuntu | Callum Berry, Author
Callum Berry
Content & Media Manager
After nearly two decades of negotiations, UN member states have finally reached an agreement to safeguard seas around the world.
The historic treaty, announced on Saturday night in New York after grueling non-stop negotiations, represents a major milestone in the fight to achieve the 30×30 commitment – a pledge made by countries at the UN biodiversity conference last December to protect a third of global sea and land by 2030.

The treaty is a crucial step toward meeting this ambitious target because it establishes a legal mechanism for creating marine protected areas (MPAs) in the high seas, a region comprising almost two-thirds of the ocean that lies beyond national borders. Until now, no such mechanism existed to safeguard this vulnerable region from exploitation and prevent wildlife loss.

The agreement will establish a conference of the parties (COP) that will meet periodically and hold member states accountable for governance and biodiversity concerns. This legal structure will allow the creation of vast MPAs that distribute the genetic resources of the high seas, prevent wildlife loss, and protect the world’s largest carbon sink.

The ocean ecosystem plays a critical role in sustaining life on our planet. It generates 50% of the air we breathe, encompasses 95% of the planet’s biosphere, and acts as the world’s largest carbon sink by absorbing carbon dioxide. The fragmented and poorly enforced regulations governing the high seas have made this region more vulnerable to exploitation than coastal waters, putting the planet’s health further at risk.

While the treaty represents a significant accomplishment for 193 nations, conservationists argue that there is still much room for improvement. The agreement allows existing governing bodies responsible for regulating activities like fisheries, shipping, and deep-sea mining to continue without requiring environmental impact assessments outlined in the treaty.

One of the major obstacles that divided developing and developed nations was how to fairly share marine genetic resources (MGR) and the eventual profits. These resources consist of genetic material from deep-sea marine sponges, coral, seaweeds, and bacteria, and are attracting increased scientific and commercial attention due to their potential use in medicines and cosmetics.

The European Union has committed €40m ($42m) to aid in the ratification and prompt implementation of the treaty, intending to foster trust between wealthy and poorer nations. US assistant secretary for oceans, international environment, and scientific affairs, Monica Medina, expressed optimism about the outcome, stating that the ability to establish protected areas in the high seas and reach the ambitious goal of preserving 30% of the ocean by 2030 has been secured.

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