The UN agrees landmark High Seas Treaty

After decades of negotiations marred by disagreements on funding and fishing rights, a landmark agreement was finally met at UN headquarters in New York this weekend. Following 38 hours of talks, UN member states finally agreed to The High Seas Treaty, which seeks to safeguard 30% of the world’s international waters from exploitation through protection areas before 2030 for recuperation purposes. The treaty provides a legal framework for establishing vast marine protected areas (MPAs) to safeguard biodiversity and share out the genetic resources of the high seas. 

An unprecedented step

Though a very encouraging development, full implementation may still take some time as such agreements are scarcely made. The last international agreement on ocean protection was signed 40 years ago in 1982 – the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. It established international waters known as ‘the high seas’ – however only 1.2% is currently protected from exploitation and resource extraction activities that threaten 10% of marine species with extinction, according to findings by The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They estimate that 41% of the threatened species are also affected by climate change.

The International Seabed Authority that oversees licensing said “any future activity in the deep seabed will be subject to strict environmental regulations and oversight to ensure that they are carried out sustainably and responsibly”.

An obstacle for agreement was the equitable sharing of marine genetic resources. These biological materials form an invaluable link to pharmaceutical, industrial and food discoveries that can hold great promise for society – if shared fairly among all countries regardless of funds or resources available. 

Progress is underway; however, ratification must be achieved before any official bodies are set in place, such as the Science and Technical Committee, who will ensure fairness remains at the heart of moving forward with this important issue.

This promising news will be the next biodiversity risk framework to consider in your sustainability and ESG reporting journey.

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