Over the weekend, more than 190 countries reached a historic deal at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York City to protect the world's oceans. Environmentalists have hailed this as "the biggest conservation agreement in the history of the world."
The High Seas Treaty moves to protect 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030 with the aim of halting and reversing the current extinction crisis. The treaty's agreement is a significant step, being the first common framework agreement since countries adopted the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1982.
Countries agreed to the finalised text of the treaty on Saturday night after 38 hours of negotiations and a further nearly two decades of talks. The negotiations were marked by disputes about fishing rights and funding. The consensus followed a pledge by nations at the UN biodiversity conference in Montreal last December.
Feels surreal. Took over 20y & locking up ppl at the UN for 48h but high seas treaty now agreed. Congratulations to all who worked hard for this historic day. A pleasure to be on this journey w you- now let’s make change on the water! pic.twitter.com/rs2jMyBjXJ— Sofia Tsenikli (@sofia_tse) March 5, 2023
The last international agreement on ocean protection was signed 40 years ago in 1982 - the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. That agreement established an area called the high seas - international waters where all countries have a right to fish, ship, and do research. However, only 1.2% of these waters are protected. Marine life living outside of these protected areas has been at risk from climate change, overfishing, and shipping traffic.
41 years after Ambassador Tommy Koh served as President of the Third UN Conference on the Law of the Sea which led to UNCLOS, another Singapore Ambassador, Rena Lee, has presided over successful negotiations on the UN High Seas Treaty. 🇸🇬🇺🇳 pic.twitter.com/2lZUU5X9u4— Dhevarajan Devadas (@historyogi) March 5, 2023
These new protected areas, established in the treaty, will put limits on how much fishing can take place, the routes of shipping lanes, and exploration activities like deep-sea mining - when minerals are taken from a seabed 200m or more below the surface. Environmental groups have been concerned that mining processes could disturb animal breeding grounds, create noise pollution, and be toxic for marine life.
Greenpeace spokesperson Arlo Hemphill in a statement praised the "biggest conservation agreement in the history of the world" for providing a "pathway to establish marine sanctuaries so that countries can turn" their 30 by 30 pledge into a reality.
The weekend's @UN agreement on a Global Ocean Treaty is a moment of world historical significance. There is now an international legal framework to enable protection of nature on the high seas - around 60% of the earth’s surface. This really is one to celebrate…! 🧵— David Ritter (@David_Ritter) March 6, 2023
Countries will need to meet again to formally adopt the agreement and then have plenty of work to do before the treaty can be implemented.