UN High SeasTreaty
Why is the UN High Seas Treaty in the News?
Negotiations of the UN High Seas treaty involving 168 countries, including the European Union (EU), to agree on a UN high seas treaty for protecting oceans failed on August 27, 2022. The final round of meetings began two weeks ago in New York City; it was hoped that the UN High Seas Treaty agreement would help conserve or protect marine life and biodiversity on the ‘high seas, which lie outside the exclusive economic zone of different countries.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres declared an “ocean emergency” at the UN Ocean Conference held in Lisbon, Portugal, citing all the hazards to the world’s oceans.
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What is the UN High Seas Treaty?
It is also referred to as the Paris Agreement for the Ocean. This UN High Seas treaty to deal with marine biodiversity beyond the country's jurisdiction has been under discussion for several years.
The proposed UN High Seas treaty prioritizes the oceans existing beyond the Exclusive Economic Zones of the country that lie from the coastal regions of the country to about 370 km or 200 nautical miles into the sea, where it has special rights for exploration. Waters beyond that exclusive economic zone are high seas or open seas.
The UN High Seas treaty was to be critically discussed under the United Nations Convention on Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1982, which controls countries' marine biodiversity and resource rights. As there is no treaty for protecting the health of the earth's oceans and biodiversity, a UN resolution treaty in 2017 decided to correct the defaults.
On December 24, 2017, the UN General Assembly council adopted by consensus Resolution 72/249 to form an intergovernmental conference and undertake formal negotiations and discussions for a new international legally binding instrument (treaty) under the UN Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) for the protection and sustainable development of marine biodiversity in areas beyond EEZ.
The covid pandemic resulted in the delay of the High Ambition Coalition, which now has more than a hundred countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and India, come about and focus on '30×30' SDG goals – protecting 30% of the world's oceans by 2030.
Some aspects of the discussion included establishing reserved marine areas to limit activities, environmental impact assessments (EIA) for the sustainability of works, financial support to member countries, and sharing other scientific knowledge on marine protection. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) stated that binding agreements are needed for this UN High Seas treaty to be effective.
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Present Regulation of the World's Oceans?
Some marine treaties, along with the UNCLOS, help to regulate the laws and acts on the high seas. The UNCLOS helped to establish territorial sea boundaries 22 km offshore from coastal regions, deciding the regions up to which countries could claim full sovereign rights, as well as the 200 nautical miles EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) limit. UNCLOS also created the International Seabed Authority and other marine conflict-resolution mechanisms.
But, far now, a treaty dedicated to protecting ocean health and biodiversity does not exist. Conversely, every country has the right to access high seas or open seas, resulting in high-scale trawling and drilling operations for catching fish and other marine animals for commercial needs.
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What are the Risks of Countries Failing to Reach a Treaty?
According to the NASA website, 90% of global warming occurs in the ocean.
It stated that the effects of warming the ocean included sea level rise due to coral bleaching, thermal expansion, fast melting of earth's major ice flakes, deadly hurricanes, and changes in ocean health and biodiversity. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), large-scale fishing has increased manifold over the years, and one-third of species such as whales, sharks, and rays are at risk of life extinction. Despite acknowledging these threats, member countries failed to agree on how to deal with these marine threats.
Resistance from the countries engaged in deep sea mining of marine minerals or heavily involved in fishing is also a barrier to making a treaty.
Some countries in the Caribbean region alleged that richer countries of the northern globe did not actively participate until the last few days of the treaty discussion.
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