Oceans, UN reaches agreement on protection of the high seas

The agreement provides for the protection of 30% of the waters by 2030

Reached in extremis at the UN a Agreement on the Treaty for the Protection of the High Seas (the marine space that extends beyond territorial waters), an ecosystem that produces half the oxygen we breathe, represents 95% of the earth’s biosphere and absorbs carbon dioxide like no other basin on earth.

The agreement was finalized one day after the deadline for the negotiating session that began at the UN headquarters on February 20, after a 38-hour marathon of non-stop negotiations. Conference chair Rena Lee announced that an agreement had been reached. Soon, the country’s delegates will meet to formally adopt the text, which cannot be renegotiated.

The agreement, reached thanks to an unprecedented coalition between the EU, the US, the UK and China, provides for the protection of a third of the seas by 2030, as foreseen by the commitment, however not binding, taken by the UN Conference on Biodiversity. The legal framework for establishing marine protected areas has been formalized and a Conference of the Parties (COP) has been scheduled which will meet periodically to discuss biodiversity and governance. The agreement covers nearly two-thirds of the oceans beyond the countries’ territorial waters.

Negotiations had stalled over the sharing of marine genetic resources (the genome of corals, sponges, bacteria) and any profits generated from their commercialization in medicines and cosmetics for example, and the procedure for creating marine protected areas. The European Union has put $40 million on the table to facilitate the initial ratification and implementation of the agreement. The Treaty follows the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea signed in 1982.