Another significant step towards improved protection and management of the high seas was achieved today as UN Member States formally adopted a resolution for the development of legal measures to conserve marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction.
The aim of the new legally-binding international agreement will be to build on, elaborate and support the implementation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This will be achieved by facilitating the creation of high seas marine protected areas, improving environmental impact assessments and accountability for progress.
Among other things, the new instrument will aim to address the issue of access and benefit sharing for marine genetic resources beyond national boundaries, which is not covered under existing protocols.
The new deal also offers the opportunity to harmonise and modernise governance principles such as transparency and participation, so they become the expected standard across all international institutions dealing with ocean conservation.
“The concept of a new international agreement to cover the conservation needs of the high seas dates back over a decade with IUCN’s first report highlighting the importance and value of high seas resources, published in 2001,” says IUCN high seas advisor Kristina Gjerde. “The persistence and dedication of leading governments and environmental organisations has paid off but there still remains a lot of hard work ahead to develop the substantive elements of the draft treaty text.”
The high seas, which lie beyond the jurisdiction of any nation, cover nearly 50% of the planet. They host the largest habitat for life on Earth, yet suffer from chronic neglect. As a result, illegal fishing, overfishing, pollution and habitat destruction are stretching the ocean’s capacities to respond to new threats such as warming temperatures and ocean acidification. Though protected areas may provide the best insurance in terms of rebuilding and sustaining ocean health, less than 1% of the high seas is currently protected.
“The final form and strength of the new agreement remain unknown but the UN Member States have already shown remarkable tenacity and passion for securing a more equitable, ecological and robust regime for the high seas,” says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme. “IUCN, its members and partners, will continue to play a key role by providing substantive proposals to achieve the best outcomes for marine biodiversity.”
Further progress is to be reported to the UN General Assembly by the end of 2017, when the Assembly is due to take a decision on launching an intergovernmental negotiating conference to formally adopt the new instrument.
For more information, please contact Ewa Magiera at Ewa.Magiera@iucn.org