Almost two-thirds of the world’s ocean lies outside national boundaries. These are the “high seas”. Not only does a healthy ocean provide half of the oxygen we breathe, it represents 95% of the planet’s biosphere, soaks up carbon dioxide and is Earth’s largest carbon sink.
Liz Karan, who leads high seas protection work at the Pew Charitable Trusts explained, “A healthy ocean is critical for having life on the planet – including human life.”
The high seas are more susceptible than coastal seas to exploitation. Currently, all countries can navigate, fish (or overfish) and carry out scientific research on the high seas practically at will. Only 1.2% of it is protected, and the increasing reach of fishing and shipping vessels, the threat of deep-sea mining, and new activities, such as “bioprospecting” of marine species, mean they are being threatened like never before.
The Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction, (BBNJ) – are the fifth round of negotiations, which ended last August without agreement. The current round of talks began last week and will end on 3 March.
The talks are critical to enforcing the 30x30 pledge from the UN biodiversity conference in December: a promise to protect 30% of the ocean (as well as 30% of the land) by 2030. Without a high seas treaty, scientists and environmentalists agree the 30x30 pledge will fail, for the simple reason that no legal mechanism exists for establishing protected marine areas on the high seas – rendering any promises to do so meaningless.
“Heavily subsidised, industrial fishers seek to exploit and profit from ocean resources that, by law, belong to everyone,” said Jess Rattle, a senior global oceans expert for WWF who is leading the NGO’s team at the negotiations.
Greenpeace warned Monday that nations are "once again stalling" as they enter the final week of talks on the United Nations Ocean Treaty, a pact the environmental group says would "safeguard marine life and be the biggest conservation victory for a generation" if negotiators get it right.
Laura Meller, oceans campaigner at Greenpeace Nordic, lamented that "negotiations have been going around in circles, progressing at a snail's pace, and this is reflected in the new draft treaty text."