United Nations agrees on historic treaty to protect the oceans

A decade of talks held by the United Nations has finally led to a treaty designed to protect the biodiversity of the high seas from human impact.

For over a decade, the United Nations has been trying to work out the language for a treaty that would protect the high seas from overfishing and negative human impact. The world only has two resources shared among the world as a whole: the atmosphere and the ocean. The ocean up to 200 miles from a country’s shore is controlled by that country, but the high seas are the part of the ocean that is not owned by any one country.

On the high seas, all countries equally have the right to fish, ship and conduct research. Prior to the forming of this treaty, only 1.2% of the oceans were protected by legislature agreements, with the main focus of them being in regard to fishing, shipping and mining. Biodiversity concerns were an afterthought of theirs.

Due to the lack of ownership of the high seas, countries have been freely using them, and they are now severely overfished. Many marine species, such as dolphins, whales and sharks, regularly have long migratory patterns that have them moving in and out of national boundary waters and the high seas, and efforts to protect them have long been hampered. Sharks and rays, for example, have seen a 70% decline in the open waters since the 1970s.

The effects of climate change that we have been seeing on land have been greatly buffered by the oceans. The oceans have been absorbing excess carbon dioxide and excess heat that has been caused by the burning of fossil fuels for years, causing them to become hotter and more acidic as time has gone on.

The biggest issue with creating this treaty was wading through the mess of language that needed to be written to fully encompass everything that needed to happen and the majority of the concerns. It is creating an international framework focusing on preservation.

Countries were concerned with who would be deciding which areas should be preserved, as well as how environmental reviews will work when countries want to mine or drill in the open ocean. And an even bigger concern for them, if a discovery is made that could potentially change medicine – such as a cure for cancer – is who will profit.

Smaller and less developed countries also made the argument that they are not at fault for the oceans’ decline. They made the statement that they have not been the ones exploiting the oceans for decades and are now no longer able to experience similar benefits that other countries have.

The resolution of all of these worries was a long and difficult one for this convention, which was held in New York. The text has not been formally adopted by the countries of the world, but they have agreed not to reopen negotiations on it. The delegates decided that marine-protected areas of the high seas would be determined by a vote, not a unanimous consensus. This decision greatly benefits biodiversity preservation because then one country cannot create a block on moving forward to protect any areas.

But now with the new treaty drawn up after over 36 hours of negotiations, 30% of the ocean will now be considered protected. The full implementation of this is hoped to be completed by 2030.

Post Author: Erika Brock