UN agreement to protect high seas hailed as landmark by experts

UN agreement to protect high seas hailed as landmark by experts
Ocean, photo: Canva

Environmental experts hailed the United Nations (UN) agreement to protect the high seas as a landmark move. The legally binding pact, called the Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) Treaty, was signed by 100 countries on Sunday.

The “BBNJ Treaty”, also known as the “Treaty of the High Seas”, is an international agreement on the protection and responsible use of marine biological diversity of oceans beyond national jurisdiction.

Ocean ecosystems create half the oxygen humans breathe and reduce global warming by absorbing much of the carbon dioxide produced by human activities. But currently, only about one percent of the high seas are protected, with pollution, oxidation, and overfishing posing a growing threat. 

The BBNJ agreement is the outcome of discussions that began in 2004 under the authority of the UN to improve the international legal framework to protect the high seas.

The agreement is an important part of international efforts to bring 30% of the world’s land and sea under protection by 2030, a target known as “30 by 30“.

Environmental groups say the new treaty will help reduce marine biodiversity losses and contribute to sustainable development.

“I mean, this is huge. This is really, I think, a keystone agreement if we’re going to try and protect thirty percent of the ocean,” Nichola Clark, an ocean expert specializing in the high seas at the Pew Charitable Trusts, said. “If we do have a goal of protecting 30 percent of the ocean, the high seas need to be part of that solution.”

“Before, we didn’t really have a clear pathway of protecting these areas, these international waters, at least not at not in a sort of fully protected, marine protected area or marine reserve. But now that’s what this new treaty does, is it gives us that opportunity, it gives us the legal framework that we can use to establish protected areas in the high seas,” she added.

The agreement establishes a new international body that can create marine protected areas in the high seas. Environmental group Greenpeace says 11 million square km of ocean must be protected annually until 2030 to meet the “30 by 30” target. 

Some experts said that the agreement does not specify how the conservation measures will be monitored and enforced over these huge parts of the ocean but added that satellites could be used to spot violations.


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