Treaty Highlights: High Seas Agreements

The main points of the treaty on the high seas

The United Nations has signed a new international treaty to protect and regulate the exploitation of marine biodiversity in areas not belonging to any national jurisdiction. The treaty aims to conserve at least 30% of the world’s land and oceans by 2030 as currently, only 1% of international waters are protected. The treaty recognizes the importance of protecting the oceans which provide half of the oxygen we breathe and limit global warming by absorbing CO2 generated by human activities. The treaty also recognizes the need to “address, in a coherent and cooperative manner, the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ocean ecosystems” due to the impact of climate change on marine ecosystems. Once the treaty is ratified by a minimum of 60 countries, the Conference of the Parties (COP) will create specific marine areas in international waters to protect and care for marine biological resources as well as the subsoil. Marine sanctuaries located in fragile and important areas for endangered species are the most emblematic point of the future treaty.

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The treaty provides for the control of conservation measures by using satellites for monitoring. Each state and entity under its jurisdiction will be able to collect plants, animals, or microbes on high seas which provide genetic materials that can be used commercially. There is a principle of “fair and equitable” sharing of benefits so that developing countries are not deprived of their share of a pie that belongs to no one. The treaty also creates a mechanism to financially assist developing countries to implement the agreement. The modalities for sharing economic benefits will be decided by the COP. The treaty also provides for technology transfer and strengthens research capacity supporting traditional knowledge associated with marine genetic resources in international waters in the hands of indigenous peoples and local communities.

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The treaty creates the principle of the obligation to carry out studies on the environmental impact of the activities contemplated before receiving authorization. It urges countries to study the impact of their activities in waters under their jurisdiction which may contaminate or damage the marine environment.

In case of disputes, the parties will have to resolve them by “peaceful means” of their “own choice.” Technical disagreements may be resolved by a panel of experts established by the parties. This treaty is a significant step towards protecting the oceans and ensuring that developing countries benefit from marine genetic resources.


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