A delegation from India and other member countries of the United Nations are in New York to deliberate on a one-of-its-kind agreement to conserve marine biodiversity in the high seas. High seas are the oceans that extend beyond countries’ territorial waters.
- The agreement is expected to be the final in a series set in motion since 2018 to draft an international legally binding instrument under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
- A key aspect of the agreement is deciding on the rights of companies that undertake exploration for biological resources in the high seas.
What are the ‘high seas’?
- The high seas are the parts of the ocean that are not included in the exclusive economic zones, territorial sea or internal waters of a State.
- High seas are the areas of the ocean for which no one nation has sole responsibility for management.
- Geographically, the ocean constitutes approximately two-thirds of the planet and the high seas comprise 64 percent of its surface and nearly 95 percent of the ocean’s volume.
Need for an Ocean Diversity Pact –
- Because these areas are largely far from coastlines, the myriad human activities — and corresponding impacts on marine life in those areas — are extremely challenging to monitor and control.
- The marine ecosystems in these areas are subject to negative impacts from human activities in many sectors — from shipping to marine pollution to overfishing and potentially to deep seabed mining, as well as impacts from climate change.
- All of these get compounded by lack of oversight and comprehensive and coherent governance.
- This lack of monitoring and surveillance means human rights violations are abundant in the open ocean.
- There is no single global mechanism to establish Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) outside States’ territorial seas or uniform requirements for undertaking environmental impact assessments.
About the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) –
- The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, also called the Law of the Sea Convention, is an international agreement that was adopted in 1982 to establish jurisdictional limits over the ocean areas.
- It defines the rights and responsibilities of nations with respect to their use of the world’s oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources.
- It defines distance of 12 nautical miles (approx. 22 km) from the baseline as Territorial Sea limit and a distance of 200 nautical miles distance as Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) limit.
- Exclusive Economic Zone is an area of the sea in which a sovereign state has special rights regarding the exploration and use of marine resources, including energy production from water and wind.
- India became a signatory to the UNCLOS in 1982.
Why the need for a separate ocean biodiversity agreement when UNCLOS is already in place?
- Despite its benefits, UNCLOS contains unforeseen gaps in international governance.
- It lacks specific requirements that are needed to ensure effective implementation of its obligations to protect the marine environment and its resources.
- Hence, a separate, internationally binding, agreement to conserve marine biodiversity in the high seas is required.