Negotiations involving 168 countries, including the European Union, to agree on a UN treaty for protecting oceans failed. The latest round of talks was going on in New York. After the latest deadlock, talks will only resume next year, unless a special session is called.
- There is no treaty for conserving the health of vast swathes of the earth’s oceans known as high seas.
- Hence, a UN resolution in 2017 had decided to address this issue while setting 2022 as the deadline.
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.
- Water beyond 200 nautical miles from the coast of a country is known as high sea.
- 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.
The proposed UN High Seas treaty –
- Also referred to as the ‘Paris Agreement for the Ocean’, the treaty to deal with Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction has been under discussion for several years.
- The proposed treaty concerns the ocean existing beyond the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) that lie from the coast of a country to about 200 nautical miles into the sea (Countries have special rights for exploration till 200 nautical miles).
- The treaty was to be negotiated under the United Nations Convention on Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS) of 1982.
Key features –
- Includes various aspects of marine conservation —
- Some aspects of negotiations included —
- establishing marine protected areas to put limits on certain activities,
- environmental impact assessments or clearances for sustainability of works,
- financial support to countries and
- sharing other scientific knowledge.
- Rights of companies engaged in exploration activities in the high seas —
- A key aspect of the agreement is deciding on the rights of companies that undertake exploration for biological resources in the high seas.
Challenges faced by the proposed treaty –
- The pandemic resulted in many delays and the negotiations were not held on many issues.
- A High Ambition Coalition came about and put the focus on ‘30×30’ goals – protecting 30% of the ocean by 2030.
- The coalition has more than 100 countries including India, US, and UK.
- This coalition is creating pressure on the leaders to include these goals in any treaty concerning with the conservation of high seas.
- The negotiating parties have not agreed on the legal nature of this treaty.
- Many institutions, such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature, are demanding this treaty to be legally binding in order to become more effective.
- Some countries in the Caribbean alleged that richer countries of the Global North did not actively participate until the last few days of the talks.
- Also, the treaty is facing resistance from countries that engage in deep sea mining of minerals or are heavily invested in fishing.
How are the world’s oceans regulated as of now?
- Some treaties, along with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), regulate the conduct of actors on the high seas.
- UNCLOS 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.
- It also created the International Seabed Authority and other conflict-resolution mechanisms.
- But a treaty dedicated to protecting ocean health does not exist as of now.
Why we need such treaty?
- Currently, every country has the right to access open seas and there is no treaty specifically dedicated to protecting the ocean health.
- This has resulted in large-scale drilling and trawling operations for catching fish and other animals for commercial purposes.
- In June 2022, UN Secretary-General had declared an ocean emergency at the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal, citing threats to the world’s oceans.
- 90% per cent of global warming is occurring in the ocean, according to the NASA website.
- The effects of ocean warming include sea level rise due to thermal expansion, coral bleaching, accelerated melting of Earth’s major ice sheets, intensified hurricanes, and changes in ocean health and biochemistry.
- Excessive fishing has increased manifold over the years, and a third of species such as sharks and rays are at the risk of extinction, according to the World Wildlife Fund.