Governments Start Formal Talks on High Seas Treaty

whale shark high seas

Meetings in New York and London lay groundwork to protect vast ocean areas beyond national jurisdiction, areas known as the ‘high seas’, reports this article from The Pew Trusts.

After more than 10 years of debate and discussion, the United Nations is meeting in September 2018 to launch an intergovernmental conference to negotiate a treaty on global protections for critical marine biodiversity on the high seas. In late December 2017, in a landmark moment for the oceans, U.N. member governments agreed by consensus to move forward with four negotiating sessions by mid-2020.

The high seas comprise nearly two-thirds of the world’s oceans and include regions that harbor a fascinating diversity of life on which numerous species rely, including whales, sharks, and tuna that migrate across these waters beyond national jurisdiction. Certain activities, especially deep-water fishing and seabed mining, could damage or destroy sensitive habitats.

While a variety of mechanisms—including regional fisheries management organizations and other bodies—exist to oversee such activities, huge gaps remain in conservation management of the high seas.

April 2017’s organisational meeting helped to chart a course for negotiations on the substantive issues that are scheduled to start in September 2018. Setting a solid foundation for the talks would go a long way toward helping delegates finalize the treaty by 2020.

53 Commonwealth governments

In another gathering with implications for high seas conservation, the 53 member countries of the Commonwealth met in April 2017 in London for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, where they discussed sustainability, resilience, and environmental protection.

These countries are home to one-third of the world’s population, so their leaders can have a profound impact on global conservation policies. The 53 members include nations that are surrounded or bordered by the ocean—making marine protections vital to their economies and cultures.

When they met, the leaders adopted the Commonwealth Blue Charter, a multifaceted plan to reverse the decline of ocean health, following through on a commitment made at the U.N. Ocean Conference last June. The Pew Charitable Trusts encourages them to further send a strong message to the rest of the world that more than a quarter of the nations on Earth already agree that high seas protection must begin.

Such support is critical to successful negotiations of the high seas treaty. With ocean resources under threat from numerous fronts, a lot is at stake. Securing high seas protections would carry hope for the future of marine biodiversity and the wide variety of life that depends on it.

This article was originally posted as Governments Start Formal Talks on High Seas Treaty by The Pew Trusts.

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