UN reaches agreement to protect international waters – The Irish Times

It has taken almost two decades, but on Saturday night in New York, after days of grueling round-the-clock talks, UN member states finally agreed on a treaty to protect the high seas.

The historic treaty, which will cover nearly two-thirds of the ocean that lies outside national borders, will provide a legal framework for establishing extensive marine protected areas (MPAs) to protect against wildlife loss and share the genetic resources of the high seas. It will establish a Conference of the Parties (Cop) that will meet regularly and allow Member States to be held accountable on issues such as governance and biodiversity.

A full day after the negotiation deadline officially passed, Singaporean conference president Rena Lee stepped onto the floor of Room 2 of the UN headquarters in New York and announced that the treaty had been agreed. The fifth session of the conference will be suspended to allow for editing and translation of the text, she said. At a later date, delegates would meet for half a day to formally adopt the text. She made it clear that the text would not be reopened

“In Singapore we love to go on learning journeys and this was the learning journey of a lifetime,” Lee said.

She thanked the delegates for their dedication and commitment. “Success is yours too,” she told them. She received cheers and a standing ovation from the delegates in the room, who had stayed in the conference room for 48 hours and worked all night to “close the deal.”

The treaty is crucial to implementing the 30×30 pledge countries made at the UN Biodiversity Conference in December to protect a third of the sea (and land) by 2030. Without a treaty, this goal would fail as there would be no legal mechanism to set up MPAs on the high seas.

Marine ecosystems produce half of the oxygen we breathe, represent 95 percent of the planet’s biosphere, and sequester carbon dioxide as the world’s largest carbon sink. But until now, fragmented and loosely enforced regulations governing the high seas have made this area more vulnerable to exploitation than coastal waters.

Greenpeace policy adviser Veronica Frank said although the organization had not seen the latest text, “we are really happy. The world is so divided and it is so important that multilateralism is supported.”

“What’s really important now is to get that 30×30 goal into effect really quickly with this tool.”

The Pew Charitable Trust welcomed the “landmark international agreement”.

“Marine protected areas on the high seas can play a critical role in the impacts of climate change,” said Liz Karan, director of Pews’ ocean governance project. “Governments and civil society must now ensure that the agreement is adopted and quickly enters into force and is effectively implemented to protect biodiversity on the high seas.”

The High Ambition Coalition – which includes the EU, US, UK and China – was a key player in brokering the deal, building coalitions rather than sowing divisions and showing a willingness to compromise in the last few days of talks. The Global South led the way in ensuring that the treaty could be put into practice in a fair and just manner.

It is the third time in less than a year that member states have gathered at the United Nations headquarters in New York to negotiate a “final” deal.

The negotiations, which ran for two weeks from February 20, were the fifth round of talks after earlier negotiations ended without an agreement last August.

One of the major stumbling blocks separating developing and industrialized nations was the fair sharing of marine genetic resources (MGR) and the resulting profits. MGRs, composed of the genetic material of deep-sea sea sponges, krill, corals, algae and bacteria, are attracting increasing scientific and commercial attention for their potential use in medicines and cosmetics.

Other sticking points were the procedure for establishing marine protected areas and the model for environmental impact assessments of planned activities on the high seas.

In a move seen as an attempt to build trust between rich and poor countries, the European Union pledged €40 million in New York to facilitate the treaty’s ratification and early implementation.

Monica Medina, the US Assistant Secretary for Oceans, International Environment and Scientific Affairs, who attended the negotiations in New York, said: “We are leaving here the ability to create protected areas on the high seas and to meet the ambitious goal of 30 per percent of the ocean by 2030. And the time to start doing that is now.”

She said the US is pleased to have agreed on the key element of a high seas agreement that includes a strong, coordinated approach to establishing marine protected areas.

Rebecca Hubbard, Director of the High Seas Alliance, said: “After a two-week roller-coaster ride of negotiations and superhero efforts over the past 48 hours, governments have reached agreement on key issues that will propel the protection and better management of marine biodiversity at high Lake.” – Guardian

https://www.irishtimes.com/environment/2023/03/05/high-seas-treaty-un-reaches-agreement-to-protect-international-waters/ UN reaches agreement to protect international waters – The Irish Times

Dais Johnston

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