Protection of the high seas: UN treaty open for signature

It has long been one of the great forgotten of the environmental fight. The high seas, this area that is not within any maritime boundary, and therefore under the jurisdiction of any state, is finally protected by a treaty negotiated at the UN and adopted last June. And as world leaders gather for the United Nations General Assembly, 70 countries scrambled to sign the historic treaty.

Protection of the high seas: the UN treaty is open for signature (illustration: blue whale surfacing to breathe). © NOAA/Handout via Reuters

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After two decades of talks – they began in 2004 – the 193 Member States of the United Nations (UN) adopted, on 19 June 2023, the agreement on the International Treaty on the Protection of the High Seas, intended to "ensure the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in international waters". These are waters outside the sovereign zones and exclusive economic zones of coastal States, therefore not under national jurisdiction, are also referred to as high seas or international waters.

The importance of this treaty for the high seas, adopted last June, is compared by UN diplomats to the Montreal Treaty that bans products harmful to the ozone layer, and has allowed it to repair itself over time.

The stakes here are high because the high seas are nearly half of the planet, and 60% of the oceans - yet only 1% of its surface is protected by conservation measures... The rest is threatened by climate change, pollution and overfishing, says our correspondent in New York, Carrie Nooten.

" READ ALSO The agreement at the UN on the protection of the high seas "aims to address several legal loopholes"

However, the ocean provides half of the oxygen we breathe and limits global warming by absorbing some of the CO2 created by human activities!

The new treaty provides for more marine protected areas, and requires actors who will carry out activities on the high seas - whether fishing, maritime transport, seafloor mining - to carry out an environmental impact assessment beforehand. Finally, this treaty should enable states to meet their objective adopted at COP15 on biodiversity, to protect by 2030 some 30% of the world's land and oceans.

See alsoTreaty for the protection of the high seas: the challenges for Africa

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  • UN
  • Agriculture and Fisheries
  • Environment
  • Oceans