International community reaches agreement on global High Seas Treaty
On Saturday evening during an intergovernmental conference in New York, the international community successfully concluded negotiations on a new ocean protection agreement. After a gruelling 36-hour marathon session at the end of the negotiations, delegates were at last able to finalise the text of the agreement that has been almost 20 years in the making. Germany and the EU pushed for an ambitious treaty. For the first time, binding rules governing the high seas will be possible; marine protected areas, environmental impact assessments and other measures will in future ensure better protection of endangered species and habitats. Once the treaty has been translated into the six official UN languages, the intergovernmental conference will formally adopt the treaty in a resumed session.
Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke remarked: “This is a historic and tremendous success for international marine protection. I am deeply moved. For the first time, we will have a binding agreement on the high seas, which up to now were poorly protected. Comprehensive protection of endangered species and habitats will now finally be possible on over 40 percent of the Earth's surface. With this, we can also build on the successful UN Biodiversity Conference in Montreal, which set the goal of protecting at least 30 percent of the world’s land and ocean by 2030. It is important now that we take action quickly. Germany will push forward implementation of this important agreement. The ocean is a powerful ally for us in the fight against the climate and biodiversity crises. By protecting the ocean, we are also protecting people.”
The high seas, marine areas beyond national jurisdiction, make up around two thirds of the world’s ocean and seas. Their protection up to now has been full of gaps. Pollution and overexploitation, for instance through overfishing and shipping, are putting the ocean under increasing pressure. Another growing problem is plastic waste and the climate crisis. Marine protected areas are an important tool for creating rest areas for endangered species and preserving habitats. The new agreement provides the option to establish marine protected areas (MPAs) on the high seas and thus makes a substantial contribution towards achieving the global target of protecting 30 percent of the world’s ocean by 2030, which was set at the UN Biodiversity Conference in Montreal last December.
“The agreement now has to be implemented swiftly. We need the ocean as an ally in the fight against the climate and biodiversity crises,” said Sebastian Unger, Federal Government Commissioner for the Ocean, who took part in the negotiations in New York together with the German delegation.
In addition to possibilities for establishing marine protected areas, the new agreement will also lay down rules for environmental impact assessments intended to prevent adverse impacts caused by new activities in the seas. Access to and the use of marine genetic resources will be newly regulated and benefit-sharing for developing countries introduced. At the same time, countries of the Global South will be supported in implementing the agreement through new financing instruments and capacity building.
Alongside Germany and the EU, Pacific island states and other state groups of the Global South were especially committed to a high level of ambition. Together with other EU member states and the European Commission, Germany will support the countries of the Global South in implementing the High Seas Treaty.
The high seas refers to areas beyond territorial waters and the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), in other words, areas beyond national jurisdiction. The new UN High Seas Treaty establishes, for the first time, uniform environmental rules for the high seas under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Official intergovernmental negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations (UN) on the UN High Seas Treaty have been running since 2018. The agreement lays down rules on area-based protection measures, including marine protected areas, on environmental impact assessments for certain human activities on the high seas, the use of marine genetic resources, for instance for medication, as well as on capacity-building and technology transfer. The success of the negotiations was uncertain at the start of the round of negotiations, as there were a lot of conflicting interests. The UN High Seas Treaty must now be ratified by 60 states in order to enter into force.