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UN Adopts High Seas Treaty 

UN Adopts High Seas Treaty

High Seas Treaty
High Seas Treaty

In News: High Seas Treaty

  • The United Nations has adopted the first-ever international treaty to govern the high seas and protect remote ecosystems vital to humanity.
  • The pact that will establish a legal framework to extend environmental protections to international waters, known as the high seas.
  • It will be opened for signatures on September 20, during the annual meeting of world leaders at the UN General Assembly.
    o The treaty will take effect once it is ratified by 60 countries.

What Are High Seas?

  • The high seas are the parts of the ocean that are not included in the exclusive economic zones(EEZ), 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.

Need For UN High Seas Treaty

  • Ocean and Biodiversity
    • The high seas comprise 64% of the ocean surface, and about 43% of the Earth.
    • These areas are home to about 2.2 million marine species and up to a trillion different kinds of microorganisms.
  • Ocean and Global Climate
    • Oceans are an integral part of the global climate cycle, and perform a range of ecological services including absorption of carbon dioxide and excess heat.
    • Hence, this treaty is being considered as a landmark in the efforts to keep the planet habitable.
  • Unregulated Human Activities
    • Climate change is already influencing, and is being influenced by, ocean systems, and is exacerbating the pressures on marine biodiversity from unregulated human activities.
    • It is these specific challenges — a combination of climate change, biodiversity, and pollution — that the High Seas Treaty seeks to address.
  • UNCLOS and concerns regarding the biodiversity
    • Though UNCLOS asks countries to protect the ocean ecology and conserve its resources, it does not provide the specific mechanisms or processes to do so.
      • UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is an international treaty that establishes a framework for the use and management of the world’s oceans and their resources. It was adopted by the UN in 1982 and came into force in 1994.
    • Hence, it is believed that the High Seas Treaty will work as an implementation agreement under the UNCLOS.
      • This is similar to the Paris Agreement working under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

UN High Seas Treaty

  • Agreed under the UNCLOS, this treaty is commonly known as the agreement on biodiversity beyond national jurisdictions (BBNJ).
  • This treaty is the first international law to offer some protection to the nearly two-thirds of the ocean that is beyond national control.
  • This treaty will be legally binding in nature.

Key Provisions Of The UN High Seas Treaty
  • Demarcation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)
    • MPAs are where ocean systems, including biodiversity, are under stress, either due to human activities or climate change.
      • These can be called the national parks or wildlife reserves of the oceans.
    • Activities in these areas will be highly regulated, and conservation efforts similar to what happens in forest or wildlife zones, will be undertaken.
    • Only about 1.44% of high seas are currently protected, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
    • In December 2022, at the meeting of the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) in Montreal, Canada, countries had agreed to put at least 30% of degraded coastal and marine ecosystems under effective restoration by 2030.
      • MPAs will be helpful in achieving this objective.
  • Sustainable use of marine genetic resources and equitable sharing of benefits arising from them
    • Genetic information from marine organisms is already being extracted, and their benefits are being investigated.
    • The treaty seeks to ensure that any benefits arising out of such efforts, including monetary gains, are free from strong intellectual property rights controls, and are equitably shared amongst all.
    • The knowledge generated from such expeditions are also supposed to remain openly accessible to all.
  • Initiation of the practice of environmental impact assessments for all major activities in the oceans
    • Under the new treaty, commercial or other activities that can have significant impact on the marine ecosystem would require an environmental impact assessment to be done.
    • The results of this exercise have to be shared with the international community.
  • Capacity building and technology transfer
    • This will help small island states and landlocked nations, who do not have the resources or the expertise, to meaningfully participate in the conservation efforts.
  • Creation of New body
    • The treaty will create a new body to manage conservation of ocean life and establish marine protected areas in the high seas.

Challenges for UN High Seas Treaty
  • Many issues remain unaddressed
    • Many issues remain unaddressed, including the mechanisms for policing the protected areas, the fate of the projects that are assessed to be heavily polluting, and the resolution of disputes.
  • Ratification is not expected to be easy.
    • The process of ratification is not expected to be easy.
    • It took UNCLOS 12 years to become international law because the necessary number of ratifications was not reached.
  • Provisions of this treaty do not overrule regulations laid down by the authorities that oversee existing high seas activities.
    • Authorities overseeing high seas activities include:
      • International Maritime Organization, which is responsible for shipping;
      • International Seabed Authority, which oversees deep-sea mining;
      • 17 regional fisheries management organizations tasked with regulating fisheries in various parts of the ocean, including Antarctica.
  • Military activities and existing fishing and commercial shipping are, in fact, exempt from the treaty.

Hence, the treaty cannot create protected areas in places already covered by fishing agreements, even if that fishing is unsustainable and depleting stocks.

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