After years of discussion, the legally binding pact to conserve and ensure the sustainable use of ocean biodiversity, was finally agreed on Saturday night in New York followed by 38 hours of talks.The negotiations had been held up for years over disagreements on funding and fishing rights.
One of the focal points of tensions was sharing of potential benefits of newly discovered marine resources, which was finally overcome after the scheduled talk supposed to end on Friday overran by a day.
The conference president, Rena Lee of Singapore, took to the floor of room 2 of the UN headquarters in New York to announce that the treaty has been agreed and the delegates will be meeting at a later date to formally adopt the text.
Notably, the international agreement on ocean protection was last signed 40 years ago in the year 1982 under which an area called the high seas was established. It includes international waters where all countries are permitted to fish, ship and do research but only 1.2% of these waters are protected.
The high seas start at the border of countries’ exclusive economic zones extending up to 370 km (200 nautical miles) from coastlines. After that point, the seas fall under the jurisdiction of no country. Marine life residing outside of these protected areas have been prone to climate change, overfishing and shipping traffic.
Nearly 10% of Marine species were found to be at risk of extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The new protected areas, established in the treaty, will limit the practice of fishing, the routes of shipping lanes and exploration activities like deep sea mining which is the process of taking out minerals from a sea bed 200m or more below the surface.
The historic treaty is pivotal for implementing the 30×30 pledge made by countries at the UN biodiversity conference in December for the protection of a third of the sea (and land) by 2030. Without a treaty this target cannot be achieved because as of now no legal mechanism existed to set up MPAs on the high seas. The treaty will also bind countries to conduct environmental impact assessments of proposed activities on the high seas.
Covering almost two-thirds of the ocean that lies outside national boundaries, the treaty will be extending a legal framework for setting up vast marine protected areas (MPAs) for the conservation of wildlife and share the genetic resources of the high seas. It will also organize a conference of the parties (Cop) for periodically conducting meetings and allow member states to be accountable on issues such as governance and biodiversity.