Attempts are being made to protect two-thirds of the world’s oceans. The so-called ocean treaty would deal with all seas beyond the territorial borders of the countries. Currently, this area – almost half the surface of the earth – is governed by a patchwork of international laws and treaties that have so far failed to protect marine biodiversity.
The latest round of negotiations in New York last month failed to produce an agreement, but organizations like The Nature Conservancy are still hoping an agreement can be reached by the end of the year. Andreas Hansen is Senior Policy Advisor for Conservation Finance at The Nature Conservancy.
HANSA: The intention of the treaty is to create a global framework that can ensure the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction – ie where no single state has sole jurisdiction.
At the moment there is a patchwork of governance mechanisms, some sectoral, some geographical, but none that is global and comprehensive with the power to establish, for example, marine protected areas (MPAs) on the high seas on a global scale. That’s what this treaty is trying to do.
We’re talking about a huge chunk of the Earth’s surface – that’s about half the surface of our planet – so getting this deal off the ground will be crucial.
half of the earth’s surface
Discussions at the United Nations began as early as 2006, when the first meeting of the working group was established. Then in 2016 the talks moved on to the preparatory committee meetings and now we are at the Intergovernmental Conference stage. We’ve had five of them so far, two this year alone. And both were supposed to be final intergovernmental conferences that would finally reach consensus and agree to the treaty. But unfortunately the countries could not agree to the treaty at this last fifth intergovernmental conference, which we have just finished.
A good outcome would be really clear standards for dealing with marine genetic resources extracted from areas beyond national jurisdiction. For example, the DNA of a specific marine species can be used to develop specific products such as medicines or food.
EDGE: So what’s the next level?
HANSA: The Nature Conservancy, as part of a coalition of NGOs called the High Seas Alliance, is calling for these negotiations to be completed before the end of 2022 as we have no time to waste. There is a group of countries that created one Coalition with high ambitions for the high seas and are committed to completing that treaty later this year, and we urge you to live up to that promise.
The recent meeting in NYC was by no means a total failure – progress has been made in a number of areas – so we remain hopeful that we will see a brief additional series of negotiations that will bring the treaty to the finish line before it expires calendar year.
Impact on the private sector
EDGE: What impact does the deal have on businesses – would it impact supply chains or trade routes or the way they navigate the high seas?
HANSA: The potential of the “Blue Economy” is enormous for companies. The High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy chaired by Norway and Palau, issued a report not long ago, which showed that the blue economy could potentially generate up to $2.5 trillion worth of goods and services annually, sustainably given effective governance.
One thing that this deal will hopefully do – if agreed – is to protect the ocean so that it will continue to be able to provide these services and these goods, which in turn would enable companies to continue using the ocean’s resources way to use sustainably.
Standardized impact assessments
A goal of the NGO community is for the treaty to have the power to set global minimum standards and guidelines for environmental impact assessments. And hopefully that will lead to more coherence and alignment between the different frameworks that govern the activities of companies and states on the high seas.
It’s a good thing to have alignment and consistency so organizations don’t have to consider many different policies and standards. And similarly, for marine genetic resources, a good outcome would be really clear standards for dealing with marine genetic resources extracted from areas beyond national jurisdiction. For example, the DNA of a specific marine species can be used to develop specific products such as medicines or food.
Without the tools to protect the high seas, the global community will be unable to effectively combat climate change, nor to meet the goals currently being negotiated for the forthcoming UN Biodiversity Conference CBD-COP15, which meets in Montreal this December. to negotiate the new 10-year Global Biodiversity Framework.
In terms of addressing the existential risks these two crises pose to all life on earth, this treaty is an essential tool. We encourage companies to join governments and NGOs in rallying behind calls for a strong and ambitious Deep Seas Agreement to be finalized as soon as possible.