Fresh negotiations on UN High Seas Treaty begin in New York. Here’s what to expect

United Nations member nations failed to reach a consensus last year

By Rohini Krishnamurthy
Published: Tuesday 21 February 2023
Photo: iStock

A new round of negotiations on the much-awaited United Nations High Seas Treaty for conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) began in New York February 20, 2023.

The two-week meeting resumed after member nations failed to reach a consensus on the treaty at the fifth session of the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) on the BBNJ in August 2022.

At the opening ceremony, IGC President Rena Lee urged delegates to work together to reach the finishing line and to set aside the disappointment of having come “so tantalisingly close” to the agreement at the last session.

“With the accelerating climate and biodiversity crises, time is not a luxury we have to put ocean health back on track,” Sarah Bevis from the High Seas Alliance said in a statement.

“This time around, we need to seize the moment and get an ambitious treaty over the finish line, so we can roll up our sleeves and work on the crucial tasks of getting the treaty ratified and implemented,” she added.

The high seas are areas beyond the 200 nautical mile limit of the exclusive economic zones of coastal states.

Home to around 270,000 species, the high seas cover more than two-thirds of the global ocean, according to scientists. 

Over 1,550 marine animals and plants face a risk of extinction, with climate change impacting at least 41 per cent of threatened marine species, the International Union for Conservation of Nature stated. Only 1.44 per cent of the high seas are protected.

The legally binding treaty, if adopted, will safeguard global ocean health, climate resilience, socio-economic well-being and food security for millions of people.

On the first day of negotiations, member states discussed an important element under the treaty: The benefit sharing of marine genetic resources (MGRs). It includes marine plants, animals and microbes from areas beyond national jurisdiction.

The element aims to address the inequalities in sharing benefits from samples, basic and applied research results as well as monetary benefit sharing from MGRs.

Disagreements emerged during deliberations. A few countries reportedly suggested removing a reference to benefit-sharing contributing to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

They added that benefit-sharing should go beyond conservation and sustainable use. This was opposed by other nations, according to a report from the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

Some delegates underlined the need for fair, equitable agreement on benefit-sharing that is also implementable.

Discussions were also held on capacity building and technology transfer. One nation reportedly suggested including “financial and other” resources as types of capacity building. This, they said, could help developing countries, which require $14 billion to achieve the 30x30 goal adopted at the 15th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. It aims to conserve 30 per cent of the world’s land and ocean by 2030.

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