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UN members adopt first-ever Treaty to Protect Marine Life in the High Seas

Newyork, June 20:  The United Nations (UN) adopted a landmark international treaty to govern the high seas and protect marine life in high seas on Monday, after nearly two decades of intense negotiations.

The “Treaty of the High Seas” earlier known as the “Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction Treaty,” received unanimous approval from delegates from 193 member nations of the United Nations.

The treaty hailed as a significant step towards combating climate change and preserving marine biodiversity, establishes a comprehensive framework for environmental protections in international waters, which account for over 60% of the Earth’s surface.

It marks the first-ever legally binding global agreement of its kind and grants the ocean “a fighting chance,” according to the UN’s Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Oceans play a crucial role in sustaining life on Earth, generating most of the oxygen we breathe and absorbing substantial amounts of carbon dioxide.

However, a mere 1.2% of the world’s ocean areas are currently protected, underscoring the urgent need for enhanced conservation efforts.

Efforts to create a treaty addressing biodiversity in the high seas began in 1994, but progress was persistently hindered until March 2023 when delegates established an intergovernmental conference to address the matter.

During an intergovernmental conference convened by the U.N. General Assembly, delegates reached a consensus on a treaty, subsequently subjecting it to legal examination.

The forthcoming treaty will be available for signing on September 20, coinciding with the annual gathering of world leaders at the General Assembly. Its enforcement will come into effect upon ratification by 60 countries.

Once ratified, this treaty will create a “new body” responsible for managing the conservation of ocean life and establishing “marine protected areas” in the high seas. Moreover, the treaty also sets guidelines for conducting environmental impact assessments for commercial activities in the oceans.

Another significant aspect of the treaty is it establishes principles to share “marine genetic resources” discovered by scientists in international waters.

Developing countries, in particular, emphasized the need to prevent rich nations from solely controlling the benefits derived from such discoveries, including potentially lucrative ingredients for medicine and cosmetics.

Secretary-General Guterres told delegates that “the adoption of the treaty comes at a critical time, with the oceans under threat on many fronts”.

Climate change is disrupting weather patterns, ocean currents, and marine ecosystems while overfishing, over-exploitation, and ocean acidification further endanger marine biodiversity. Additionally, pollution from chemicals, plastics, and human waste continues to afflict coastal waters.

The Group of 77 and the Alliance of Small Island States, who tirelessly championed this treaty for two decades, lauded its adoption for the far-reaching implications it will have on livelihoods, cultures, and economies.

The adoption of the high seas treaty follows a separate historic accord reached in Montreal in December, which commits world governments to protect 30% of crucial land and water areas for biodiversity preservation by 2030, known as “30 by 30”.

The international community has praised this substantial step towards mitigating and combatting climate change, demonstrating a commitment to safeguarding marine life and ensuring the long-term sustainability of our planet’s oceans.

Recognizing the treaty’s significance, Secretary-general urged all countries to “spare no efforts to ensure that it is signed and ratified as soon as possible”.

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