Current Affairs

UN High Seas Treaty, Nations Fail to Reach Deal

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  • Categories
    Science & Technology
  • Published
    30th Aug, 2022
  • Context

    Diplomats from around the world have failed to reach an agreement on a United Nations treaty designed to protect marine life on the high seas.It has been under discussion for several years.

  • Why is the need of a Treaty?

    • So far, there is no treaty for conserving the health of vast swathes of the earth’s oceans.
    • Without a new treatyonly less than 1% of the high seas are protected, and “pockets of marine protection are not enough” for threatened species.
    • So, a UN resolution in 2017 had decided to rectify this while setting 2022 as the deadline.
  • What is the proposed UN High Seas treaty?

    • On the basis of a UN resolution, atreaty was purposed to deal with Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ).
    • It would set rules for protecting biodiversity in two-thirds of the world's ocean areas that are outside of national jurisdictions.
      • It is also referred to as the ‘Paris Agreement for the Ocean’.
    • This new instrument is being developed within the framework of the UNCLOS, the main international agreement governing human activities at sea.
    • High Ambition Coalition on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction brings together many delegations engaged in the BBNJ negotiations on a common and ambitious outcome at the highest political level.
      • It has more than 100 countries including India, the US, and the UK, putting a focus on ‘30×30’ goals –protecting 30% of the ocean by 2030 and setting aside these areas as some marine sanctuary.
    • The proposed treaty concerns the ocean existing beyond the Exclusive Economic Zones that lie from the coast of a country to about 200 nautical miles or 370 km into the sea, till where it has special rights for exploration.
      • Waters beyond that are known as open seas or high seas.

    Some aspects of negotiations included:

    • Establishing marine protected areas to put limits on certain activities.
    • Environmental impact assessments or clearances for the sustainability of works.
    • Financial support to countries and sharing another scientific knowledge.
  • How are the world’s oceans regulated as of now?

    • The UNCLOS in tandem with other treaties regulates the conduct of actors on the high seas.
    • The UNCLOS led to the establishment of territorial sea boundaries 22 km (12miles) offshore, deciding the region up to which countries could claim full sovereign territorial rights, as well as the 200 nautical miles EEZ limit.
    • It also created the International Seabed Authority and other conflict-resolution mechanisms.
    • Unfortunately, a treaty dedicated to protecting ocean health does not exist as of now. This means that every country has the right to access open seas, resulting in large-scale drilling and trawling operations for catching fish and other animals for commercial purposes.

  • What are the risks of countries failing to reach an agreement?

    • According to NASA, about ninety percent of global warming is occurring in the ocean. The effects of ocean warming include sea level rise due to thermal expansion, coral bleaching,accelerated melting of Earth’s major ice sheets, intensified hurricanes, and changes in ocean health and biochemistry.
    • According to World Wildlife Fund excessive fishing has increased manifold over the years, and a third of species such as sharks and rays are at risk of extinction.

    Reason for Failure:

    • Despite realizing above mentioned threats, member nations have failed to agree on how to deal with these threats. There have been instances ofresistance from countries that engage in deep sea mining of minerals or are heavily invested in fishing.
    • Pacific islands and the Caribbean group had pushed to complete the agreement. But countries in the global north had only started working to reach compromises in the final days of negotiations
    • Officially the United States remained committed to the goal of protecting at least 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030 but has been blamed too slow to compromise.
    • Russia has also been a key blocker in negotiations, refusing to engage in the treaty process itself, or attempting to compromise with the European Union and many other states on a wide range of issues.

    Need of Legally Binding Instrument:

    • Areas beyond national jurisdiction comprise 95% of the ocean and provide invaluable ecological, economic, social, cultural, scientific, and food-security benefits to humanity.
    • However, these areas teeming with life are now vulnerable to growing threats, including pollution, overexploitation, and the impacts already visible of climate change.
    • The high seas are extremely biodiverse and have been exploited without even knowing their impacts.
    • In the Indian Ocean vents, 100% of mollusks are already listed as critically endangered. This shows the urgent need to protect them from extinction. Yet, the International Seabed Authority, a Jamaica-based intergovernmental body, is allowing deep sea mining contracts.
    • The International Union for Conservation of Nature has said that binding agreements are needed for this treaty to be effective.Time is running out and any further delay means ocean destruction. Discussions had been on and off for 15 years, but it’s disappointing that we have failed to reach a consensus.


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