At the first ever high level UN Ocean Conference in New York (June 5 – 9), nations will gather to discuss how they can turn the tide on ocean degradation. This occurs just a matter of weeks before States convene at the UN to determine the fate of the high seas and marine protection groups say the two cannot be disconnected.
Although the high seas (the area beyond the national jurisdiction of any country) make up two thirds of the global ocean, there is no overarching legal framework or rules in place to protect and manage these global commons and its unique and critically endangered biodiversity.
In June 2015, following a decade of discussions at the United Nations, governments agreed to start negotiations towards the development of a new legally binding treaty to protect and conserve marine life in the high seas. This two-year process reaches its conclusion next month when governments enter their final round of discussions. The final two-week meeting of the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) will culminate in a decision whether to enter into formal treaty negotiations and to address this major loophole in ocean governance. The PrepCom runs from July 10th to 21st at UN Headquarters in New York City.
“With the Ocean Conference taking place just one month before UN high seas meeting, it can send a clear signal that this new marine biodiversity treaty is urgently needed”
Peggy Kalas of the High Seas Alliance says: “The high seas are the heart of the whole ocean and critical to all its functions including the health of coastal waters. Until we close this huge gap in ocean governance and enable the international areas of the ocean to be protected, the ambitions of the Ocean Conference and SDG14 will be undermined. It’s time for a Paris Agreement for the ocean which protects the rich biodiversity of the high seas.”
The outcomes of the Ocean Conference will not be binding but States will adopt a “Call to Action” declaration which includes a series of voluntary commitments. With the Ocean Conference taking place just one month before UN high seas meeting, it can send a clear signal that this new marine biodiversity treaty is urgently needed and that the negotiation process should begin in 2018 with the convening of an Intergovernmental Conference.
While the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is considered to be the “constitution” of the ocean, it was negotiated more than 30 years ago and did not address marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, leaving nearly two-thirds of the global ocean – half the planet — largely unprotected.
The ocean is the largest biosphere on earth and a central component of the climate system; comprising approximately 70% of the ocean, the high seas provides ecosystem services that are critical to coastal areas and the planet as a whole.