BY Ryan Swift on 8 Mar 2023

On March 5, the UN signed a treaty that protects marine biodiversity. The agreement, 15 years in the making, was praised by conservationists

On March 5, the UN agreed on a new “High Seas Treaty”, which will be a legal framework that puts 30% of the world’s oceans into marine protected areas, puts more money into marine conservation, and covers access to and use of marine genetic resources.

The agreement was reached after 15 years of negotiations on a framework to protect marine biodiversity. A major issue in ocean and marine conservation is that most of the high seas are beyond any national jurisdiction, making enforcement of fishing laws nearly impossible. Fishing rights and funding issues have been the major sticking points over the years, the BBC reported.

The Swedish Presidency of the Council of the European Union has led the negotiations on behalf of the EU and its member states together with the European Commission. Sweden said the agreement will establish rules to limit environmental impacts and marine protected areas beyond national jurisdiction, which make up 95 per cent of the volume of the world’s oceans.

The new agreement builds on a deal struck in Montreal, Canada, last December, which set the target of “30 by 30” – 30% of the world’s oceans protected by 2030.

Read: Interview with Sea Shepherd Founder Captain Paul Watson

“This treaty is a momentous achievement: Without it, countries would have no clear pathway to establishing meaningful protections for the high seas, which make up two-thirds of the global ocean and cover nearly half the surface of our planet,” said Liz Karan, director of Pew’s ocean governance project, in a statement.

“With only 1% of the high seas currently protected, the treaty will be instrumental in providing the legal basis for nations to fulfil the 30 by 30 target,” Karan said. She added that a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) is critical to making the 30 by 30 target work, because of the biodiversity that MPAs have. “Governments and civil society must now ensure that the agreement is adopted and is effectively implemented to safeguard high seas biodiversity.”

Read: How the Seychelles became the poster child for marine conservation

The European Commission said in a statement that for the first time ever, the treaty will require assessing the impact of economic activities on high seas biodiversity. It said that developing countries will be “supported in their participation in and implementation of the new treaty by a strong capacity-building and marine technology transfer component”, funded from a variety of public and private sources and by an equitable mechanism for sharing the potential benefits of marine genetic resources.

Reuters reported that the agreement on sharing the benefits of “marine genetic resources” used in industries like biotechnology remained contentious until the end, delaying negotiations.

“Countries must formally adopt the treaty and ratify it as quickly as possible to bring it into force, and then deliver the fully protected ocean sanctuaries our planet needs,” Reuters quoted Laura Meller, a Greenpeace oceans campaigner, as saying. “The clock is still ticking to deliver 30 by 30. We have half a decade left, and we can’t be complacent.”