The member states of the United Nations (UN) officially adopted the first treaty to protect the high seas and the good health of the oceans on 19th June in a meeting in New York.
Last March, after tough and intense negotiations, all the details of the pact were agreed upon, and its adoption was postponed until Monday. The text is now finally legally adopted, having been reviewed by legal services and translated into the six official languages of the UN. Over the next few months, UN member countries will sign and ratify the high seas treaty, which requires the ratification of at least 60 member states.
Why are the oceans important?
The oceans are vast bodies of saltwater that cover over 70 % of the Earth’s surface, housing 97 % of the water on our planet. There are five oceans on Earth that span the entire globe: the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Arctic, and Antarctic.
These five oceans harbor millions of animal and plant species that are threatened by marine pollution. Humans have turned these aquatic ecosystems into true dumping grounds, thereby causing ocean pollution.
Until the 1970s, humans held a mistaken popular belief. Due to the large amounts of water in the oceans, we thought that they had the ability to dilute all the pollutants we dumped into the sea without any consequences for these aquatic environments, hoping that they would disappear into the depths of these vast bodies of water.
Objective 14 of the Sustainable Development Goals, established in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly, states the following regarding the oceans:
“GOAL 14: CONSERVE AND SUSTAINABLY USE THE OCEANS, SEAS, AND MARINE RESOURCES.”
Treaty to protect the high seas and the good health of the oceans
The high seas – waters located more than 200 nautical miles from the coast – are those areas of the oceans that do not belong to any country. They begin where the exclusive economic zones of states end. They lie beyond the borders of any nation, being the common heritage of humanity. Therefore, they are not under the jurisdiction of any state.
Covering nearly 50 % of the planet, the high seas generate almost half of the oxygen we humans breathe. Their waters provide habitat for millions of species. Prior to the adoption of the treaty to protect the high seas, as they did not belong to any country, pollution, navigation, overfishing, and other activities were significantly affecting these waters.
The High Seas Treaty is vital for implementing the Global Biodiversity Framework. It represents the first global treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in the high seas. It holds countries responsible for protecting and conserving at least 30 % of the oceans. Additionally, it aims to ensure the restoration of 30 % of degraded areas by 2030.
António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), warned that the High Seas Treaty is essential in combating the threats facing the Earth – climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss.