The Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) congratulating its President, Ambassador Rena Lee
‘Historic’ deal to protect high seas agreed by UN member states
Monday, March 06, 2023, 02:00 (GMT + 9)
UNITED NATIONS: UN member states finally agreed on Saturday (Mar 4), following years of talks, to a text on the first international treaty to protect the high seas, a fragile and vital treasure that covers nearly half the planet.
"The ship has reached the shore," conference chair Rena Lee announced at the UN headquarters in New York shortly before 9.30pm local time, to applause from delegates.
Mrs Lee is also Singapore’s Ambassador for Oceans and Law of the Sea Issues and Special Envoy of the Minister for Foreign Affairs (MFA).
The Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) congratulating its President, Ambassador Rena Lee, on the successful conclusion of the BBNJ treaty. (Photo Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore)
After more than 15 years of discussions, including four years of formal talks, the third so-called final negotiating session in less than a year heralded the long-awaited consensus.
The treaty is seen as essential to conserving 30 per cent of the world's land and ocean by 2030, as agreed by world governments in a historic accord signed in Montreal in December.
The exact wording of the text was not immediately released but activists hailed it as a breakthrough moment for the protection of biodiversity.
"This is a historic day for conservation and a sign that in a divided world, protecting nature and people can triumph over geopolitics," said Greenpeace's Laura Meller.
Following two weeks of intense talks at the United Nations headquarters in New York, including a marathon overnight session Friday into Saturday, delegates finalised a text that cannot be significantly altered.
"There will be no reopening or discussions of substance,"Mrs Lee told negotiators.
An MFA spokesperson said Singapore welcomes the "successful and timely" conclusion of the agreement and that it looks forward to its universal adoption and effective implementation.
It also comes just after the 40th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1982 under another Singaporean President, Ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh, said the spokesperson.
At the UN headquarters, Mrs Lee thanked delegates who had been in the conference hall for 48 hours and had worked through the night.“The success is also yours,” she told them, to cheers and a standing ovation.“In Singapore, we like to go on learning journeys and this has been the learning journey of a lifetime.”
"The conclusion of this agreement represents a strong affirmation that when nations come together, there is so much more that we can achieve collectively for the betterment of our world,"said Mrs Lee, in comments issued via MFA on Sunday evening.
"I am privileged to have played a small part in these global efforts."
THE HIGH SEAS
The agreement will be formally adopted at a later date once it has been vetted by lawyers and translated into the United Nations' six official languages, Mrs Lee announced.
The high seas begin at the border of countries' exclusive economic zones, which extend up to 370km from coastlines (200 miles). They thus fall under the jurisdiction of no country.
Even though the high seas comprise more than 60 per cent of the world's oceans and nearly half the planet's surface, they have long drawn far less attention than coastal waters and a few iconic species.
Ocean ecosystems create half the oxygen humans breathe and limit global warming by absorbing much of the carbon dioxide emitted by human activities.
But they are threatened by climate change, pollution and overfishing.
Only about 1 per cent of the high seas are currently protected.
When the new treaty comes into force it will allow the creation of marine protected areas in these international waters.
"High seas marine protected areas can play a critical role in building resilience to the impact of climate change," said Liz Karan of The Pew Charitable Trusts, which called the agreement a"momentous achievement".
The treaty will also oblige countries to conduct environmental impact assessments of proposed activities on the high seas.
A highly sensitive chapter on the sharing of potential benefits of newly discovered marine resources was one of the focal points of tensions before it was finally overcome as the scheduled talks, due to end Friday, overran by a day.
Developing countries, without the means to afford costly research, had fought not to be excluded from the expected windfall from the commercialisation of potential substances discovered in international waters.
Eventual profits are likely from the pharmaceutical, chemical or cosmetic use of newly discovered marine substances that belong to no one.
As in other international forums, notably climate negotiations, the debate ended up being a question of ensuring equity between the poorer global South and richer North, observers noted.
An exclusive economic zone (EEZ), as prescribed by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, is an area of the sea in which a sovereign state has special rights regarding the exploration and use of marine resources, including energy production from water and wind. It stretches from the outer limit of the territorial sea (12 nautical miles from the baseline) out to 200 nautical miles (nmi) from the coast of the state in question. It is also referred to as a maritime continental margin and, in colloquial usage, may include the continental shelf. The term does not include either the territorial sea or the continental shelf beyond the 200 nautical mile limit. The difference between the territorial sea and the exclusive economic zone is that the first confers full sovereignty over the waters, whereas the second is merely a "sovereign right" which refers to the coastal state's rights below the surface of the sea. The surface waters, as can be seen in the map, are international waters (Source: Wikipedia)
In a move seen as an attempt to build trust between rich and poor countries, the European Union pledged €40 million (US$42 million) in New York to facilitate the ratification of the treaty and its early implementation.
The EU also announced US$860 million for research, monitoring and conservation of oceans in 2023 at the Our Ocean conference in Panama that ended Friday. Panama said a total of US$19 billion was pledged by countries.
In 2017, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling on nations to establish a high seas treaty.
It originally planned four negotiating sessions but had to pass two resolutions to ensure two additional sessions.
"We can now finally move from talk to real change at sea," said Greenpeace's Meller.
Historical! after a decade, a global agreement was reached to protect the ocean!
At the UN headquarters in NY, a Binding Global Agreement for the Conservation of Biodiversity in the high seas 'BBNJ' has just been adopted.