The United Nations (UN) has adopted the first-ever treaty to protect marine life in the high seas, which environmental experts believe is a significant step forward in protecting a broad range of the Earth’s biodiversity at a time when climate change and water pollution are threatening the ecosystem.
The treaty is the first to particularly address biodiversity in international waters that are not under the authority of any single nation, despite the fact that such areas account for about half of the world’s oceans.
For more than two decades, the UN has been working toward such an agreement. Beginning September 20, the agreement will be available for signature in New York for two years. According to the UN, it will go into effect if 60 countries ratify the deal.
The deal will establish a new agency to regulate ocean life protection and marine protected areas on the high seas. According to the UN, it also defines basic guidelines for performing environmental impact assessments for commercial activity in the oceans.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told delegates that the adoption of the treaty comes at a critical time, with the oceans under threat on many fronts. Climate change is disrupting weather patterns and ocean currents, raising sea temperatures, “and altering marine ecosystems and the species living there,” he said, adding that marine biodiversity “is under attack from overfishing, over-exploitation and ocean acidification.”
He also said the treaty is vital to address these threats and he urged all countries to spare no efforts to ensure that it is signed and ratified as soon as possible, stressing that “this is critical to addressing the threats facing the ocean.”
The convention adopted by the UN this time is more concerned about the protection of biodiversity related to the high seas, with issues including whale hunting, sewage discharge and other issues included in the scope of biodiversity protection, setting stricter standards for the division of responsibilities, Ma said.
The treaty also establishes principles to share “marine genetic resources” discovered by scientists in international waters, a key demand of developing countries who insisted that the fruits of such discoveries cannot solely be controlled by richer countries with money that finance expeditions to look for new lucrative ingredients for medicine and cosmetics.
Following the treaty’s approval, the Group of 77, a UN coalition of 134 mostly developing countries and China, hailed it as “an exceedingly important day for biodiversity,” praising their successful fight to include benefit-sharing in the final text as well as funding to help implement the treaty once it is ratified.
According to experts, China bears a commensurate international obligation for maritime protection. China has consistently bolstered its maritime security in recent years. China’s effective experience in pollution protection and blocking off fishing areas, in particular, might be shared with other countries.