- The second in a series of Preparatory Committee meetings to negotiate provisions of a new international treaty to protect marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, which make up as much as two-thirds of the world’s oceans and 43 percent of Earth’s total surface area, were held at the UN’s NYC headquarters from August 26 to September 9.
- The first PrepCom, as the Preparatory Committee meetings are referred to in UN parlance, was held earlier this year.
- The negotiations themselves garnered a huge show of support from the government and NGO representatives at the Union for Conservation of Nature’s Conservation Congress when they voted to approve Motion 49.
Government officials from around the world gathered at the United Nations in New York City for ongoing negotiations of an international treaty to protect marine biodiversity on the high seas received a clear vote of confidence from delegates at the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s World Conservation Congress in Hawaii.
The second in a series of Preparatory Committee meetings to negotiate provisions of a new international treaty to protect marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, which make up as much as two-thirds of the world’s oceans and 43 percent of Earth’s total surface area, were held at the UN’s NYC headquarters from August 26 to September 9.
The first PrepCom, as the Preparatory Committee meetings are referred to in UN parlance, took place earlier this year.
High seas areas are governed by a patchwork of management mechanisms, and there is little coordination amongst the various agencies and governmental bodies that are tasked with regulating activities like commercial fishing, seabed mining, and international shipping. This has left marine ecosystems extremely vulnerable.
About 40 percent of commercial fish species spend at least some time on the high seas, where they are caught with few if any limitations, leading to fears of overfishing and the cascade of effects the collapse of fisheries could have on marine ecosystems.
One 2016 study found that at least 30 percent of the world’s oceans should be protected through marine protected areas and reserves in order to achieve biodiversity conservation objectives and ensure the health of fisheries. But today, less than one percent of the high seas is fully protected, the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Elizabeth Wilson wrote in a blog post.
“The new treaty could help to close gaps where no one country or body has full authority to act and create opportunities to establish marine protected areas (MPAs), including fully protected reserves, on the high seas,” Wilson added.
Pew has compiled a series of maps that highlight the significant governance gaps on the high seas, and noted that effective management requires regulatory authority, a mandate to conserve marine ecosystems, and the ability to manage across multiple sectors, especially fishing, mining, and shipping. “Although some organizations have two of these three elements, they all lack comprehensive mandates to effectively manage and conserve ecosystems on the high seas,” according to Pew.
No major breakthroughs were expected at the most recent PrepCom, but Pew’s KerriLynn Miller, who attended the talks, said the negotiations were quite successful in terms of moving the discussions forward, with negotiators starting to work towards areas of possible convergence on how to conduct environmental impact assessments and how to establish marine protected areas on the high seas, among other issues.
“Overall there was a lot of detailed discussion,” Miller told Mongabay, “and it was very encouraging to see how this is moving forward.”
There is currently no established procedure for creating marine reserves on the high seas, but one of the more substantial developments to come out of the meetings was a proposal by Costa Rica and Monaco for how that process might look in the final agreement, Miller said. A number of states offered support for the proposal.
The negotiations themselves garnered a huge show of support from the government and NGO representatives at the Union for Conservation of Nature’s Conservation Congress when they voted to approve Motion 49, which urges countries to contribute to the work of the PrepCom and promote the development of a legally binding agreement for conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. IUCN’s World Conservation Congress is held every four years to bring together conservation and government officials and set conservation priorities for the coming years.
Now that the second PrepCom has taken place, there are just two left, which the UN plans to schedule in 2017. After the fourth PrepCom is over, the committee will make recommendations to the UN General Assembly (UNGA), which then has until September 2018 to decide whether or not to convene an intergovernmental conference to consider the PrepCom’s recommendations and produce a draft text of the treaty.
Recognizing that time is of the essence, Motion 49 explicitly calls on countries to urge the UNGA “to convene an intergovernmental conference that will take place in 2018.”
Motion 49 also lays out a number of measures that negotiators are urged to include in their recommendations to the UNGA, among them the establishment of a “well-connected system of MPAs, including reserves,” in areas beyond national jurisdiction; an assessment of the impacts of human activities on the high seas, including cumulative effects; regulation of human activities in the interest of preventing adverse impacts on marine environments; and monitoring, compliance, and enforcement mechanisms.
Pew’s Miller said that including the measures outlined in Motion 49 in the new high seas treaty would help ensure marine ecosystem health in the future. She also noted that no governments represented at the IUCN Conservation Congress voted against Motion 49, which she viewed as a strong signal of support for the work being done at at the UN.
If this momentum can be sustained, the UNGA could fully adopt a high seas treaty by 2020. “Hopefully it will help prod [negotiators] along and show there is broad support for moving forward,” she said.
- O’Leary, B. C., Winther‐Janson, M., Bainbridge, J. M., Aitken, J., Hawkins, J. P., & Roberts, C. M. (2016). Effective coverage targets for ocean protection. Conservation Letters. doi:10.1111/conl.12247