The United Nations is resuming talks aimed at finally completing a high-seas treaty to protect the world’s high seas, a vital yet fragile resource covering nearly half the planet.
NGOs and affected countries say the treaty is needed urgently in order to improve environmental stewardship over the mostly unregulated areas, especially as it comes to facing growing challenges.
The Covid pandemic slowed negotiations for two years. A session in March was supposed to be conclusive and make some progress but ran out of time before a pact was made.
There have been four inconclusive sessions so far. A new round of talks opened today, and are set to run through August 26 in New York. Whether this will indeed be the last round of talks remains to be seen.
But negotiators are “cautiously optimistic.” Participants need to find a compromise between two grand ideas: protecting the environment and regulating human activities, while also guarding freedoms.
The high-seas begin at the border of nations’ exclusive economic zones, which by international law reach no more than 200 nautical miles from a country’s coast, making them officially under no nation’s jurisdiction.
High-seas represent more than 60 percent of the oceans, making it about one-third of the planet. They have been largely ignored in favor of coastal zones, and protections have only been extended to a few vulnerable species.
Scientists are urging nations to understand the importance of protecting oceanic ecosystems in their entirety.
Especially as global warming continues to wreak havoc across large parts of the world, climate experts and scientists say protection of the high seas is needed desperately.
Oceanic ecosystems produce half the oxygen that humans breathe and help to limit global warming by absorbing much of the carbon dioxide emitted by human activity.
But these systems are at severe risk from the continuing rise in carbon dioxide levels, which intensifies warming and makes ocean waters more acidic, and also leads to more pollution and over-fishing.