A global accord to safeguard the world’s seas and marine life has failed in its fifth attempt. Governments had been negotiating the details of the UN High Seas Treaty for two weeks in New York, but they were unable to come to an agreement. Only 1.2% of the international waters are protected, despite the fact that they make up approximately two thirds of the world’s oceans.
A Missed Opportunity
The failure in meeting a deal is being referred to as a ‘missed opportunity by several environmental campaigners. The growing hazards of climate change, overfishing, and shipping traffic pose a threat to marine species outside the 1.2% of protected areas. What happens in these waters, directly affects the coastal communities, fisheries and biodiversity.
The Treaty on Ocean Protection
The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the most recent international accord on ocean preservation, was signed in 1982, 40 years ago. The high seas, which are international waters where all nations have the right to fish, ship, and conduct research, were established by that agreement. 168 original treaty signatories, including the EU, met over the past two weeks to attempt to forge a new deal. The negotiations focused on four key areas:
– Establishing marine protected areas
– Improving environmental impact assessments
– Providing finance and capacity building to developing countries
Sharing of marine genetic resources – biological material from plants and animals in the ocean that can have benefits for society, such as pharmaceuticals, industrial processes and food
Prior to the summit, more than 70 nations, including the UK, had previously decided to safeguard 30 per cent of the world’s seas. This would put limits on how much fishing can take place, the routes of shipping lanes and exploration activities like deep-sea mining. But countries failed to reach an agreement on key issues of fishing rights and also funding and support for developing countries.
While a deadline of the end of the year has been set, it is not yet known when countries will reunite to resume talks. Between now and January, they have a jam-packed programme of international meetings on numerous topics, including the UN General Assembly meeting and the COP27 annual climate conference. Even if the pact is signed, there will still be work to be done. The pact will only describe how organisations and nations can seek for marine protection; it won’t specify which parts of the ocean will be protected.
About 15% Species at Risk of Extinction
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-funded research from earlier this year estimated that 10% to 15% of marine species are already in danger of going extinct. Species that stand to lose out from the treaty’s failure include sharks and rays. According to the IUCN they are facing a global extinction crisis – and are one of the most threatened species groups in the world.
When travelling through the world’s oceans, sharks and other migratory species like turtles and whales come into contact with human activities like shipping, which can result in fatal damage. The population of all shark and ray species is rapidly declining due to overfishing. Most significant marine groupings have seen such a decline in animal populations.