Delegates Resume Talks on New High Seas Biodiversity Treaty

UN / ISSF / Fabien Forget

By The Maritime Executive 08-19-2019 08:00:47

This week, delegates from around the world are meeting at the UN headquarters in New York for the third round of negotiations on extending UNCLOS to cover biodiversity conservation on the high seas. 

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea includes rules for national maritime claims and freedom of navigation, but it does not presently have language on protecting marine resources in international waters. No one nation has responsibility for law enforcement on the high seas, and at present these vast waters are thinly regulated, rendering their resources vulnerable to exploitation. The high seas represent more than 40 percent of the earth's surface and provide a home to a significant proportion of the planet's biodiversity. 

At the end of the second UN negotiating session in April, state delegates called for a rough working draft for the August session. The 50-page draft includes protocols for "establishing a comprehensive system of area-based management tools," including marine protected areas (MPAs), in areas outside of national jurisdiction. States that are party to the agreement would be obligated to enforce compliance among the vessels flying their respective flags.

Since the conclusion of the April session, the UN's Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services has published its 2019 report on mankind's impact on natural systems, providing new impetus for the conservation treaty. The report found that 66 per cent of the ocean area is experiencing increasing cumulative human impacts, including sea surface temperature anomalies and ocean acidification.

The World Ocean Council, the international business alliance for ocean conservation matters, represents industry interests as an accredited observer at the negotiations. WOC assesses that the convention will have significant implications for ocean industries, potentially including:

• New requirements and controls by states over the activities conducted by companies under their jurisdiction
• New national, regional and/or nternational regulatory authorities
• New authorization and reporting mechanisms, including new environmental impact reporting
• New environmental impact assessment (EIA) requirements for project authorization
• Strengthening of surveillance and security mechanisms to protect resources    
• Area-based limits on marine industrial activity, including seabed activity