Members of the United Nations gather in New York on Monday to renew efforts to seal a long-awaited and elusive treaty to protect the world’s marine biodiversity.
Nearly two-thirds of the ocean lies outside national boundaries in the high seas, where fragmented and unevenly enforced rules seek to minimize human impact.
The goal of the UN meetings, which run until March 3, is to create a unified agreement for the conservation and sustainable use of these vast marine ecosystems. The talks, officially called the Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction, resume negotiations that were suspended last fall without agreement on a final treaty.
“The ocean is our planet’s life support system,” said Boris Worm, a marine biologist at Canada’s Dalhousie University. “For the longest time, we didn’t feel like we had much of an impact on the high seas. But that perception has changed with the expansion of deep-sea fishing, mining, plastic pollution, climate change and other human disturbances,” he said.
The UN talks will focus on key issues, including how should the boundaries of marine protected areas be drawn and by whom? How should institutions assess the environmental impact of commercial activities such as shipping and mining? And who has the right to enforce the rules?
“This is our largest global total,” said Nicola Clark, an ocean expert who follows the negotiations at the nonpartisan Pew Research Center in Washington. finish line”.
The purpose of the negotiations is not actually to designate marine protected areas, but to create a mechanism for this. “The goal is to create a new body that will accept applications specifically for marine protected areas,” Clark said.
Simon Ingram, a marine biologist at England’s University of Plymouth, says agreement is urgently needed. “It’s a really urgent time for this, especially when you have things like deep-sea mining that can be a real threat to biodiversity before we’ve even been able to study and understand what’s living on the ocean floor,” he said. Ingram.
Experts say a global oceans treaty is needed to actually implement a recent pledge by the United Nations Conference on Biological Diversity to protect 30 percent of the planet’s oceans as well as its land.
“We need a legally binding framework that enables countries to work together to actually achieve these goals that they’ve agreed to,” said Jessica Battle, an ocean management expert at the World Wide Fund for Nature.
US Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Monica Medina said the treaty is a priority for the country. “This agreement seeks, for the first time, to create a coordinated approach to the creation of marine protected areas in the high seas,” he said. “It’s time to finish the job.”
Officials, environmentalists and representatives of global industries that depend on the sea are also watching the talks closely.
Samoan lawyer Gemma Nelson, who is currently a research fellow at Ocean Voices at the University of Edinburgh, says small Pacific and Caribbean island nations are “particularly vulnerable to global ocean issues” such as pollution and climate change, which they generally they didn’t. cause, nor do they have the resources to solve it easily.
“Recognizing the traditional knowledge of local people and communities as valid” is also important to protect both ecosystems and the livelihoods of indigenous groups, he said.
With nearly half of the planet’s surface covered by open seas, the talks are critical, said Gladys Martínez de Lemos, executive director of the Environmental Defense Association, a nonprofit that focuses on environmental issues in Latin America.
“The treaty must be strong and ambitious, with a mandate to establish high and fully protected areas on the high seas,” he said. “Half the world is at risk at the UN this week.”