The High Seas Treaty: Key provisions, and the challenges it faces

Source: The post is based on the article “The High Seas Treaty: Key provisions, and the challenges it faces” published in Indian Express on 23rd March 2023

What is the News?

The UN (United Nations) members agreed on a High Seas Treaty to ensure the protection and sustainable use of marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.

What are High Seas?

According to the 1958 Geneva Convention on the High Seas, parts of the sea that are not included in the territorial waters or the internal waters of a country are known as the high seas According to the 1958 Geneva Convention on the High Seas. 

Simply put, it is the area beyond a country’s Exclusive Economic Zone which extends up to 200 nautical miles (370 km) from the coastline and till where a nation has jurisdiction over living and non-living resources.

No country is responsible for the management and protection of resources on the high seas.

What is the significance of High Seas?

The high seas account for more than 60% of the world’s ocean area and cover about half of the Earth’s surface, which makes them a hub of marine life.

They are home to around 2.7 lakh known species, many of which are yet to be discovered.

They regulate the climate by playing a fundamental role in planetary stability by mitigating the effects of climate change through its absorption of carbon and by storing solar radiation and distributing heat around the globe.

What are the key provisions of the High Seas Treaty?

The High Seas Treaty has four main provisions:

Marine-Protected Areas(MPAs): MPAs are where ocean systems, including biodiversity, are under stress, either due to human activities or climate change.These can be called the national parks or wildlife reserves of the oceans. 

– Activities in these areas will be highly regulated, and conservation efforts similar to what happens in forest or wildlife zones, will be undertaken. Only about 1.44% of high seas are currently protected, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

– In 2022, at the meeting of the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) in Montreal, Canada, countries had agreed to put at least 30% of degraded coastal and marine ecosystems under effective restoration by 2030. MPAs can become an important vehicle to achieve that goal.

Marine Genetic Resources: Oceans host very diverse life forms, many of which can be useful for human beings in areas like drug development. Genetic information from these organisms is already being extracted, and their benefits are being investigated. 

– The treaty seeks to ensure that any benefits arising out of such efforts, including monetary gains, are free from strong intellectual property rights controls, and are equitably shared amongst all. 

Environment Impact Assessment: Under the provisions of the new treaty, commercial or other activities that can have significant impact on the marine ecosystem, or can cause large-scale pollution in the oceans, would require an environmental impact assessment to be done, and the results of this exercise have to be shared with the international community.

Capacity building and Technology Transfer: The treaty lays a lot of emphasis on this, mainly because a large number of countries, especially small island states and landlocked nations, do not have the resources or the expertise to meaningfully participate in the conservation efforts, or to take benefits from the useful exploitation of marine resources.

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