The global fight to protect marine biodiversity took a huge step forward last week, with the announcement that UN delegates reached a historic international agreement after months and years of intense negotiations.
Under the new High Seas Treaty, 30% of all international waters will be protected in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) by 2030 in the most consequential maritime agreement in over 40 years. Oceans provide up to 50% of the planet’s oxygen and are home to 95% of its biomass. However, prior to the agreement just 1.2% of international waters were protected, despite them representing two thirds of all our oceans and seas.
The agreement came following lengthy negotiations on key issues including mandatory environmental impact assessments for deep sea drilling, reducing over-fishing, and new regulation of global shipping lanes. The negotiations’ chair, Singapore’s Rena Lee, announced the conclusion of the agreement to a standing ovation, remarking that the “ship has reached the shore”.
The agreement was hailed by a broad range of environmental groups. A spokesperson for Greenpeace announced that the accords represent “an important sign that multilateralism still works in an increasingly divided world”. These sentiments were echoed by Rebecca Hubbard, director of the High Seas Alliance, who also praised the “superhero efforts” of negotiators.
However, several hurdles remain. The draft agreement still needs to be ratified by 60 states. Furthermore concerns are already being expressed over associated costs which are expected to run into the billions, likely dwarfing the 820m euros (£722.3m) pledged by the EU.
Whilst certain influential countries such as Russia have already “registered concerns” over the final text, it is clear that further rounds of negotiations lie ahead. However, despite these obstacles, the agreement marks a watershed moment in marine conservation, and proves that multilateralism can indeed deliver.