Environmental advocacy groups announced the finalized text, which still needs to be ratified by the United Nations, as a new chapter for Earth’s high seas. fair 1.2 percent of them are currently environmentally protectedexposing the wide variety of marine species that abound below the surface, from tiny plankton to giant whales, to threats such as pollution and overfishing.
“Two-thirds of the ocean has just been left open to everyone’s will and need,” Rebecca Hubbard, director of the High Seas Alliance consortium of non-governmental organizations that was involved in the negotiations, said in a phone interview Sunday. “We have never been able to protect and manage marine life in the ocean beyond the jurisdictions of countries,” she said. “This is absolutely a world change.”
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The treaty will not automatically establish new marine protection areas, but it does create a mechanism for nations to begin designating them in international waters. That ability is crucial to making good on pledges agreed at last year’s UN biodiversity summit, COP15, where delegates pledged to protect nearly a third of Earth’s land and oceans by 2030 as a haven for remaining wild plants and animals on the planet.
The high seas treaty makes it easier to achieve that goal, as it allows vast swaths of vulnerable marine ecosystems in international waters to be subject to protections against overfishing, shipping and mining for the first time.
It will also offer protection for millions of organisms that inhabit the high seas, the largest physical habitat on Earth, and help fight climate change, Hubbard said.
“This is a historic moment for the ocean, ushering in a new era of collective responsibility for our planet’s most important global commons,” said Pepe Clarke, Global Ocean Practice Leader at the World Wide Fund for Nature, in a statement. a statement. statements Saturday. “Last year, nations committed to halting and reversing nature loss by 2030. Today’s achievement is an important step in fulfilling that promise.”
“Today the world came together to protect the ocean for the benefit of our children and grandchildren. We leave here with the ability to create protected areas on the high seas,” Mónica Medina, the US Under Secretary for Oceans at the State Department, tweeted.
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The final text of the treaty had not yet been published in its entirety, but according to the Department of Stateit also establishes frameworks for nations to coordinate environmental impact assessments and share marine genetic resources: scientific knowledge about deep-sea organisms found in remote waters that could be of value to humanity.
Despite UN members agreeing to a final version of the text, it is still expected to be years before the treaty is formally adopted by member states and enters into force. Once it takes legal effect, nations can start proposing the establishment of new marine protection areas.
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The agreement is the first of its kind to protect the oceans since 1982, when the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea was adopted, establishing a single set of rules governing the world’s oceans and their resources.
“This action is a victory for multilateralism and for global efforts to counter the destructive trends facing the health of the oceans, now and for generations to come,” said Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN secretary-general, in a post-deal statement. “It is crucial to address the planetary triple crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.”
Nature is in the midst of an extinction crisis. A million plants and animals around the world may disappear forever, say UN scientists. In the oceans, many starfish and sturgeons are already in decline.
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Sharks are threatened by overfishing and coral reefs are succumbing to ocean acidification due to climate change. The decline of marine ecosystems could harm billions of coastal residents who depend on shellfish for protein.
Research published in the journal Nature in 2021 suggested that efforts to protect more of the world’s waters would not only support marine diversity, but also increase the amount of carbon absorbed by the ocean, contributing to the fight against climate change.
“The ocean is also, physically, our greatest ally in the fight against climate change,” said Hubbard of the High Seas Alliance. “Without an ocean full of marine life, you can’t keep sequestering and storing carbon.”
“We have a degraded ocean on our hands, but the ocean has a phenomenal capacity to restore itself.”
Sarah Kaplan contributed to this report.