UN begins talks on treaty to protect imperilled high seas

The News

  • Recently, United Nations kicked-off talks on a 2020 treaty that would regulate the high seas. The high seas cover half the planet yet lack adequate environmental protection.
  • Four sessions of talks, each lasting two weeks, are planned to take place over two years, with the goal of protecting marine biodiversity and avoiding further pillaging of the oceans.
  • Talk will focus on the high seas and the international zone of marine waters, or about 46% of the planet’s surface
  • Talks will focus on creating protected areas on the high seas, more sharing of maritime resources and technology, and research on environmental impacts.


What is meant by High Seas?

  • It is the open ocean which is not part of the exclusive economic zone, territorial sea or internal waters of any country.
  • It covers the ocean spaces beyond national jurisdictions, or areas that belong to no country in particular.
  • Traditionally, all States enjoy the freedoms of navigation, over flight, scientific research and fishing on the high seas.



  • In 1982, the UN adopted the Convention on the Law of the Sea.
  • It lays down a comprehensive regime of law and order in the world’s oceans and seas establishing rules governing all uses of the oceans and their resources, but left the high seas free from restrictions.
  • The convention took effect in 1994, without the participation of the U.S.
  • On 24 December 2017, UN convened an intergovernmental conference to produce a legally binding treaty on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity in the high seas outside national maritime boundaries.
  • It’s a crucial first step, and is encouraging because it suggests that political will is building to draft international rules that protect the ocean wilderness.



  • Some whale-hunting nations, like Japan, Iceland and Norway, are expected to be more cautious than others because they fear overly strict fishing restrictions.
  • The U.S. is also reticent because they are opposed to all regulation of marine genetic resources and thus did not ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.


Need of 2020 Treaty

  • Since then, the shipping routes have expanded considerably, and the resources of the ocean deep have aroused significant interest, whether by fishing or mineral extraction.
  • Marine life is already reeling from the impact of industrial fishing, climate change and other extractive industries.
  • The high seas cover half of Earth’s surface and provide eco-services of immeasurable value. Still, any new pact cannot address all the ills of the seven seas.
  • The surge in plastic waste, for example, has to be tackled at its terrestrial source, mainly with the producers. But a well-crafted and properly enforced rulebook can do much to protect ocean ecosystems from man-made harm.
  • Thus, we have a shared responsibility to protect our global oceans before it is too late.



  • It is unclear whether key fishing nations which include the United States, Russia and China will ratify any agreement or not.



  • It’s time for the global community to take action to develop a treaty to protect the high seas. A strong global ocean treaty would allow us to create a network of ocean sanctuaries to protect wildlife, ensure food security for billions of people and help us to tackle climate change.

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