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  • Borislav Ivanov

UN Member Nations Reach 'Historic' Agreement to Safeguard the High Seas.

Barely 1% of the high seas are currently protected.

The United Nations has finally agreed on a draught for the first worldwide convention to safeguard the high seas, a delicate and precious treasure that spans nearly half of the earth.

Following years of discussions, negotiators from over 100 nations concluded the UN convention, which environmental organisations claim would help reverse marine biodiversity losses and promote sustainable development.

"The ship has reached the shore," conference Chair Rena Lee said at the United Nations headquarters in New York shortly before 9:30 p.m. Saturday (02:30 p.m. GMT Sunday), to loud and prolonged applause from delegates.

After five rounds of prolonged UN-led talks, the legally binding treaty to protect and secure the sustainable use of ocean biodiversity was ultimately agreed upon.

The deal is viewed as a critical component in worldwide efforts to safeguard 30% of the world's land and water by the end of the decade, a target known as "30 by 30" established in Montreal, Canada, in December last year.

The treaty would also require governments to complete environmental impact studies on planned high-seas operations.

Economic interests were a significant sticking point during the latest round of talks, which began on February 20, with developing countries demanding a larger part of the benefits from the "blue economy," including technology transfer.

An agreement to share the advantages of "marine genetic resources" employed in businesses such as biotechnology was also a point of disagreement until the end, prolonging negotiations.

IGC President Rena Lee, Singapore

What exactly are high seas?

The high seas begin at the boundary of a country's exclusive economic zone, which can stretch up to 370 kilometres (200 nautical miles) beyond its shore. Beyond that point, no country has sovereignty over the waters.

Although accounting for more than 60% of the world's oceans and over half of the planet's surface, the high seas have historically received significantly less attention than coastal waters and a few iconic species.

Ocean ecosystems produce half of the oxygen we breathe and help to minimise global warming by absorbing a large portion of the carbon dioxide released by human activity. Yet, they are under threat from climate change, pollution, and overfishing.

Barely 1% of the high seas are currently protected.

'Multilateralism triumphs'

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres praised the delegates, according to a spokeswoman, who said the agreement was a "success for multilateralism and for global efforts to address the detrimental trends confronting ocean health, now and for generations to come".

"It is critical for solving the triple planetary catastrophe of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution," according to a United Nations statement.

To reach the target, Greenpeace estimates that 11 million square kilometres (4.2 million square miles) of ocean must be safeguarded each year until 2030.

"Countries must formally adopt the treaty and ratify it as quickly as possible to bring it into force, and then deliver the fully protected ocean sanctuaries our planet needs," said Laura Meller, a Greenpeace oceans campaigner who attended the discussions.

"The clock is still ticking to deliver 30 by 30. We have half a decade left, and we can’t be complacent."

António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

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