High Seas Treaty

Context: Context: On June 19, the UN adopted the Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) or the High Seas Treaty.

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The United Nations has recently adopted the Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) or the High Seas Treaty. This historic agreement, the third to be approved under UNCLOS, aims to protect and preserve the marine environment through international cooperation. The process to develop this treaty began in 2002, and after several years of negotiations, it was finally adopted in 2023.

Key Points of the high sea treaty:

  1. Protecting Marine Biodiversity: The treaty addresses pressing issues such as rising sea surface temperatures, overexploitation of marine biodiversity, overfishing, coastal pollution, and unsustainable practices beyond national jurisdictions.
  2. Establishment of Marine Protected Areas: The treaty introduces the establishment of marine protected areas through a “three-quarterly majority vote,” ensuring that decisions cannot be blocked by a small number of parties.
  3. Fair Sharing of Benefits: The treaty mandates the fair sharing of benefits from marine genetic resources. It includes a “clear house mechanism” to facilitate the sharing of scientific information and monetary benefits among all parties.
  4. Open Access to Information: Parties to the treaty are required to share and exchange information on marine protected areas, scientific and technical tools, and area-based management tools. This promotes open access to knowledge and collaboration.
  5. Scientific and Technical Body: A Scientific and Technical Body will play a crucial role in conducting environmental impact assessments, creating standards and guidelines, and assisting countries with limited capacity.

Contentious Issues:

  1. Marine Genetic Resources: The issue of sharing marine genetic resources was a major point of contention during the treaty negotiations.
  2. Information Sharing: The absence of a provision to monitor information sharing was debated. Some parties proposed a licensing scheme for monitoring, while others argued against it, citing potential hindrance to bioprospecting research.
  3. Language Used in the Treaty: The use of phrases like “promote” or “ensure,” particularly regarding the sharing of benefits from marine genetic resources, led to disagreements among the parties.

Opposition to the Treaty:

  1. Opposition from Developed Countries: Several developed countries opposed the treaty, as they support private entities that are involved in advanced marine technology research and development. These entities hold patents related to marine genetic resources.
  2. Russia and China’s Position: Russia and China are not in favour of the treaty. Russia withdrew from the final stage of reaching a consensus, arguing that the treaty does not strike a balance between conservation and sustainability.

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