Talks Begin on Treaty to Protect High Seas Biodiversity

Members of the United Nations have begun negotiations on the first treaty to manage and protect biodiversity in international waters. These vast areas of open ocean are far from coastlines and vulnerable to overexploitation and other damage. Although the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) was negotiated and agreed to in 1982 and came into force in 1994 (though still unratified by the United States), access to the high seas has been generally unrestricted.

The open oceans are critical to the future health of the planet and desperately in need of protection. For the past several years, UN members have wrestled with the issue of high seas governance and have held numerous preliminary negotiations—with AWI participating in some of these sessions.

Formal negotiations finally began in September. Some of the key issues debated during a two-week meeting included access to genetic marine resources, the need for robust environmental assessments before engaging in potentially harmful activities, and the creation of marine protected areas—all very complex issues. The meeting closed with general optimism that a negotiated treaty will result, although there is clearly a long way to go. The next meeting is planned for spring 2019, with intersessional negotiations taking place in the interim.