This year will be remembered for achieving a goal that was expected for about two decades. And all that for the benefit of one of the most fascinating and vital ecosystems on Planet Earth. On the 19th June 2023, United Nations Member States adopted the first international Treaty governing High Seas. The Principality of Monaco was in pole position signifincatly represented by the Sovereign Prince who reiterated His full support to the cause of ocean protection, shared by the whole Principality of Monaco.
« With this Agreement, we are breaking the status quo. We commit ourselves to fighting more effectively against the threats affecting the seas and oceans. (...) The same determination that led to the conclusion of the negotiations must drive us forward so that this historic Agreement is implemented as quickly as possible. (...) Monaco will pursue and continue to work to preserve the world's oceans », pointed out H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco in His keynote speech.
The final text, agreed by 193 Countries is now legally binding and focus on marine biodiversity preservation in those areas of planet earth's sea waters "not included in the exclusive economic zone, the territorial sea to the internal waters of a Country, or in the national archipelagic waters" (Ref: NOAA - National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). This ocean portion represents two third of the global liquid surface. Thus, the the importance of its inclusion in shared rules to promote the ecosystems of which it is composed.
« The ocean is the lifeblood of our Planet, and today, you have pumped new life and hope to give the ocean a fighting chance », highlighted Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General, addressing to delegates.
« We have a new tool. This landmark achievement bears witness to your collective commitment to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. Together, you laid the foundation for a better stewardship of our seas, ensuring their survival for generations to come », underlined Csaba Korosi, UN General Assembly President.
According to statistics and scientific data, marine living beings are increasingly menaced by overfishing, over-exploitation and ocean acidification. The High Seas Treaty develops some key points that may be fundamental in improving the current situation.
New protections outside the usual borders.
According to the new instrument of international public law, single State jurisdictions will be integrated and reinforced by additional responsibilities as for pollution prevention and and adequate management of fish resources for the global food market in accordance with the natural rhythms of regeneration of the various species. The Treaty, under the umbrella of the Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction and following the Convention on the Law of the Sea, aims at preserving oceans for present and future generations through an eco-responsible use of marine environment, the correlated organisms and physical status as well as the biodiversity, marking marine bias.
Improved ocean state of health.
Oceans are severely polluted by internal waters, conductors of harmful chemicals and plastic waste of various dimensions. According to a recent Research Study by Cardiff University,farmland spread in all Europe are among the biggest agglomerators of microplastics (less than 5 mm). They estimated a range between 31,000 and 42,000 tonnes accumulated per year, that is 86 trillion to 710 trillion particles. Those contaminants enter easily the food chain putting at risk fishes, sea turtles, seabirds, marine mammals and human beings themselves. The pollutant concentrations is expected to double or triple on an annual basis by 2040, as stated by the most recent version of the Sustainable Development Goals Report. The Polluter Pays Principle, cornerstone of the European Union Environmental policies, is considered essential to foster high-seas prevention and mitigation measures. The core idea is that polluters bear the costs of their pollution including the ones imposed to the global society as for precaution, control and remedy. Any planned activity in International Waters by a specific Country will imply a corresponding environmental impact assessment, in the footsteps of the national legal framework.
More sustainable fishing.
Guaranteeing sustainable fisheries, to allow birth of new fishes being higher than species killed for human food reasons, is at the heart of the Treaty. United Nations estimated that one third of fish stock worldwide are over-exploited. Improving capacity building while using technological devices and an adequate corpus iuris are prior drivers towards a change in Blue Economy on the basis of increased inter-oceans cooperation.
Climate mitigation for marine ecosystems.
Global warming is pushing sea waters to achieve new records in terms of high temperatures. In January 2023, a new Scientific Study [Cheng, L., Abraham, J., Trenberth, K.E. et al. Another Year of Record Heat for the Oceans. Adv. Atmos. Sci.40, 963–974 (2023)], witnessed world's oceans reached their warmest levels for the forth consecutive year, referring to 2022. Sea water heating is directly related to the intensification of extreme atmospheric phenomena together with sea-level rising and salinisation of coastlines as well as groundwater. The Treaty encourages the putting in place of concrete actions to achieve desired targets through fair scientific research in the full respect of indigenous people and local communities.
Compliance with UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The Treaty was designed to speed up the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, that is the Sustainable Development Goals with special regard to SDG 14 that is willing to prevent and reduce marine pollution by 2025 besides curbing global overfishing. A series of local management tools will be promoted to foster a fully sustainable management of marine species via Marine Protected Areas with the direct involvement of small-islands and developing countries. ***
By Maurice Abbati
Springer International Publishing