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The UN High Seas Treaty drafted

  • Published
    10th Mar, 2023

Recently a draft international agreement referred to as the ‘UN High Seas Treaty’ was finalised to govern the conduct of governments in ‘open seas’.

  • The UN general assembly decided to convene an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) in December 2017 to elaborate on the text of the legal instrument for protecting biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ).
  • The IGC held four formal sessions in September 2018, March 2019, August 2019 and March 2022.
  • The ambition of the treaty is to reverse the current downward trend in biodiversity and protect marine life, while also guaranteeing safe access to international waters.
  • The treaty will help conserve biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) that lie outside countries’ 322-kilometre exclusive economic zones.

Need for a universal Law:

  • The draft treaty was negotiated under the United Nations Convention on Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS) of 1982 which governs the rights of countries regarding marine resources
  • Till now, there was no treaty for conserving the open earth’s oceans.
  • The proposed treaty concerns the ocean existing beyond the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) that lie from the coast of a country to about 200 nautical miles (or 370 km into the sea).
  • Waters beyond that are known as ‘open seas ‘or ‘high seas’.

Currently, it is estimated that high or open seas constitute two-thirds of the world’s oceans, and only one per cent of them are legally protected.

About the draft treaty:

  • The 54-page draft, when it is ratified by countries (requiring them to also pass it in their own Parliaments), will become legally binding
  • Also referred to as the ‘Paris Agreement for the Ocean’, the treaty to deal with Biodiversity beyond National Jurisdiction.
  • Objective: To ensure the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction through the Convention and to further international cooperation.
  • Agreements on the actions of parties are to be taken based on consensus.
  • The draft often mentions a clearing-house mechanism that will be a centralised platform to enable parties to access, provide and give information on activities taking place in relation to the agreement. 

Key highlights of the Treaty:

  • The polluter-pays principle; is an important concept in environmental laws. It means those causing pollution in a particular region are responsible for its reduction, such as a factory owner having to compensate for air pollution.
  • Building ecosystems’ resilience against adverse effects of climate change and ocean acidification, and also maintaining and restoring ecosystem integrity.
  • Parties should take legislative, administrative or policy measures with the aim of ensuring that traditional knowledge associated with marine genetic resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction held by Indigenous Peoples and local communities shall only be accessed with their free, prior and informed consent.
  • Full recognition of the special circumstances of Small Island Developing States and of least developed countries; Acknowledgement of the special interests and needs of landlocked developing countries.
  • Parties are to promote international cooperation in marine scientific research and in the development and transfer of marine technology.

Who governs the High seas currently?

  • At present, every country has the right to access open seas, resulting in large-scale drilling and trawling operations for catching fish and other animals for commercial purposes. 
  • A High Ambition Coalition, which now has more than 100 countries including India, the US, and the UK, came about and put the focus on ‘30×30’ goals – protecting 30 per cent of the ocean by 2030.

30 by 30 goals:

  • This round of treaty negotiations comes on the heels of the adoption, by the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, of a target to protect 30% of Earth’s land and coastal and marine areas by 2030.
  • This agreement, known as 30 by 30, is intended to halt and reverse biodiversity loss to help put nature on a path to recovery.
  • The new high seas treaty would enable protections that would contribute greatly to the 30 by 30 goal.
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