Countries fall short on leaders’ promise to agree to an ocean treaty, jeopardising goal of protecting 30 percent of Earth’s ocean

Posted on 27 August 2022

NEW YORK CITY, US (26 August) – WWF is worried that a delay in reaching a global treaty to protect and manage the high seas will further erode the declining health of the ocean and jeopardise the world’s chances of protecting 30 percent of our ocean. The deal, if it had been concluded, would have given world leaders a legally binding mechanism for managing two-thirds of the ocean that lie beyond national jurisdiction, which currently are severely underregulated and widely exploited.

The fifth round of negotiations on a global ocean treaty stretched over two weeks but failed to reach an agreement Friday, and have been suspended to resume at a date to be decided by the UN, hopefully no later than early 2023.

“Countries are acting as if we have time. We don’t,” said Marco Lambertini, Director General, WWF International. “We need an ambitious ocean treaty now if we are to halt the decline of ocean health for the benefit of the planet and humanity. It is one thing to commit to ‘high ambition’ and it is another to deliver on that promise. We need a massive infusion of political will.”

The high seas play a vital role in supporting fisheries, providing habitat for hundreds of thousands of species and mitigating climate change impacts. 

Much in the draft text has seen significant progress, with provisions that ensure we are moving away from the current situation where the high seas are open for all, toward common stewardship and collective responsibility, but the diplomatic deal is not struck until everything is agreed. The treaty is a package that includes complicated issues such as sharing of benefits from the use of genetic resources from the ocean, as well as conservation measures and restrictions in the current regime of freedom of the high seas.

WWF hopes that all states will be mindful of their commitments to the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and move to agree quickly on ambitious and realistic arrangements for capacity building and technology transfer from developed to developing states. 

Significant progress has been made in many areas, such as the inclusion of Strategic Environmental Assessments, which would operationalize the obligation set out in the UN Law of the Sea to subject all planned activities in areas beyond national jurisdiction to an environmental impact assessment process. There is also a commitment to enhanced cooperation and to ecosystem-based management, and important provisions on the establishment of marine protected areas. This is very encouraging.

Time is of the essence and now member states at the UN must agree to urgently hold a final round of negotiations within the next few months to hammer out the details and get a treaty done. 

“Our ocean faces enormous pressure from overfishing, shipping impacts, increased industrialization and new threats like deep seabed mining. These delays have real consequences for people and nature. It is  disappointing that countries could not reach agreement despite so much progress being made this time,” said Jessica Battle, Senior Global Ocean Governance and Policy Expert, WWF. “We are very close to the finish line. We call on leaders and the UN to get the necessary work done so a treaty is concluded with urgency. The ocean can’t wait.” 


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