Governments must meet again to reach a High Seas Treaty

Posted on 18 March 2022

The fourth negotiating session on a treaty to protect and manage the high seas has failed to deliver an outcome, prompting the need for further deliberations later this year. 

At stake is an international legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. Commonly called the high seas, this area covers two-thirds of the ocean.

Observers have said delegates were more deeply engaged in this round of negotiations, and demonstrated greater flexibility on some key issues – a hopeful sign.

“More than 50 countries committed to finalizing a treaty this year, so the pressure is on,” said Jessica Battle, WWF’s Senior Global Ocean Governance and Policy Expert. 

One of the primary purposes of the treaty is to set up protected areas in the high seas. High seas protected areas will have multiple benefits, including climate change mitigation, reducing overfishing and safeguarding wildlife. Another is to ensure that there is an assessment of potential impacts of a new activity, such as a new fishing method, or the laying of pipelines and cables, before it is allowed to proceed.

“There’s plenty of international, feel-good cooperation when it comes to making commitments like the High Ambition Coalition, but this is where those commitments come due. We’ve got to close the gap between promises and actual protection of the high seas. WWF is keen to help governments deliver a robust mechanism to sustainably protect and manage these resources that belong to all of humankind,” said Battle.
Coral garden on seamount in North Atlantic. Seamounts are oases of the open ocean, rich in marine life, and provide a stop over for migratory species such as whales, turtles and tuna, and host congregations of deep sea fish, all vulnerable to impacts of human activities.
© ImagDOP/University of the Azores