WWF: Landmark High Seas Treaty agreed, ushering in new rules for two-thirds of the ocean

Posted on March, 04 2023

NEW YORK CITY, United States (4 March 2023) – WWF strongly welcomes the agreement of the text for a new global legally binding High Seas Treaty reached by nations today in New York, creating a framework to conserve marine life and restrain harmful activities in two-thirds of the ocean.
Almost two decades in the making, and with delegates working around the clock to reach a final agreement, the text outlines mechanisms to conserve and sustainably use marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, including the high seas. WWF says the agreement will allow for the establishment of high seas marine protected areas (MPAs) and help fill the gaps in the current patchwork of management bodies, resulting in better cooperation and less cumulative impact of activities on the high seas, such as shipping, industrial fishing and other resource exploitation. 

“What happens on the high seas will no longer be ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ The High Seas Treaty will allow for the kind of oversight and integration we need if we want the ocean to keep providing the social, economic and environmental benefits humanity currently enjoys,” says Jessica Battle, Senior Global Ocean Governance and Policy Expert, who led WWF’s team at the negotiations. “We can now look at the cumulative impacts on our ocean in a way that reflects the interconnected blue economy and the ecosystems that support it.” 

WWF says the High Seas Treaty is necessary to implement the Global Biodiversity Framework, which commits countries to protect and conserve at least 30% of the ocean, and ensure 30% of degraded areas are under restoration, by 2030. 

“This is a landmark moment for the ocean – one that will usher in a new era of collective responsibility for our planet’s most significant global commons,” says Pepe Clarke, Global Ocean Practice Leader for WWF. “Last year, nations committed to halt and reverse nature loss by 2030. Today’s achievement is a significant step toward delivering on that promise.”  

WWF strongly welcomes that activities in the high seas will be subject to environmental impact assessments commensurate with the scale of the impact. All activities that could have an impact on ocean life will need to be covered under these assessments, providing the opportunity to halt damaging activities and reduce cumulative impacts. This will be particularly important when it comes to any potential future activities such as deep seabed mining and deep sea carbon capture and storage, of which very little knowledge on the impacts currently exists.

WWF believes the Scientific and Technical Body set to be established as a result of the agreement will be instrumental in ensuring that proposals and management plans for marine protected areas are robustly assessed, and environmental impact assessment reports are received and made accessible to the global community. Alongside this, the Implementation and Compliance Committee will operationalise enhanced cooperation in a meaningful way, and a dispute resolution mechanism gives an opportunity for states to take action against breaches.

The obligation on developed states to share knowledge and technologies, and to build capacity across countries will facilitate a more equitable participation in the conservation of the high seas, in particular for developing nations.
“Ocean advocates worldwide can savor this moment years in the making,” says Battle. “But this is not a finish line. For the treaty’s good intentions to deliver results on the water, we’ve got to keep the pressure up. Once technicalities are worked out and the treaty is adopted,  it needs to enter into force so that it can be put to work – all countries must quickly formally sign and ratify it into their own national legislation. Words matter, but our ocean needs action.” 

The high seas support crucial fisheries, provide habitats for hundreds of thousands of species and help mitigate climate impacts, with 23% of human-related carbon emissions being absorbed by the ocean over the last 10 years. The high seas and the wildlife that migrates through these waters will finally be afforded the attention they deserve, once enough countries adopt and ratify this agreement enabling the instrument to enter into force.


Notes to Editors

NB: The treaty text has been agreed in principle by states, but there are still technicalities such as grammar and textual consistency, as well as translation into the six UN languages that need to be addressed at an Open-Ended Informal Working Group and half day conference for the treaty to be formally adopted. It will then be opened for signatures.

Contact news@wwfint.org to arrange interviews with WWF experts or further information.

About World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)
WWF is an independent conservation organization, with over 30 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the Earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption. Visit www.panda.org/news for the latest news and media resources and follow us on Twitter @WWF_media.

Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ Agreement) or ‘High Seas Treaty’
The Fifth Intergovernmental Conference on a global legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ Agreement) took place at the UN Headquarters in New York from 20 February to 4 March 2023. 

UNCLOS is one of the world’s most widely ratified treaties with 168 Parties to the Convention, entering into force in 1994. The High Seas Treaty is the third “implementing agreement” under UNCLOS, and focuses on four areas: marine genetic resources, area-based management tools including marine protected areas, environmental impact assessments, and capacity building and transfer of marine technology. 
Yellowfin tuna, Pacific Ocean Mexico
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