The landmark treaty, which will cover nearly two-thirds of the ocean beyond national borders, will provide the legal basis for the creation of vast marine protected areas (MPAs) to protect wildlife and allocate the sea’s genetic resources. The UN will establish a conference of the parties (COP) that will meet regularly and hold member states to account on issues such as governance and biodiversity. According to The Guardian, it took almost twenty years to develop the final text of the agreement.
The treaty is critical to meeting the 30×30 commitment made by countries at the UN Biodiversity Conference in December to protect one third of the sea and land by 2030. Without a treaty, this goal will not be achieved, as there is no a legal mechanism to establish an offshore MPA, experts say. Ocean ecosystems produce half the oxygen we breathe, represent 95 percent of the planet’s biosphere, and absorb carbon dioxide. However, hitherto poorly enforced regulations governing the high seas have made this area more vulnerable to exploitation than coastal waters.
One of the main stumbling blocks in the lengthy negotiations that divided developing and developed countries was the question of how to fairly share marine genetic resources (MGR) and potential gains. Composed of genetic material from deep-sea sponges, krill, corals, algae, and bacteria, MGRs are attracting increasing attention from scientists and commercial organizations for their potential use in medicine and cosmetics. Likewise, the discussions on the procedure for the establishment of marine protected areas and the model for the study of the environmental impact of the proposed activity on the high seas were difficult. In an attempt to build trust between rich and poor countries, the European Union has pledged 40 million euros in New York to help ratify the treaty and speed up its implementation.