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UN Treaty of the High Seas

Updated: Sep 15, 2023

On 19th June 2023, the Treaty of the High Seas* was adopted by consensus during the UN meeting in New York. Until now, the high seas (an area which covers two thirds of the ocean and almost half of Earth’s surface) has largely been considered as ‘out of sight, out of mind’. This Treaty addresses many of the governance gaps relating to the high seas and in doing so, paves the way for improvements in the preservation and restoration of this shared marine environment.

Key highlights of the Treaty include:

Comprehensive marine protection: the Treaty provides states with the power to establish marine protected areas (MPAs) in the high seas and in doing so, provides a pathway to achieving the 30x30 target (protecting 30% of the world’s ocean and land areas by 2030)

Scientific research and knowledge sharing: the Treaty encourages increased scientific research cooperation amongst member states and in doing so, supports evidence-based decision making in the management of the high seas;

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) framework: the Treaty includes an obligation to conduct EIAs for activities which may impose an impact on the high seas;

Capacity building and technology transfer: the Treaty includes provisions for capacity building and technology transfer between parties (particularly developing nations) and in doing so, champions inclusivity in ocean governance efforts, and

Enforcement and compliance: to ensure effective implementation of the Treaty, it includes provisions for monitoring, reporting and enforcement measures. These measures will help combat illegal operations taking place in the high seas and safeguard the sustainability of marine resources.

Next steps: before it can enter into force, the Treaty must be ratified by a minimum of 60 parties at the next United Nations Ocean Conference in June 2025 in Nice, France

*also known as the Agreement under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ)’

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