Nearly 10 years after talks began on protecting international water bodies, United Nations member states on Saturday reached a historic agreement.
After 38 hours of negotiation, delegates of the Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) agreed to place 30 per cent of the world’s oceans into protected areas, put more money into marine conservation, and cover access to and use of marine genetic resources.
Prior to Saturday’s agreement, only 1.2 per cent of these waters were protected by the international agreement on ocean protection that was signed 40 years ago in 1982 – the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Countries could fish, navigate, investigate, and mine unchecked, which implied that marine life in these waters were unprotected.
This sparked a global conversation and effort on protecting these waters which started in 2004. The effort met several brick walls including disagreements on funding and fishing rights.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the ship has reached the shore,” the President of the Conference, Rena Lee, said as she announced the agreement to an extended standing ovation in the meeting room. Delegations would later reconvene to formally adopt the text.
The treaty must first be formally adopted at a later session, and then it only enters “into force” once enough countries have signed up and legally passed it in their own countries.
UN applauds step
“This action is a victory for multilateralism and for global efforts to counter the destructive trends facing ocean health, now and for generations to come,” said the UN chief, Antonio Guterres, in a statement issued by his spokesperson.
Mr Guterres added that the treaty is crucial for addressing the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution.
“It is also vital for achieving ocean-related goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework,” the statement said, referring to the so-called ‘30×30’ pledge to protect a third of the world’s biodiversity – on land and sea – by 2030 made by a historic UN conference in Montreal in December.
The conference, which convened from 20 February to 4 March at UN Headquarters in New York, was attended by over 400 delegates, representing governments, specialised agencies of the UN, non-governmental organizations, and academia.
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