Context: The United Nations aims to protect the High Seas as they make up more than 60% of the world’s oceans.
What are High Seas?
- Definition: The high seas are defined by international law as, all parts of the ocean that aren’t included in the exclusive economic zone, the territorial sea, or the internal waters of a country.
- This essentially means that the high seas and associated resources are not directly owned or regulated by any country.
- Internal Waters: Covers all water and waterways on the landward side of the baseline. The State is free to set laws, regulate use, and use any resource.
- Territorial Waters: Extend up to 12 nautical miles (22 kilometres; 14 miles) from the baseline. The coastal State is free to set laws, regulate use, and use any resource.
- Contiguous Zone: Extends further 12 nautical miles beyond the territorial waters.
The State can enforce laws in four specific areas – customs, taxation, immigration, and pollution.
- Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs): EEZs extent up to 200 nautical miles (370 km; 230 mi) from the baseline. Within this area, the coastal nation has sole exploitation rights over all natural resources.
What is the Proposed UN High Seas Treaty?
- About: Also referred to as the ‘Paris Agreement for the Ocean’, the treaty deals with Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) and has been under discussion for several years.
- The proposed treaty concerns the ocean existing beyond the Exclusive Economic Zones till where it has special rights for exploration.
- Negotiation: The treaty was to be negotiated under the United Nations Convention on Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS) which governs the rights of countries regarding marine resources.
- As there is no treaty for conserving the health of vast swathes of the earth’s oceans, a UN resolution in 2017 had decided to rectify this while setting 2022 as the deadline.
- Key areas of focus:
- The conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ);
- Marine Genetic Resources (MGRs: Biological material from plants and animals in the ocean that can have benefits for society, such as pharmaceuticals, industrial processes and food), including questions on benefit-sharing;
- Area Based Management Tools (ABMT), including Marine Protected Areas (MPAs);
- Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA);
- Capacity-building and the Transfer of Marine Technology (CB&TMT)
United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)
- The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea was adopted in 1982.
- It lays down a comprehensive regime of law and order in the world’s oceans and seas, establishing rules governing all uses of the oceans and their resources.
- It does not specify how States should conserve and sustainably use high seas biodiversity.
- It also regulates activities in international waters, including sea-bed mining and cable laying.
- India became a signatory to the UNCLOS in 1982.
Why is the Treaty Needed?
- Vastness of the Ocean: The high seas span two-thirds of the ocean and cover half the planet and supply a third of the world’s oxygen.
- Energy and Trade: It is important to protect the ocean in order to generate sustainable wave and tidal energy, as well as for the production of commodities.
- Biodiversity: The high seas are among the last truly wild places on earth. They are home to bountiful marine biodiversity, including some of our most iconic and valued species.
- They are also home to remarkable ecosystems, such as towering seamounts and deep-water coral gardens.
- 30×30 target: According to scientists, it is critical to conserve at least 30% of the ocean by 2030 (30×30) to support healthy marine ecosystems and biodiversity globally.
- Currently, less than 1% of the high seas are in marine protected areas.
- Climate change: Conserving the high seas through marine protected areas is not only good for biodiversity, but also critical for our climate.
- More than half of the total amount of oxygen in our atmosphere is created by creatures in the ocean.
- At the same time, oceans store 50 times more carbon dioxide than what’s currently found in our atmosphere.
- Medicines: Some agents living in deep seas and oceans have the ability to treat variety of diseases, such as leukemia.
- Lack of Legal Framework: States do not have a mechanism to create and manage such a network in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction.