Almost two-thirds of the world’s ocean lies outside national boundaries. These are the “high seas”, where fragmented and loosely enforced rules have meant a vast portion of the planet, hundreds of miles from land, is mostly lawless. Talks are currently underway at the UN headquarters in New York to conclude negotiations for what scientists have described as a “once in a lifetime” chance to at last protect the high seas.
Why is this important? Healthy oceans provide half of the oxygen we breathe, represents 95 percent of the planet’s biosphere, soaks up carbon dioxide and is Earth’s largest carbon sink.
Aimed at shielding huge swathes of the world’s ocean from exploitation, the talks are the fifth round of negotiations, which ended last August without agreement. The current round of talks began last week and will end tomorrow.
The pressure is on. Last month, the UN secretary general, António Guterres, said the ocean was on the “frontlines” of the war against nature, and called on nations to stop squabbling and conclude the delayed negotiations.
Above all, the talks are critical to enforcing the 30x30 pledge from the UN biodiversity conference in December: a promise to protect 30 percent of the ocean (as well as 30 percent of the land) by 2030. Without a high seas treaty, scientists and environmentalists agree the 30x30 pledge will fail, for the simple reason that no legal mechanism exists for establishing protected marine areas on the high seas - rendering any promises to do so meaningless.
So, we all have to keep our fingers firmly crossed that good news emanates from the UN tomorrow - or shortly thereafter.
Ocean Carbon-Removing Machine: Scientists believe that the oceans currently absorb about one third of the CO2 produced by the burning of fossil fuel. What if we could help it along?