New Oceans treaty, brings the Pacific into the fold
In March of this year, member countries of the United Nations (UN) agreed on a convention to safeguard, conserve and sustainably manage biodiversity in waters that are outside national borders after nearly two decades of negotiations and at the fifth round of treaty negotiations.
These areas, known as the high seas or international waters, cover two-thirds of the world's oceans and once were completely unregulated, is now on the path for sustainable use and to be effectively managed and regulated.
The UN High Seas Treaty, also known as the Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) Ocean Treaty will look to protect 30% of the world's oceans. This could also signal the possibility of increasing funding for marine conservation, and to establish new regulations to govern future activities with potential impact on biodiversity in the high seas.
Conservationists have praised it as a watershed moment, but what does it imply for the Pacific?
It is critical that the BBNJ Ocean treaty be ambitious enough to address current and potential future ocean problems and to ensure ocean health for current and future generations. To put it quite simply, the ocean is stressed, and this new groundbreaking treaty can and will help relieve that stress.
This treaty is extremely important to the Pacific because not only are the Pacific islands traditional custodians of the world's largest ocean, but they are also heavily reliant on a healthy and prosperous ocean. This new legally binding treaty will address the current gaps in our ocean management efforts.
The BBNJ treaty addresses, among other things:
- the conservation and sustainable use of marine BBNJ;
- marine genetic resources, including the need to agree on a mechanism for benefit-sharing (MGR);
- Area Based Management Tools (ABMT), including marine protected areas;
- environmental impact assessments (EIA); and
- capacity-building and the transfer of marine technology (CB&TMT).
Issues in the high seas such as illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities, amongst others are of critical concern, because they are out of sight, and usually out of mind.
Along with international environmental crime, there are also social and economic impacts associated with illegal and unregulated activities in the high seas. So we are hopeful that this treaty will enhance cooperation amongst member states and other non-state actors in the effective management of the ocean as a whole.
We all know that the ocean is one fluid body and that the environment and nature do not recognize the political boundaries we had put in place with regards to our Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of PICs, which is why it is important for PICs to try and work together with other member states, Indigenous people, local communities, private sector, CSOs and other stakeholders to address these gaps and to include PICs in decision-making processes.
Time is of the essence
The opportunity now is to translate the Treaty into action as the further we delay the adoption, ratification and the action of this treaty, the worse it will be for the state of our oceans.
Having this treaty is a start and all we can do is work together to move this forward in terms of implementation and with provisions that we can make under this treaty.
The World Wide Fund for Nature's 2022 Living Planet Report presented a sad fact about the status of our planet. Biodiversity is collapsing at an alarming rate around the planet, with global wildlife populations declining by 69% in the last 48 years. Sharks and rays have had a 71% reduction in population over the previous 50 years as a result of a growing variety of external challenges, including unsustainable fishing practises.
WWF’s flagship publication, Living Planet Report 2022, reveal that sharks and rays play an important role in many local communities and economy. The reported substantial declines also jeopardise food security and income in several low-income countries. Subsistence shark and ray fisheries have operated in these nations for hundreds of years, and the creation of alternative livelihood and income options for fishers could considerably simplify the transition to sustainability. Stopping decreases and rebuilding populations to sustainable levels would help ensure the future of these iconic predators, as well as the ecosystems and people that rely on them.
We have to work with national governments within the region to ensure that all of the countries are able to ratify the treaty and put into place an implementation architecture through national legislations.
This moment presents an opportunity for enhanced collaboration and cooperation amongst member states, indigenous people and local communities, private sector, financial institutions, academia and Civil society organisations and amongst regional and international frameworks and competent bodies.
The time it took to arrive at this Treaty is a testament to how difficult it is to try and get consensus among members states, taking into account various geopolitical issues and the various aspirations of SIDS.
Thankfully, the precedent signifying the importance for the protection of the ocean was set in 1982 when UN members states adopted the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Subsequently, the Convention provided the framework for further development of specific areas of the law of the sea and as such the UN General Assembly, in 2015, decided to develop an international legally binding instrument under UNCLOS which is what has culminated to the BBNJ treaty to this present day.