UN debates high seas conservation – moves forward toward new treaty negotiations

Date: August 23, 2013

The UN General Assembly’s special working group on high seas biodiversity conservation met this week to debate whether to launch negotiations for a new UN treaty to conserve and protect marine biodiversity in international waters. This was the first meeting of the UN working group since the Rio+20 Conference in Brazil (June 2012), which committed all nations to urgently address high seas protection.

“The high seas are our global commons and cover almost 50% of the earth” said Matthew Gianni of the DSCC. “A comprehensive treaty is needed to protect this vast area from pollution, overfishing, destructive fishing practices such as deep-sea bottom trawling, and other activities that threaten the enormous diversity of species and ecosystems in international waters.”

At Rio+20 all nations committed to take a decision, through the UN General Assembly, on whether to launch the negotiations for a new treaty on an urgent basis and, in any event, by no later than the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly which begins in September 2014.

Most countries, including Brazil and the UN group of all developing countries, the EU, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand are in favour of moving quickly to formally begin the negotiations. However a handful of countries are still reluctant to agree to negotiate a new treaty so and are slowing progress. Nonetheless the consensus agreement adopted by the UN working group this week sets out a preparatory process which should lead to the start of new negotiations.

“Governments have consistently recognized that the current patchwork of regional and global agreements to regulate activities on the high seas is in urgent need of improvement” said Duncan Currie of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition. “We’re cautiously optimistic that, in spite of the reluctance of some countries, the decisions taken this week have moved the UN closer to begin negotiating the protection we need to ensure that our oceans can be protected and productive for our benefit and that of future generations.”

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