Historic agreement at the UN for the first international treaty to protect the high seas, the one that at over 200 nautical miles from the coasts goes beyond national jurisdictions and represents two thirds of the oceans, constituting a vital ecosystem for humanity.
"The ship has reached shore," announced conference president Rena Lee, to long applause from delegates. The green light came after more than 15 years of discussions, including four of formal negotiations, and a final 48-hour marathon at the UN headquarters. The text, agreed by the member countries, will be adopted after examination by the legal departments and translation into the six languages of the United Nations. Then it will have to be ratified by a sufficient number of countries.
The content was not disclosed but everyone welcomed the agreement as a historic and decisive turning point for the implementation of the "30x30" commitment made at the UN conference on biodiversity in December, to protect a third of the seas (and lands) by 2030. Without a treaty, this objective would certainly have failed. Until now, there have been no legal mechanisms to create marine protected areas (MPAs) in international waters by defending wildlife and sharing genetic resources. Although it represents two-thirds of the oceans and almost half of the planet, the high seas have long been ignored in environmental battles, to the benefit of coastal areas and some emblematic spaces. But with the progress of science has emerged the need to protect the oceans in their entirety because they produce half of the oxygen we breathe, represent 95% of the planet's biosphere and limit global warming by absorbing carbon dioxide. They are threatened by pollution of all kinds, acidification of water and overfishing.
Among the issues that had so far prevented an agreement were the procedure for creating marine protected areas and the model for environmental impact studies. But above all the division of genetic resources, such as marine sponges, krill (small crustaceans), corals, algae and bacteria, the subject of growing scientific and commercial attention for their potential use in medicine and cosmetics, with relative profits. Developing countries that do not have the means to finance very expensive expeditions and research have fought not to be excluded from access to these resources and in the end the principle of sharing has passed. As in other international forums, in particular the climate negotiations, the debate ended up being reduced to a question of North-South fairness, with an outstretched hand from the richest countries. In an announcement seen as a gesture to strengthen North-South confidence, the EU pledged 40 million euros to New York to facilitate the ratification of the treaty and its first implementation.
"A victory for multilateralism and global efforts to counter the destructive trends that threaten the health of the oceans, today and for generations to come," said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius also applauded. "Good news also for Italy", commented the Minister for Maritime Policies Nello Musumeci and the head of the Environment Gilberto Pichetto Fratin, now calling for a greater commitment against pollution in the Mediterranean.
"It is a historic day for conservation and a sign that in a divided world the protection of nature and people can triumph over geopolitics," noted Laura Meller, of Greenpeace. "A landmark achievement, protected areas on the high seas can play a vital role in strengthening resilience against the effects of climate change," said Liz Karan of the Pew Charitable Trusts.