On saturday, after more than 38 hours of talks, an agreement was reached at the United Nations Headquarters in New York to ratify the High Seas Treaty, which aims to protect 30% of the world's oceans and seas by 2030 in order to protect and recover marine populations. The treaty itself is incredibly important for the 30x30 pledge made by countries at the UN biodiversity conference in December of this year, which asserted a desire to protect a third of the sea and land by the year 2030. Had this treaty not been agreed upon, the effort to meet this goal would have failed, as there would exist no legal mechanism to enforce the aims of this pledge.
A historic milestone in the protection of our environment, the agreement had been held up for years due to disagreements over fishing rights, funding, and the sharing of marine genetic resources that might benefit society, such as in the form of pharmaceuticals, food, and industrial processes. Now, with the signing of this treaty, close to two-thirds of the ocean that lies outside of national boundaries will be protected. Overall, these new protected areas will see limits imposed on fishing, the routes of shipping lanes, and things like deep sea mining, all in order to protect vulnerable ecosystems and wildlife.
The last landmark international agreement on protecting the oceans, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, was signed in 1982. It established an area of international waters called the high seas, which not only allowed all countries the right to fish, pursue shipping, and conduct research, but also instituted some protections of these waters. Unfortunately the amount protected was miniscule, which is why this latest agreement, if successfully implemented and enforced, is such a major milestone. After all, the ecosystems of the world’s oceans produce half of the oxygen we need to survive, represent an estimated 95% of the world’s biosphere, and help absorb the surging carbon dioxide that has resulted in large part from world industry and deforestation. Should these ecosystems disappear, all this will be severely hampered, leading to predictable negative impacts on humanity and the world as a whole.
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