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High Seas Treaty |  Negotiators are nearing the finish line

High Seas Treaty | Negotiators are nearing the finish line

(United Nations) UN member states on Friday night appeared to be close to agreement on a treaty to protect the high seas, a fragile and vital treasure that covers nearly half of the planet.

After more than 15 years of informal and then formal discussions, negotiators are nearing the end of another two weeks of talks in New York, their third “last” session in less than a year.

“I don’t think a solution is out of reach,” conference chair Rina Lee said in a brief plenary session later in the day, calling on delegates to stock up on “snacks” to hold onto until the expected finish line on Saturday night. Friday to Saturday.

“We have the opportunity to get the deal done and we must not let it slip away,” she added, noting that negotiations are continuing, particularly on the highly political issue of sharing the benefits of marine resources and genetics.

She made it clear that even if compromises were found on all chapters still open, the treaty could not be formally adopted during this session.

But it may be “finalized”, without the possibility of reopening discussions “on the merits”, before it is officially adopted “at a later date” when it is examined by legal services and translated into the six official languages ​​of the European Union. ‘United nations.

Even without a formal adoption it would be a “big step”, Greenpeace’s Veronica Frank told AFP.

The high seas begin where the states’ exclusive economic zones (EEZs) end, up to a maximum of 200 nautical miles (370 km) from the coastline, and are therefore not under the jurisdiction of any nation.

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Although they account for more than 60% of the oceans and nearly half of the planet’s surface, they have long been ignored in the ecological battle, in favor of coastal regions and iconic species.

However, ocean ecosystems produce half of the oxygen we breathe, limiting global warming by absorbing a large portion of the carbon dioxide.2 It is emitted by human activities, and it nourishes a part of humanity.

But they are threatened by climate change, pollution of all kinds, and overfishing.

Equity between north and south

Negotiations for the future treaty focused on several disputes: procedures for establishing marine protected areas, the manner in which environmental impact studies would be carried out for planned activities on the high seas, and above all the sharing of potential benefits from the Marines’ genetic resources.

For many observers, this issue boils down to a matter of North-South equity. “Geopolitics,” comments Mina Epps, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Developing countries are already concerned about not being a full party to the treaty due to lack of financial resources; It is feared that they will be deprived of their share of the marketing cake for the potential miracle molecules discovered in these international waters.

With an announcement seen as a confidence-building gesture between North and South, the European Union, in New York, pledged €40 million to facilitate the ratification and initial implementation of the treaty.

Moreover, it announced the allocation of more than 800 million euros to protect the oceans overall for 2023 during the “Our Ocean” conference that concluded Friday in Panama, where the United States put on the table 77 ocean projects valued at about $ 6. one billion.

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In all, Panamanian Foreign Minister Janina Tiwani announced that at this conference “341 new commitments” worth nearly $20 billion were made to protect the seas.

According to several observers interviewed by AFP, resolving these politically sensitive financial issues could lead to solving other problems.

If agreed, it remains to be seen whether the text will be strong enough, with the agreed compromises, to enable effective ocean protection.

At this point, “the text is not complete, but it opens a clear path toward the 30 by 30 goal,” says Veronica Frank, referring to the commitment made in December by all the world’s governments to protect 30% of the Earth’s population. Earth and oceans by 2030.

It is a near impossible challenge without including the high seas, of which only 1% is protected today.