The open seas (the sea beyond countries’ territorial waters) cover two-thirds of the earth. Oceans serve three key purposes (a) they are the source for half the earth’s oxygen supply; (b) they are natural carbon sinks; (c) source of economic value: food, shipping and tourism. The oceans are overexploited with many species facing extinction, and heavily polluted as they are not covered under any national jurisdiction.
Earlier in March 2023, the High Seas Treaty, an instrument of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), was agreed upon at an intergovernmental conference. In terms of importance and significance, this treaty is quite like the Paris Agreement. The key goal of the treaty is to protect 30 per cent of the world’s oceans by 2030, hence also called the 30´30 treaty. India is a party to the treaty.
The key features of the treaty include:
- Access and Benefit-sharing Committee: It will set up an access- and benefit-sharing committee to frame guidelines. The activities concerning marine genetic resources of areas on high seas will be in the interests of all States and for the benefit of humanity. They have to be carried out exclusively for peaceful purposes.
- Environmental Impact Assessments: Signatories will have to conduct environmental impact assessments before the exploitation of marine resources. Before carrying out a planned activity, the member will have to undertake processes of screening, scoping, carrying out an impact assessment of the marine environment likely to be affected, identifying prevention, and management of potential adverse effects.
- Consent from Indigenous Community: Marine resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction that are held by indigenous people and local communities can only be accessed with their “free, prior and informed consent or approval and involvement”. No State can claim its right over marine genetic resources of areas beyond national jurisdiction.
- Clearing-House Mechanism: Members will have to provide the Clearing-House Mechanism (CHM), established as part of the treaty, with details like the objective of the research, geographical area of collection, names of sponsors, etc.
- Funding: A special fund will be established as part of the pact, which will be fixed by the conference of parties (COP). The COP will also oversee the functioning of the treaty.
The treaty still needs to be ratified by many countries and passed by their respective parliaments. There is still hope that the biodiversity within the oceans has a chance to thrive.