‘Historic’ new high seas treaty agreed by UN members in potential watershed moment for 30x30 target

A historic new global treaty which is intended to put 30% of the world’s oceans into marine protected areas (MPAs) has been agreed by UN members, in a move viewed as a significant step forward for the world’s 30x30 nature targets which were adopted at COP15 last year.

This decision comes at an important time as nearly 10% of marine species were found to be at risk of extinction in the latest International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) assessment. Ocean ecosystems are also heavily impacted by climate change.

Currently just 1% of the high seas are protected, with all countries having a right to fish, ship and carry out research.

The new treaty strengthens the 30x30 commitment made at COP15 in Montreal last year which commits all signatories to protect 30% of all land and sea by 2030, as per the newly agreed Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF).

Laura Meller, an oceans campaigner for Greenpeace Nordic who attended the conference in New York, described the decision made over the weekend as a “historic” moment for conservation.

She said: “We praise countries for seeking compromises, putting aside differences and delivering a Treaty that will let us protect the oceans, build our resilience to climate change and safeguard the lives and livelihoods of billions of people.”

The High Ambition Coalition, which includes the EU, US and UK, were key players in brokering the deal. According to the BBC, Russia expressed concerns over the final text.

Points of conflict during the deliberations came over what level of safeguarding the protected areas will have, and whether sustainable use will be allowed. The full text of the agreement has not been shared with the public yet and the treaty must still be signed and formally passed in the respective countries before it is adopted and enters into law.

Other measures under the treaty are a commitment to share marine genetic resources, and for environmental assessments to be carried out before deep sea activities such as mining can be carried out.

Meller continued: “We can now finally move from talk to real change at sea. Countries must formally adopt the Treaty and ratify it as quickly as possible to bring it into force, and then deliver the fully protected ocean sanctuaries our planet needs.”

In terms of funding, the EU has pledged around £722.3 million for international ocean protection.

The UK also launched a number of funding measures ahead of the conference which include £45 million for the new ‘Blue Tech Superhighway’ project, which is intended to support local, small-scale fishers and aquaculture farmers in adapting to climate change and monitoring their own catches. 

Environment secretary Thérèse Coffey said: “It is almost impossible to overstate the importance of stepping up our efforts to bolster the resilience of the marine environment and, in turn, the economies and communities that depend on it.”

Coffey also urged more countries to join the global alliance to tackle Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, a practice which the government undermines global fish stocks and leads to losses of roughly $10-23.5 billion in value. The coalition was launched by the UK, US and Canada last year, with EU, Panama and New Zealand signing up over the weekend.