‘For the first time, we are getting a binding agreement for the high seas, which until now have hardly been protected’
UN member states finally agreed Saturday to a text on the first international treaty after years of negotiations to protect the high seas, a fragile and vital treasure that covers nearly half the planet.
“The ship has reached the shore,” conference chair Rena Lee announced at the United Nations headquarters in New York to loud and lengthy applause from delegates.
The exact wording of the text was not immediately released, but activists hailed it as a breakthrough moment for the protection of biodiversity after more than 15 years of discussions.
Steffi Lemke, Germany’s environment minister, said the crafting of the treaty – which at times looked in jeopardy – represented “a historic and overwhelming success for international marine protection.”
“For the first time, we are getting a binding agreement for the high seas, which until now have hardly been protected,” Lemke continued. “Comprehensive protection of endangered species and habitats is now finally possible on more than 40 percent of the Earth’s surface.”
The treaty is seen as essential to conserving 30 percent of the world’s land and ocean by 2030, as agreed by world governments in a historic accord signed in Montreal in December.
“This is a historic day for conservation and a sign that in a divided world, protecting nature and people can triumph over geopolitics,” said Greenpeace’s Laura Meller.
“We only really have two major global commons — the atmosphere and the oceans,” said Georgetown marine biologist Rebecca Helm. While the oceans may draw less attention, “protecting this half of earth’s surface is absolutely critical to the health of our planet.”