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High Seas Treaty

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March 08, 2023

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The UN member states agreed on a treaty for protecting marine life in international waters that lie outside the jurisdiction of any country.

What are the high seas?

  • According to the 1958 Geneva Convention on the High Seas, they are the parts of the sea that are not included in the territorial waters or the internal waters of a country.
  • It is the area beyond a country’s Exclusive Economic Zone which extends up to 200 nautical miles or 370 km from the coastline & till where a nation has jurisdiction on living & non-living resources.

No country is responsible for the management and protection of resources on the high seas.

How important are the high seas?

  • Hub of marine life – The high seas account for more than 60% of the world’s ocean area and cover about half of the Earth’s surface, which makes them a hub of marine life.
  • Role in climate change – The high seas regulate the climate by playing a fundamental role in planetary stability by mitigating the effects of climate change.
  • They absorb carbon and store solar radiation and distribute heat around the globe.
  • Resources – It provides a wealth of resources, like seafood and raw materials, genetic and medicinal resources, and air purification.

What are the concerns associated with high seas?

  • El Nino – They are affected by phenomena like the El Nino, and are also undergoing acidification, all of which endanger marine flora and fauna.
  • Several thousand marine species are at a risk of extinction by 2100 if current warming and acidification trends continue.
  • Anthropogenic pressures – These include seabed mining, noise pollution, chemical spills and fires, disposal of untreated waste, overfishing, introduction of invasive species, and coastal pollution.
  • Least protected – Despite the alarming situation, the high seas remain as one of the least-protected areas, with only about 1% of it under protection.

What is the treaty about?

  • The draft agreement recognises the need to address biodiversity loss and degradation of ecosystems of the ocean.
  • It places 30% of the world’s oceans into protected areas, puts more money into marine conservation and covers access to and use of marine genetic resources.

A marine protected area (MPA) is defined as a geographically defined marine area that is designated and managed to achieve specific long-term biodiversity conservation objectives and may allow, where appropriate, sustainable use provided it is consistent with the conservation objectives.

What is the timeline of the treaty?

  • UNCLOS – In 1982, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) was adopted, which delineated rules to govern the oceans and the use of its resources.
  • However, there was no comprehensive legal framework that covered the high seas.
  • The UNGA decided in 2015 to develop a legally binding instrument within the framework of UNCLOS.
  • The Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) was convened to frame a legal instrument on Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ).
  • The European Union launched the High Ambition Coalition on BBNJ to finalise the agreement.
  • 30x30 pledge – At the Conference of Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15), countries agreed to protect 30% of oceans by 2030, as part of the ’30 x 30 pledge’.

The 30x30 pledge was made by the historic Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), at the COP15.

What are the key features of the treaty?

  • Benefit-sharing committee – The activities concerning marine genetic resources of areas on high seas should 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.
  • Rights over genetic resources – No State can claim its right over marine genetic resources of areas beyond national jurisdiction, the draft adds.
  • Clearing House Mechanism (CHM) – Members will have to provide 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 which will be fixed by the conference of parties who will also oversee the functioning of the treaty.



  1. The Hindu │How did the treaty on the high seas come through?
  2. Live Mint │ Curb on deep sea mining, overfishing: UN's historic ocean treaty explained
  3. World Economic forum │ Why the High Seas Treaty is a breakthrough for the ocean and the planet
  4. UN News │ UN delegates reach historic agreement on protecting marine biodiversity in international waters
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