New impetus for the High Seas Treaty as the finish line nears

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New breath for the treaty on the high seas as it approaches the finish line

At stake is the commercialization of potential miraculous molecules discovered in the high seas.

UN member states appeared to be closing in Friday night on an agreement on the treaty to protect the high seas, a fragile and vital treasure that covers nearly half the planet.

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

I don't think a solution isn't in sight, conference president Rena Lee said during a short plenary session late in the day, calling on delegates to stock up on supplies. snacks to last until the expected finish line on the night of Friday to Saturday.

We have the opportunity to get the deal done and we must not let it slip away, she added, noting however that negotiations were continuing, particularly on the highly political issue of profit sharing. marine genetic resources.

Even if compromises are found on all the chapters still open, the treaty cannot be formally adopted at this session, she further explained.

But it may be finalized, without the possibility of reopening discussions on the substance, before formal adoption at a later date when it has been scrutinized by the legal services and translated into the six official UN languages.

Even without formal adoption, it would be a major step, Greenpeace's Veronica Frank told AFP.

The high seas begin where areas end. exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of the States, within a maximum of 200 nautical miles (370 km) from the coasts, and it is therefore not under the jurisdiction of any country.

Even though it represents more than 60% of the oceans and almost half of the surface of the planet, it has long been ignored in the environmental fight, in favor of coastal areas and emblematic species.

< p class="e-p">Ocean ecosystems produce half of the oxygen we breathe, limit global warming by absorbing a large part of the CO2 emitted by human activities, and feed part of humanity .

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

Negotiations for the future treaty focused on several disputes: procedure for creating marine protected areas, method of implementing environmental impact studies for activities planned on the high seas, and above all sharing of potential benefits from marine genetic resources.

For many observers, this issue boils down to a question of North-South equity. Geopolitics, comments Minna Epps of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Developing countries are indeed worried that they are not fully party to treaty due to lack of financial resources; and fear being deprived of their share of the commercialization pie of potential miraculous molecules discovered in these international waters.

With an announcement seen as a gesture to build North-South trust, the European Union pledged, in New York, 40 million euros (nearly $58 million) to facilitate the ratification of the treaty and its initial implementation.

Beyond that, it announced more than 800 million euros (or over $1.15 billion) dedicated to protecting the oceans in general for 2023 at the Our Ocean conference which ended Friday in Panama, where the United States tabled 77 ocean projects valued at nearly $6 billion.

In total, Panamanian Foreign Minister Janaina Tewaney announced that 341 new commitments, amounting to nearly $20 billion, had been made at this conference to protect the seas.

According to several observers interviewed by AFP, solving these financial issues, which are politically very sensitive, could unlock the rest.

In case of agreement , it remains to be seen whether the text will be strong enough, with the compromises made, to enable effective protection of the oceans.

At this stage, the text is not perfect, but it opens a clear path to 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 land and oceans of the planet by 2030.

An almost impossible challenge without including the high seas, of which only about 1% is t protected today.

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