After fifteen years of formal and informal talks, delegates have been meeting in New York since February 20 for the third “final” negotiating round in less than a year, as they work on a treaty to protect the planet’s high seas, which by definition begin at the border of countries’ Exclusive Economic Zones which extend up to 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) from coastlines. High seas fall under the jurisdiction of no country.
The high seas may compromise more than 60 percent of the world’s oceans and nearly half the planet’s surface, they have long drawn far less attention than coastal waters and a few iconic species.
An updated draft text published this past weekend is still full of parenthetic clauses and multiple options on some major issues that will determine the robustness of the final document. Still under dispute is how marine protected areas, a core part of any future treaty’s mandate, will be created.
Several observers say China is pushing for the future governing body of any eventual treaty, known as the conference of the parties (COP), to determine the sanctuaries by consensus rather than a majority vote. They suspect China is trying to give itself a de facto veto, like the one Beijing has used for years to prevent the creation of other marine protected areas by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).
Greenpeace’s Laura Meller urged Beijing to show the same leadership as it did in December, when under its presidency of COP15 in Montreal, all the world’s governments committed to protecting 30 percent of the planet’s land and oceans by 2030. That aim is impossible to achieve without including the high seas, of which only about 1 percent is currently protected.
Any treaty that protects the world’s high seas will certainly be welcome, especially for the Philippines where the high seas, and even its own EEZ along its western seaboard is currently being raped and pillaged by the Chinese expansion and indiscriminate island building that is destroying vast areas that should be protected instead.*