Negotiators from more than 100 countries concluded a U.N. treaty to protect the high seas on Saturday, a long-awaited step that environmental groups say will help reverse the loss of marine biodiversity and ensure sustainable development.
The legally binding pact to conserve and ensure the sustainable use of ocean biodiversity, debated for 15 years, was finally agreed after five rounds of lengthy UN-led negotiations that concluded in New York on Saturday, a day after the original deadline.
“The ship has reached the shore,” U.N. Conference President Rena Lee said after a marathon final day of negotiations.
The treaty is seen as an important part of global efforts to protect 30% of the planet’s land and marine surface by the end of the decade, a goal known as “30 by 30” agreed in Montreal in December.
Economic interests were one of the main sticking points of the latest round of negotiations, which began on February 20, with developing countries demanding a greater share of the spoils of the “blue economy”, including technology transfer.
An agreement to share the benefits of “marine genetic resources” used in industries such as biotechnology also remained a point of contention until the end, dragging out the talks.
According to Greenpeace, 11 million square kilometers of ocean need to be protected each year until 2030 to meet the target.
Pollution, acidification and overfishing pose a growing threat.
“Countries must formally adopt the treaty and ratify it as soon as possible for it to enter into force, so that we get the fully protected ocean sanctuaries that our planet needs,” said Laura Meller, a Greenpeace campaigner who attended the talks.
“The clock is ticking to meet the target of 30 by 30. We have half a decade left. We have half a decade left and we cannot rest on our laurels.”