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Breakthrough Agreement to Protect the Ocean

(FILE) Fishermen work at sunrise in the Atlantic Ocean

A main goal of the BBNJ treaty is to protect marine life, as nearly 10 percent of global marine species are at risk of extinction.

Breakthrough Agreement to Protect the Ocean
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After years of negotiations, 190 United Nations member countries have drafted a treaty to protect the high seas - the ocean that lies outside of national boundaries. Negotiations on the agreement by the Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction, BBNJ, or the High Seas Treaty, began in 2018, and were preceded by over a decade of work in a Preparatory Committee and an ad hoc Working Group.

Currently, only 1.2 percent of these waters are under comprehensive protections from damage caused by pollution, overfishing, shipping and deep-sea mining. Once the treaty is ratified by U.N. member states, it will be a critical part of achieving the goal of conserving or protecting at least 30 percent of the global ocean by 2030, the so-called 30x30 initiative. This initiative, which is a benchmark that science tells us is critical to combatting the climate crisis and safeguarding biodiversity, aims to provide access to nature for everyone; support the conservation work of private landowners; help stabilize the climate; and ensure landscape connectivity for wildlife.

A main goal of the BBNJ treaty is to protect marine life. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, nearly 10 percent of global marine species are at risk of extinction. “Biodiversity is declining at a catastrophic rate,” said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, Monica Medina.

“Conserving at least 30 percent of the Earth –- its land, inland waters, and ocean –- is vitally important to supporting nature’s ability to sustain people, economies, and the planet,” she said.

Climate change is a key reason for the decline of marine life. Increases in ocean temperatures, changes in ocean chemistry, and other impacts of greenhouse gas emissions are making the marine environment less livable for many species. Implementing protections for high seas ecosystems is crucial for addressing the triple threat of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution, and the High Seas Treaty will help us do this.

“The climate crisis and the ocean are inextricably linked,” said U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Change John Kerry.

According to Special Envoy Kerry, the High Seas Treaty draws international attention to the threats facing the world’s ocean and to the efforts to tackle the climate crisis and conserve or protect vast areas of the high seas by 2030.