The New High Seas Treaty has been in discussion for over twenty years, with the last ocean protection agreement signed in 1982 – the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. As a result, the establishment of this new treaty is an enormous achievement for global sustainable development.
The international treaty aims to establish a framework for conservation and the sustainable use of marine biodiversity in the high seas, with the goal to protect 30% of seas by 2030. The treaty is aimed at bridging the gap between country conservation and the currently unprotected high seas by implementing Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s). The high seas are the large bodies of water that sit beyond the national jurisdiction of any country; therefore, they are liable to overfishing and disruptive trawling methods because of the lack of agreed policy and regulation. Currently, only 1.2% of high seas come under any protection or conservation laws, with IUCN research indicating that 10% of global marine species are already threatened by the risk of extinction. The new treaty would establish the mechanism for the identification, reporting and stipulates the necessity of environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for all deep-sea activities to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems.
The new High Seas Treaty may enable the delivery of the critical 30 by 30 pledges, which aims to conserve at least 30% of the planet’s land and ocean by 2030. The 30 by 30 goal is the third of the 23 global biodiversity targets for 2023, established in the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, adopted in December 2022. The initiative was driven by the recognition that habitat and biodiversity loss are worsening the effects of climate change, presenting major threats to the health of our planet. More than 100 countries came together and committed to protecting 30% of the world’s land and ocean. This critical step is essential to mitigate climate change and ensure sustainable development going forward.
Research has shown that at least 30% protection would create enough of a buffer effect to stunt, or better, reverse biodiversity decline and bolster climate resilience. Studies have shown that habitat loss is a major driver of species extinction and protecting a significant proportion of the planet’s land and oceans would help ensure critical ecosystems would remain intact. Furthermore, research has shown that the protection of larger areas provides more effective biodiversity conservation because wildlife has more safeguarded habitat areas, therefore, allowing for larger species populations.
Currently, just 15.7% of land and 8.1% of oceans are protected. However, many of these areas are small, fragmented and ineffectively managed, reducing their conservation power. Most importantly, peoples and local communities (IPLCs) are often excluded from local government protection efforts, meaning community conservation is not aligned with the long-term goals of municipalities and implementation not only falls short in protecting biodiversity but also fails to meet the needs of the local communities. This kind of protection is inherently unsustainable because it lacks support from the people closest to the land, by failing to meet the needs for conservation strategies or the people dependent on the land.
To achieve 30 by 30, countries are being called upon to further develop policies, and implement plans to protect and conserve ecosystems. An essential part of this process is the inclusion of IPLCs, who must be partners in the development and implementation of the global framework. The IPBES Global Assessment documents the critical role that IPLCs play in biodiversity conservation, noting that 35% of all the areas formally protected and 35% of the remaining terrestrial areas with low human intervention are traditionally owned, managed and occupied by Indigenous Peoples. Begging the question, how best do we achieve 30 by 30?
In global targets and policies such as 30 by 30, it is easy for individuals to feel helpless, disengaged and seemingly not part of the global challenge. By understanding why land and ocean conservation is important for global ecosystems, public individuals are likely to become more engaged in the issues and the need for solutions.
A few ways an individual can contribute to this collective target, is by reducing personal single-use plastic consumption, choosing certified sustainable seafood, overall reducing one’s carbon footprint, and lastly, becoming an ocean and land conservation advocate by educating themselves on the latest news, treaties, and initiatives to support global progress towards 30 by 30.
Georgina Murrin is a Sustainability Analyst in Itriom’s London Office.
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