EDITORIAL: The high seas are global commons. They belong to all of humanity. They lie outside of national boundaries, but face risk of exploration for exploitation of its generic resources by some, with others, particularly the Global South, insisting that there should be legal framework to protect against the loss of wildlife and share out its rich resources.
That debate had been on the table for more than 15 years, but thanks to unrelenting struggle by friends of high seas there is a mutually acceptable compromise now in the form of Global High Seas Treaty. “It’s a massive step”, says Veronicia Frank of Greenpeace.
Seen to be a move at attempting to build trust between the rich and poor countries the European Union has pledged $42 million to facilitate ratification of treaty and its early implementation, which is likely to be the case without any hassle as in 2017 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling on nations to establish an accord or a legal framework high seas.
The high seas begin at the border of countries’ exclusive economic zones, which are extended up to 370 kilometres from coastlines.
This broad expanse of water comprises more than 60 percent of the world’s oceans and nearly half of the planet’s surface. But they draw far less attention than the coastal waters even though they serve humanity in myriad ways.
Ocean ecosystems create half the oxygen humans breathe and limit global warming by absorbing much of the carbon dioxide emitted by human activities. But they are threatened by climate change, pollution and overfishing.
When the treaty comes into force it will provide a legal framework for establishing vast Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). All activities that go on the high seas will be subjected to environmental impact assessments, with member states held accountable for their actions. And it wasn’t a smooth sailing to arrive at an agreed text of the high seas protection treaty.
Developing countries, without means to afford costly research, wanted not to be excluded from commercialization of potential substances discovered in the international waters.
They wanted to be equally benefited from profits likely from the pharmaceutical, chemical or cosmetic use of substances likely to be discovered by research conducted by rich countries.
On the face of it the agreement clinched on protection of high seas is a significant step forward towards getting together to confront and defeat the common environmental threats, including global warming, to humanity on planet earth.
That consensual draft of the treaty ensuring protection of high seas was successfully finalised, by a visibly divided global community which is indeed a great achievement on the part of friends of safe and secure high seas. But will the treaty play out as intended? There are doubts – as is the case with climate change and pollution control understandings and agreements.
In there too the commitments made by perpetrators have not materialised in actual action. In terms of mineral wealth and marine life the oceans are far richer than terra firma.
So, will this treaty on protection of high seas help the Global North share the outcome of its exploitation of resources under the deep waters with the Global South? Unfortunately, however, there is no easy answer to this profound question.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023