Prospect convened a roundtable of experts to discuss the importance of finalising an ambitious, conservation-oriented High Seas Treaty in 2020by Prospect Team / March 16, 2020 / Leave a comment
“Ever since I started talking about environmental issues—ocean, terrestrial, climate—there probably hasn’t been a year when I haven’t said ‘This is the most important year.’ But this really does feel like the defining year,” Zac Goldsmith told a recent Prospect roundtable. “It’s the year where we have the opportunity—I would say the responsibility—to demonstrate to a world increasingly anxious about the state of our planet that we are genuinely serious about addressing those challenges.”
The Joint DEFRA and Foreign Office minister was reflecting not just on a year when the UK government hosts the COP26 climate change convention, but also the year that the nations of the world might finally reach agreement over how best to govern the high seas.
It was the latter topic—intrinsically linked to the former—that was the basis for the roundtable at which Goldsmith spoke. Supported by the High Seas Alliance, Prospect brought together scientists, politicians, business leaders and other interested parties in early March to answer one overriding question: “How can we encourage nations to come together to protect the high seas?”
The governance gap
Obscure and remote, the high seas account for almost two-thirds of the global ocean and cover an area that is one and a half times the size of the land area of the planet. The high seas are home to some of the world’s rarest species and bountiful resources. Crucially, they lie beyond the ownership and control of any single nation. They are a global common that many believe lacks proper governance. The result of inaction? A likely tragedy caused by over-fishing, unnecessary deep-sea mining and the hoarding of marine genetic resources through the patent system, among other threats.
The current governance structure is framed on the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), agreed in 1982 and based on negotiations which began in the 1970s. Much has changed in the intervening decades, not least man’s ability to exploit natural resources. As for an overarching treaty for conservation, sustainable use of the seas and to protect biodiversity, none exists today. “The current ocean governance structure has gaping holes,” noted Peggy Kalas, Director, High Seas Alliance. “It failed to foresee the technological developments that would allow us to go further and deeper…