Protecting the High Seas and Oceans

On March 4, 2023, the United Nations passed the High Seas Treaty to protect all parts of the world’s oceans defined by international law as “the high seas.” Up until then, only 1% of the high seas, an area where all countries had “a right to fish, ship and do research,” was protected from exploitation. It took over a decade for the UN High Seas Treaty to be developed as a legal instrument of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The treaty is getting praise from diverse groups for its potential to prevent further loss of species at risk, and biodiversity loss, in general; however, the treaty is not yet at the stage of implementation.

The area covered by the UN High Seas Treaty has significant impact on the climate. The high seas “takes up 90% of the excess heat and around 25% of the CO2  generated by humanity’s burning of fossil fuels.” The treaty intends to protect the high seas from the ongoing effects of climate change such as pollution and ocean acidification, as well as the threats of overfishing and other forms of resource extraction. The treaty also aligns with the UN’s COP 15 Global Biodiversity Framework, established in December 2022; member nations agreed to “30 x 30” – that is, protecting 30% of the ocean, coastal areas, and lands by 2030.

The Carbon Brief offers more details as to the development, content, and next steps for the Treaty.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Image credit: Abigail Lynn, Unsplash)