After years of discussion, UN member states have failed to come to an agreement on a new treaty to protect the ocean and marine life. As the high seas continuously face exploitation daily, scientists, environmentalists and conservation organizations are now blaming UN member states for “dragging their feet” on reaching an agreement.
The treaty called the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction Ocean Treaty, BBNJ, was first proposed back in December of 2017. Now, the UN member states have still failed to pass the treaty five years later. Their fourth session to discuss the treaty took place Friday, but despite it being the final meeting, UN member states still did not reach an agreement.
Dr. Essam Mohammed, Eritrea’s representative in the negotiations and interim director general of WorldFish, mentioned “All member states of the UN need to recognize the urgency to save the ocean and the people who depend on it to survive.”
Our oceans in danger
At the moment, all countries currently have the right to navigate, fish and carry out scientific research in the ocean, but face very few restrictions — only 1.2% of marine life is protected.
A majority of the area that lies outside exclusive economic zones (EEZs), which are areas of coastal water near a country’s coastline used for fishing, drilling, etc, make up 64% present of surface area and cover approximately 200 nautical miles from the shorelines of states.
Since the majority of ocean area is not protected and does not reside in EEZs, illegal fishing and drilling freely takes place where sea life is not monitored. For centuries, offshore drilling, fishing and other pollution-leading activities in the ocean have increased.
Doug McCauley, associate professor of ocean science at the Benioff Ocean Initiative at the University of California, Santa Barbara. debunks the myth that humans have not had a significant impact on the ocean.
“By all indicators, it is busier than it has ever been,” McCauley said. “Shipping has increased by 1,600% since 1982, when Unclos [the UN law of the sea] was signed. Industrial fishing takes place farther and farther from shore and more than 55% of the ocean is fished. There is a new interest in offshore oil and gas. And there is the threat of mining in the deep sea.”
Alongside industrial fishing and offshore oil and gas drilling, pesticides and plastic pollution have become an increasingly high source of pollution in the ocean.
Chemical pollution is caused by several different business sectors including industrial, urban, agricultural and domestic. Pollutants from these industries can often result in heavy metals, phthalates, oil and pesticides being leaked into the ocean.
Specifically, as of February 2021, the use of pesticides had increased by 25% in the last decade and has shown a direct negative impact on water quality.
Another big threat to the ocean is plastic — which is quite possibly the biggest threat.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN’s, latest report released in November of 2021: “at least 14 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year, and plastic makes up 80% of all marine debris found from surface waters to deep-sea sediments.”
The report also concluded that this pollution is a danger to many aspects of both marine and human life. Many marine species are likely to ingest, chock or get tangled in marine debris, which can cause inquiries and even death.
As more fish ingest plastic and plastic chemicals infect the ocean, plastic pollution in the ocean is also a threat to humans — with food safety and quality alongside human health being endangered.
Other previous treaties have failed — hopefully this one won’t
Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG 14) aimed at conserving and sustainably managing the resources of the ocean, is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals adopted unanimously by the UN General Assembly in 2015. Despite how it looks, the problem with this goal, as with all the others, is that as desirable as they are, they are merely declared wishes without any means to implement them and no binding requirement on member states to do anything.
For the UN secretariat, only two means are open to them to encourage the application of the SDGs: (1) propose resolutions that will apply peer pressure on Member states to toe the SDG line and become SDG-compliant (this is what the COP meetings are designed to do); and (2) push for binding international agreements, like this ocean treaty intended to cover the oceans beyond the EEZs.
After several advocates for SDG 14 came forward and said they needed some kind of discipline to ensure the implementation of SDG 14 was on track, the UN General Assembly created the UN Ocean Conference to come up with a plan.
The first Ocean Conference was held in 2017, where officials agreed to pass the BBNJ Treaty. This year’s Conference will take place in Portugal from 27 June to I July and will be co-hosted by the Governments of Kenya and Portugal. The conference comes at a critical time as the world is seeking to address many of the deep-rooted problems laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is also expected to address the ocean clean-up issue — and may finally get to the stage where the BBNJ Treaty fully functions.
Some hope the new treaty will help implement the 30×30 coalition, a goal aimed to protect 30% of the planet’s land and sea by 2030. When the treaty was first signed in January of 2021, 50 countries agreed to take up the challenge, but without the environmental laws the BBNJ would enforce, it is unlikely this goal will be met.
In fact, many scientists and environmentalists are getting concerned, considering how long it has taken for UN member states to pass the treaty, that it will get passed too late.
The UN general assembly voted in December of 2017 to convene every year to develop a treaty on “the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.” Due to COVID-19, the fourth and final meeting — which was supposed to take place in March of 2020 — got postponed to March 2022.
After Friday’s meeting, in preparation for June’s conference, all four scheduled negotiations have taken place, yet despite it being the final meeting, no agreement has been reached by delegates.
Scientists, environmentalists and conservation organizations are urging the UN member states to come to an agreement soon, as more marine life continues to die from the destruction of oil spills and plastic pollution.
Just recently, UN member states decided to develop a treaty to prevent the spread of plastic pollution. As both treaties aim to protect wildlife and the ocean, it is paramount they get passed before the effects of climate change become irreversible — but this kind of action is of a timely manner and needs attention immediately.
Our next chance is in Portugal in June at the Ocean Conference, and one can only hope that it will not once again be a failed opportunity.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — In the Featured Photo: Turtle swimming in the ocean on December 25, 2017. Source: ‘https://recondoil.com’. Hyperlink: RecondOil.