High Seas Treaty Negotiations

Dates: August 15, 2022 - August 26, 2022

Location: New York (in person)

The high seas make up nearly two-thirds of the ocean but have been a significant gap in ocean governance as less than 1% is currently protected. Home to some of the largest reservoirs of biodiversity in the world, the high seas support a wide diversity of marine life; provide migratory routes for whales, sharks, tuna, and other marine life; and feature critical ecosystems such as deepwater corals. Given the sheer size of the high seas, securing a higher level of protection is also considered instrumental for reaching a global target of protecting 30% of the ocean by 2030. The final stages of negotiations to create the first generation of high seas MPAs are underway. After years of working vigorously to progress discussions surrounding the need for a new international legally-binding treaty to protect marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ), world governments are now engaged in the conclusive stages of the negotiations at the United Nations. While 2020 was originally geared to be a “super year for the ocean,” and the year that many hoped to conclude treaty negotiations, there was a two-year delay of formal negotiations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The fourth negotiating session of the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC4) recently took place at UN headquarters from 7-18 March, where encouraging progress was made on many key substantive treaty issues. However, due to the restricted meeting circumstances from COVID-19 (including inability for in-person meetings, high turnover of UN delegates, and limited country delegation and civil society participation for the full two weeks of the conference), it was not possible to conclude treaty negotiations during this last session. Nonetheless, the Intergovernmental Conference still achieved remarkable success considering the circumstances. Many governments entered the negotiations with a renewed sense of urgency and flexibility, and States delved deeply into textual negotiations, with new areas of convergence amongst some regional groupings and progress emerging among positions. While delegates and regional groups secured significant progress during IGC4, an additional negotiating session (IGC5) has been scheduled to address remaining gaps and sticking points. Scheduled to take place during 15-26 August, many regional groups and countries are maintaining the pathway to conclude the negotiations in 2022. In addition, many States including the 47 Heads of State of the BBNJ “High Ambition Coalition” (HAC), have committed to the goal of concluding the negotiations in 2022. During the final months leading up to the negotiations in August, teams such as the High Seas Alliance are making every effort to keep and build momentum, including through upcoming opportunities at international fora (e.g., the UN Ocean Conference).