Conservation and Biodiversity

High Stakes With the High Seas Treaty

As 2050 edges closer, so does irreversible damage and the anticipated doubling of plastic consumption. The High Seas Treaty, adopted in June 2023, covers a multitude of topics surrounding the conservation of biodiversity and goals for the 2030 agenda. This agenda aims to change the narrative for what is in store for our environment come year 2050. 

Overarching goals of the treaty are protection of biodiversity and oceans beyond borders, cleaner oceans, sustainably managing fish stocks and lowering temperatures. Successfully implementing it could achieve the protection of 30 percent of the ocean by 2030, but like any treaty, effectiveness will depend heavily on international cooperation, rigorous enforcement, and ongoing commitment from all participating nations.

How is this treaty special?

The adoption of the High Seas Treaty, also commonly referred to as “BBNJ ” (Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction), is the result of more than a decade of international collaboration. It will enforce large-scale marine protected areas and promote a checks and balances system, such as the implementation of ideas like the polluter-pays principle. The treaty aims at strengthening resilience and enforcing accountability. It promotes equality when tackling environmental degradation and pushing for increased conservation efforts. 

What treaties came before it?

The High Seas Treaty is not the first of its kind, but fills in the gaps of previous policies over international waters and biodiversity conservation. The Paris Climate Treaty of 2015, and Law of the Sea Treaty are examples of agreements whose shortcomings are met by the High Seas Treaty.  

The Paris Climate Treaty of 2015 provided assistance for developing nations with their climate efforts by implementing a system for monitoring and reporting climate goals. In 2022, the United Nations decided to start negotiating a new global treaty to combat plastic pollution and taking a step towards protecting wildlife. In June 2023, the second negotiation meeting for the new treaty took place in Paris, France, and the third session is set to take place in November. 

The Law of the Sea Treaty came into enforcement three decades ago. It had the goals of maintaining order, productivity and peaceful relations on the sea through regulated territorial waters and economic zones. Though it presented important ideas, the treaty left nearly half of the planet’s surface and two thirds of the ocean unaccounted for – putting its biodiversity in jeopardy and leaving plastic pollution unregulated. 

Why you should care

There could be 300 million tons of plastic in the oceans by 2030, and by 2050 the amount of plastic will surpass the number of fish in the sea. More than 270 animal species have been caught and entangled in plastic debris, with at least one thousand turtles killed every year. Though steps are being taken towards combating plastic pollution on international waters, there are many more steps needed to stay on track for 2030 pollution goals. Though an official and legally binding treaty, implementation will be the determining factor of success.

Be a part of the effort by calling for the United States to join the Global Plastics Treaty and do their part in ending 60% reduction of plastics by 2040. In order to do our part it’s important to understand our role. Visit EARTHDAY.ORG’s Planet vs. Plastics campaign to see how individuals can manage their use of plastic. Join the efforts taken to protect our oceans and planet from enduring the consequences of our pollution.