Following years of negotiations, the UN has hammered out a framework agreement that can see the protection of 2/3 of the world’s oceans from harmful activity. Suston reaches out to WWF, which attended the negotiations, to learn what the ‘High Seas Treaty’ means for our oceans.

Much is happening on the global governance front of late, where just last year nations committed to protect and conserve at least 30% of the ocean and land by 2030 under the Global Biodiversity Framework (aka “30 by 30”). What is the significance of this latest Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction treaty (aka “High Seas Treaty”)?

This is a landmark moment for the ocean – one that will usher in a new era of collective responsibility for our planet’s most significant global commons. Last year, nations committed to halt and reverse nature loss by 2030. Today’s achievement is a significant step toward delivering on that promise.

What happens on the high seas will no longer be ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ The High Seas Treaty will allow for the kind of oversight and integration we need if we want the ocean to keep providing the social, economic and environmental benefits humanity currently enjoys. We can now look at the cumulative impacts on our ocean in a way that reflects the interconnected blue economy and the ecosystems that support it.


What has been WWF’s focus going into these negotiations? And what will it focus on moving forward?

WWF has come with three key messages to the business and finance community in particular:

Firstly, that the ocean is relevant to them. The ocean economy (that is, the sustainable ocean economy was conservatively valued by WWF in 2015 as being equivalent to the world’s 7th largest economy worth 24 trillion USD in asset value and producing benefits of around 2.5 trillion a year. Secondly, that ocean health is in decline and that this value is therefore at risk [see WWF’s 2022 Living Planet Report, which found significant declines in marine wildlife populations]. Finally, that there are things that business can and should be doing.


What can businesses do? And what role can investment & divestment play?

Given the long list of barriers to making the transition, it is vital that we identify and act on the ones that will achieve action at scale as quickly as possible.

Whilst new innovative financing mechanisms are a key part of financing Nature-based solutions, the recently agreed 30×30 commitments, those agreed in Paris around climate change, and Sustainable Blue Economy innovations, the most significant gains will be through the redirection of mainstream finance towards sustainable development pathways. This will need to involve a deep commitment by banks and investors to adopt and implement strong environmental, social and economic guardrails and guidelines.


With the “30 by 30” framework and now this High Seas treaty to soon likely be ratified, do you think we’re anywhere close to moving the needle on improving ocean health?

Ocean advocates worldwide can savor this moment years in the making. But this is not a finish line. For the treaty’s good intentions to deliver results on the water, we’ve got to keep the pressure up. Once technicalities are worked out and the treaty is adopted, it needs to enter into force so that it can be put to work – all countries must quickly formally sign and ratify it into their own national legislation. Words matter, but our ocean needs action.


About World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)

WWF is an independent conservation organization, with over 30 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF’s mission is to stop the degradation of the Earth’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world’s biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.


Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ Agreement) or ‘High Seas Treaty’

The Fifth Intergovernmental Conference on a global legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ Agreement) took place at the UN Headquarters in New York from 20 February to 4 March 2023.

UNCLOS is one of the world’s most widely ratified treaties with 168 Parties to the Convention, entering into force in 1994. The High Seas Treaty is the third “implementing agreement” under UNCLOS, and focuses on four areas: marine genetic resources, area-based management tools including marine protected areas, environmental impact assessments, and capacity building and transfer of marine technology.


This interview was prepared using joint responses from WWF’s Pepe Clarke, Jessica Battle, Lucy Holmes and Louise Heaps.

Photo: Talia Cohen / Unsplash

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