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Progress towards a new treaty to conserve marine life beyond boundaries

In response to mounting concerns about declines in ocean health, States at the United Nations (UN) recently delivered some good news. The first UN Preparatory Committee session concluded on a positive note by identifying key elements for a new treaty to better protect and sustain the marine environment and marine life in the ocean beyond national boundaries.

These discussions revealed broad-based agreement on three of the four main topic areas, including the need for precautionary action to sustain the health of species and ecosystems through networks of marine protected areas; the need to review the impacts of human activities prior to approving them so that measures can be taken to avoid significant adverse harm, and the need to build capacity and share technologies to ensure effective implementation of the agreement. 

Significant progress was also made on the fourth - and most contentious - issue: how benefits derived from marine genetic resources from the high seas and the international seabed Area might be shared amongst the global community. While differences remain as to whether living marine resources in the high seas and the international seabed Area are or should be part of the ‘common heritage of mankind,’ discussions are now turning to pragmatic approaches as to how and what kind of benefits might be fairly and equitably shared. States also shared in recognising the importance of enhancing marine scientific research and exchanging information, which can enable developing and developed countries to better manage marine activities and to conserve marine life. 

Recommendations for draft elements for a new agreement under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea are to be delivered to the UN General Assembly by the end of 2107. Though many tough challenges remain, it is widely hoped that a decision to launch formal negotiations to draft the text of a new treaty based on the PrepCom’s recommendations will be taken by 2018.

The next session of the PrepCom will be convened on 26 August to 9 September 2016. 

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