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Protecting the Ocean We Need - Securing the Future We Want

Towards a Global Solution for High Seas Conservation

Protecting marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction

Source: The Pew Charitable Trusts
Author: Liz Karen

In June 2015, world leaders made the extraordinary decision to develop an international agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, including the high seas. These areas make up two-thirds of the world’s ocean but are managed by a patchwork of bodies that regulate fishing, mining, shipping, and other activities for specific areas of the ocean. These bodies lack the legal mandate to establish comprehensive marine protected areas and marine reserves, or other conservation policies to protect biodiversity throughout an ecosystem. 

The new treaty could help to close these gaps in global ocean governance and deliver much-needed protection to the world’s ocean. However, the success of the agreement will be determined by negotiations continuing through 2017 at the United Nations Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) meetings, which will set the stage for a formal treaty. 

One key issue is how to deliver on the conservation and sustainable use objectives of a new international agreement without undermining the existing organizations currently governing human activity and resource use in the high seas. 

Here we analyze three scenarios reflecting ideas put forward by States to determine which type of institutional arrangement could be best suited to deliver marine conservation benefits. The scenarios were evaluated on the following criteria: • Accountability: the ability to hold States and existing organizations accountable for meeting their international commitments and mandates through measures that are both specific and binding. • Coordination: the ability and capacity to coordinate the activities of States and various existing regional and sectoral bodies. • Management authority: the ability to fill gaps in governance or implementation (e.g., due to the absence of a competent organization in a specific geographic area) through binding measures. • Efficiency: cost efficiency as measured by the number of new organizations that would potentially need to be funded to fulfill the agreement’s objectives to comprehensively conserve and sustainably use marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction.

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