The High Seas at COP28

Date: 2nd December 2023

The 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP28) opened in Dubai on the 30th of December, and at this crucial juncture for the climate, the High Seas must be discussed as a priority. The UNFCCC COP28 and the Global Stocktake are critical moments to boost ocean-climate ambition for the High Seas, and to chart a better course for our ocean, our climate and our future.

Click on the links below to read more about key High Seas Alliance moments at COP28.


Side Event on the High Seas Treaty and Climate Change Obligations

11 December, 2023

At an official side event the High Seas Alliance, Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA), IUCN and Rutgers University convened a panel of experts to consider the critical gaps in ocean governance that the new High Seas Treaty will fill, and the linkages with climate change responsibilities. 

Moderating the side event, Javier Dávalos González, AIDA, opened by discussing the fragmented and uncoordinated governance framework of the High Seas and how the High Seas Treaty presents a radical opportunity to increase protection of the largest habitat on Earth that is home to millions of species. 

Providing an overview of the incredible ecosystems of the High Seas and deep sea and their role in mitigating global climate, Dr Lisa Levin, Scripps Oceanography, highlighted how protecting biodiversity of the High Seas and deep sea – the waters below 200 meters – will help maintain the Earth’s carbon cycle which is vital in our fight against climate change. 

Dr Nilüfer Oral, of the National University of Singapore and UN International Law Commission referred to the High Seas Treaty as “the missing link in our ocean governance” as the Treaty is the first international legally binding agreement that includes the ocean and climate change. 

Walter Schuldt, the Chief Negotiator for the Government of Ecuador during the BBNJ negotiations, provided insights from the five years of High Seas Treaty negotiations and reflected on how the final text links to climate change. Walter noted that whilst the Treaty does not provide all the tools to address climate change, it does provide entry points and measures that will be very useful to respond to the climate crisis. Emphasizing the need for rapid entry into force, Walter referenced the emergence of marine geoengineering, such as ocean fertilization experiments to draw down carbon dioxide, for which the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) aspect of the Treaty will be essential to prevent widespread ocean impacts.  

Professor Cymie Payne from Rutgers University and IUCN reflected on the specific obligations of UNCLOS to protect the marine environment and how this relates to climate change. Cymie also referenced a recent IUCN introductory brief explaining the High Seas Treaty and drawing on insights from the history and direction of the negotiations.

Director of the High Seas Alliance, Rebecca Hubbard, talked of the need to build on the science and legal aspects of the Treaty in the race towards ratification. Rebecca called for swift ratification of the High Seas Treaty which we know is possible, as evidenced by the Paris Agreement, that entered into force just one year after adoption. The High Seas Alliance are supporting governments globally to ratify and build capacity.

Infinity Fish – The Climate Implications of the Future of Fish and Fisheries

11 December, 2023

Joining a conversation in the Ocean Pavilion with Dr Rashid Sumaila on the economics of fisheries, High Seas Alliance Director Rebecca Hubbard reflected on the implications of overfishing with regards to climate change and how the High Seas Treaty will interact with existing fisheries management in the High Seas.

Vanuatu Signs Octavia!

– 10 December, 2023

Director Rebecca Hubbard met with Ralph Regenvanu, Vanuatu’s Minister for Climate Change Adaptation, Meteorology, Geo-Hazards, Environment and Energy and Natural Disaster Management to discuss Vanuatu’s commitment to ratifying the High Seas Treaty as soon as possible. Minister Regenvanu signed Octavia the Treaty Champions Declaration, thereby signaling Vanuatu’s leadership and commitment to working with other States to secure the 60 ratifications needed for the High Seas Treaty to enter into force. 

Vanuatu became the 84th country to sign the High Seas Treaty on 30th November 2023 at the United Nations in New York.

Sailing Towards Ratification

– 9 December, 2023

The High Seas Alliance along with the Government of Belgium, the Blue Leaders, NRDC and Mission Blue hosted a fireside chat at the Benelux Pavilion to talk about moving towards ratification of the High Seas Treaty. 

The event, moderated by Sophie Mirgaux, Special Envoy for the Ocean for the Belgian Ministry of Environment, included an opening video message from Belgium’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for the North Sea, Paul Van Tigchelt. The Deputy Prime Minister reiterated Belgium’s commitment to swift ratification and encouraged other countries to do so too, and also highlighted how focus is now shifting to securing the 60 ratifications that are needed for the High Seas Treaty to enter into force. 

Opening addresses were made by Sylvia Earle, President and Co-Chair of Mission Blue, Mahlet Mesfin, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Ocean, Fisheries and Polar Affairs, USA and Dr Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, Emeritus Professor at Université catholique de Louvain. Director of the High Seas Alliance, Rebecca Hubbard, then talked about how the High Seas Alliance is helping countries to ratify and prepare for implementation of the Treaty. Rebecca was joined on the panel by Sebastian Unger, Federal Ocean Commissioner of Germany, Sikeade Eghuwalo, Co-Chair of the Intergovernmental Consultations on Nature-Based Solutions, UNEP, Charlina Vitcheva, Directorate-General of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (MARE) and Ricardo Lagos, Lead Senator on ratification efforts for Chile. 

Maraki Tamrat from EarthEcho closed the event, calling for governments to stand by their commitments in the Race for Ratification

The event celebrated the momentous achievement for multilateralism of the High Seas Treaty, and the urgency of ratification to ensure there is a legal framework to protect and sustainably manage two thirds of our ocean and thereby give us a fighting chance against climate change. 

As Sylvia Earle said during her speech “If we fail to protect the ocean, nothing else matters”. 

Photos credit: Phill Williams

Live recording of The Catch

9 December, 2023 

Moderating a live episode of The Catch, hosted by Foreign Policy, High Seas Alliance Director Rebecca Hubbard joined Dr. Manumatavai Tupou-Rosen, Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency, Dr Rashid Sumaila, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, Professor Manuel Barange, FAO and Dr. Sarah Glaser, WWF, to consider what can be done to prevent global conflict as fish populations move from their historic habitats due to rising temperatures and changing habitats, as a result of climate change. 
Watch the live episode here.

Photos credit: Foreign Policy

The Rise of Ocean Governance

8 December, 2023

Director Rebecca Hubbard joined Loreley Picourt, Ocean and Climate Platform, Marine Lecert, Ocean and Climate Platform, Sian Owen, the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, Julika Tribukait, WWF Germany and Peter Thomson, Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean at the Ocean Pavilion to discuss how the ocean is moving up the international agenda. 

During the panel, Rebecca noted the urgency of ratifying the High Seas Treaty, particularly given the emergence of marine carbon dioxide removal technologies which risk disrupting vital ocean processes.

Ocean and Climate Leadership

5 December, 2023 

Director Rebecca Hubbard joined the Ocean and Climate Leadership panel, co-hosted by Time for Better and UN Ocean Solutionist Bodhi Patil at Hope House to talk about the High Seas Treaty, the Race for Ratification, and the work that the High Seas Alliance are undertaking globally to support ratification. 

Credit: Time for Better

Global Leaders Unite for Swift High Seas Treaty Ratification

– 2nd December, 2023

Photo credit: Kashfi Halford

In a high-level gathering, world government Ministers and representatives, and advocates joined forces at the “High Ambition for the High Seas” event in Dubai. Ministers and representatives from the UAE, France, Philippines, Nigeria, Palau, Mauritania, and Australia passionately expressed their support for the swift ratification of the High Seas Treaty.

Hosted by the governments of Mauritania, Palau, and Australia, in collaboration with Monash University, the High Seas Alliance, and other partners, the event emphasized the urgency of protecting the ocean, our planet’s primary climate regulator. The High Seas Treaty, with 84 signatories since its September 2023 opening, awaits ratification by at least 60 countries to become the world’s first international agreement for the conservation of Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction.

Photo credit: Kashfi Halford

Leaders highlighted the critical role of regional cooperation in building momentum for the treaty’s ratification. Mr Mohamed Fadel BAL, Advisor on Climate Change and Sustainable Development of Mauritania signed the Treaty Champions Declaration showing leadership and commitment to securing the 60 ratifications needed for the #HighSeasTreaty to enter into force as soon as possible.

With only 1% of the High Seas currently fully protected, the event emphasized the treaty’s significance in achieving global goals, protecting 30% of the ocean by 2030, and regulating activities harmful to the High Seas.

Read the press release for more information about the event here.


IUCN Ocean-Climate High-Level Reception

– 30th November, 2023

At the IUCN Pavilion, leaders in Ocean Action came together to discuss the ocean’s crucial role in climate mitigation and the overall health of our planet. Octavia, the High Seas Ratification Octopus, was present at the event to remind governments of the commitments made to the High Seas at the 78th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA 78) last September.

Matt Collis from HSA member organisation IFAW, spoke on behalf of the High Seas to encourage support for the swift ratification of the High Seas Treaty. In his address, he invited Heads of States and Ministers attending COP28 to use the opportunity to sign the Treaty Champions Declaration at the IUCN Pavilion to demonstrate their leadership and commitment to signing and ratifying the BBNJ Treaty.


Photo credit: Phill Williams

Photo credit: Phill Williams
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