Racing Against Time: Activating the High Seas Treaty Now

Date: 21st June 2024

This week marks a significant milestone as the United Nations convenes its first “official” meeting on the High Seas Treaty since its adoption in June last year. From 24-26 June 2024, the Preparatory Commission (PrepCom) will meet in New York to start putting the Treaty into action.

This meeting is crucially important because it will start breathing life into the High Seas Treaty. That process can be slow – some treaties have taken several years to implement – but given the alarmingly rapid decline in our ocean’s health and resilience, and with just six years left to achieve our global target to protect 30% of our seas by 2030, time is not on our side.

By setting the stage for the Treaty’s key bodies to be able to start their work and consider early guidance for putting the Treaty’s provisions into practice– before it has secured the 60 national ratifications required to enter into force – this organizational PrepCom meeting provides us with an opportunity to ensure we can kickstart its rapid implementation to protect biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) as soon as it enters into force.

The High Seas Alliance and its 60+ members share the ambition of many States to achieve at least 60 ratifications of the High Seas Treaty by the United Nations Ocean Conference in June 2025. If achieved, the Treaty would enter into force in October 2025 (120 days after the 60th ratification), and the first BBNJ Conference of the Parties (CoP1) would be held before October 2026 (“no later than one year after entry into force”).

At CoP1, several critical decisions need to be taken, from the adoption of Rules of Procedure and the terms of reference and modalities for its committees to arrangements for the new Secretariat, including its size and location, so it’s imperative that the groundwork begins now.

We recommend the first organizational meeting of the BBNJ PrepCom:

  • Sets an ambitious schedule: Plan at least two two-week PrepCom sessions in 2025 and early 2026 to allow sufficient time to tackle the many complex issues requiring resolution before CoP1.
  • Sets a comprehensive program of work: Focus not just on elements explicitly required for CoP1, but also on other treaty bodies and on addressing key technical processes and mechanisms essential for the prompt operationalization of the Treaty, such as the Clearing-House Mechanism, BBNJ Batch Identifier, and financial provisions.
  • Ensures transparent and inclusive modalities: Continuing the Treaty’s tradition of open meetings, utilizing focused sub-committees and technical working groups as needed while ensuring access for smaller delegations, and potentially commissioning technical studies or pilot prototypes where helpful.

The ocean cannot afford delays. It is imperative that, as the race for ratification continues, we use this opportunity and get ourselves ready to take the ambitious and urgently needed global action to safeguard life beyond our borders, in the High Seas that cover half our planet.

Read our full recommendations for the organizational meeting of the BBNJ Preparatory Commission. 

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