top of page

UN High Seats Treaty: The last chance to save our oceans

Project #D – Planetary Limits #2 Biodiversity loss; #4 Ocean acidification

By Jane Fiona Cumming

Over 60% of the world's oceans are international waters, commonly known as ‘high seas’, this means all countries have a right to fish, ship and do research there. However, only just over 1% of waters are currently protected. Therefore, marine life living there are increasingly at risk from climate change, overfishing and shipping traffic. For example, according to research carried out by non-profit Friend of the Sea, ship strikes kill more than 20,000 whales every year.

The UN High Seas Treaty is supposed to mitigate this but after over 10 years of negotiations, it is still yet to be signed. It aims to place 30% of the world's oceans into conservation areas by 2030. This would work using a network of Marine Protected Areas. Assessments would have to be carried out before allowing commercial activities, that are potentially harmful to marine life, like deep-sea mining to go ahead.

Whilst progress has been hampered by COVID-19, the real reason for its delay is disagreement on what should be included. Recently, UN meeting states gathered in New York to have a final go at signing the treaty but failed to agree on a on a high-stakes, legally binding treaty to conserve biodiversity on the high seas. Top sticking points included ‘fair access to marine resources for all and how to establish marine protected areas on the high seas’ . . .

This means that the last international agreement on ocean protection was signed 40 years ago - the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The key issues areas that stopped an agreement are fishing rights and funding / support for developing countries.

A deadline for a finalised agreement has been set for the end of 2022 although it isn’t clear when negotiations will happen again. There is a full calendar of international meetings between now and the end of the year - including COP27. Even if a treaty was signed, it doesn’t solve all of the issues. This is because it will outline how countries can apply for marine protection but not the specific areas of the ocean to be placed under marine protection.

ARTICLE 13 VIEWPOINT - What does this mean?

Our latest practitioner research shows that only 25% of the world’s largest companies are measuring against biodiversity in our oceans, primarily regarding plastic/ packaging pollution. However, just 2% of the companies reviewed are setting a target to improve the condition of the oceans and 0% of these targets are at scale with what the world needs.

See a snapshot of our latest research here.

Businesses must firstly commit to measuring their full impact on the planet’s resources – not just carbon reduction - and base reduction targets on what the world needs them to do. Secondly, businesses can help mitigate their impact on oceans by providing full disclosures related to their supply chains, areas of operation and markets that they serve

If you would like to know how Article 13 can support you to measure your impact on Planetary Limits and Social Thresholds, get in touch.



  • Twitter - White Circle
  • LinkedIn - White Circle
bottom of page