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High Seas Treaty UPSC NOTE


What are the high seas?
  • High seas are Parts of the sea that are not included in the territorial waters or the internal waters of a country are known as the high seas, according to the 1958 Geneva Convention on the High Seas.

  • No country is responsible for the management and protection of resources on the high seas.

  • High seas begin at the border of countries’ EEZ, which extend up to 370 km from coastlines.

Importance of high seas

  • The high seas account for more than 60% of the world’s ocean area and cover about half of the Earth’s surface, which makes them a hub of marine life.

  • They are home to around 2.7 lakh known species, many of which are yet to be discovered.

  • The high seas are some of the most biologically productive in the world – teeming with plankton and home to ocean giants like predatory fish, whales, and sharks.

  • The high seas are fundamental to human survival and well-being.

  • The seabed sequesters tremendous amounts of carbon and the ocean volume traps heat, slowing the effects of climate change on land and in the atmosphere dramatically.

Need of conservation

  • Affected by phenomena like the El Nino

  • Undergoing acidification

  • Endanger marine flora and fauna.

  • Several thousand marine species are at a risk of extinction by 2100 if current warming and acidification trends continue.

  • Anthropogenic pressures:

    • Seabed mining

    • Noise pollution, 

    • Chemical spills and fires

    • Disposal of untreated waste (including antibiotics)

    • Overfishing 

    • Introduction of invasive species

    • Coastal pollution.

  • However, up until today, just 1% of these high seas waters have been adequately safeguarded.

UN High Seas Treaty

  • UN members agreed on a High Seas Treaty to ensure the protection and sustainable use of marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.

  • The Treaty of High Seas, also known as the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) Treaty.

  • The treaty is significant in achieving the 30x30 target set at UN CBD (Convention on Biological Diversity) COP15 under which the countries agreed to protect 30% of oceans by 2030.

Key Features:

  • Access- and benefit-sharing committee to frame guidelines.

    • Activities concerning marine genetic resources of areas on high seas will be in the interests of all States and for the benefit of humanity.

    • They have to be carried out exclusively for peaceful purposes.

  • Consent from Indigenous Community

    • No State can claim its right over marine genetic resources of areas beyond national jurisdiction.

  • Clearing-House Mechanism

    • Members will have to provide objective of the research, geographical area of collection, names of sponsors, etc.

    • Through the mechanism, information on marine protected areas, marine genetic resources, and “area-based management tools” will be open to access for all parties.

    • This is to bring transparency and boost cooperation.

  • Three-quarterly majority vote

    • Protect oceans from human activities through a “three-quarterly majority vote,” which prevents the decision from getting blocked by one or two parties.

  • Funding:

    • A special fund will be established as part of the pact which will be fixed by the conference of parties (COP). The COP will also oversee the functioning of the treaty.

  • Requirement of EIA

    • The Scientific and Technical Body will also play a significant role in environmental impact assessment. 

    • The body will be creating standards and guidelines for assessment procedures, and helping countries with less capacity in carrying out assessments. 

    • This will facilitate the conference of parties to trace future impacts, identify data gaps, and bring out research priorities.

Why did it take so long to sign?

  • Small island states supported the idea of having a licensing scheme for monitoring, but was opposed by the likes of the U.S., and Russia, stating its notification system would hinder “bioprospecting research.”

  • The use of the phrases “promote” or “ensure” in different parts of the treaty, especially with respect to the sharing of benefits from marine genetic resources, was heavily debated over.

  • Negotiation over the adjacency issue.

    • This was specifically applicable to coastal states whose national jurisdictions over the seas may vary. 

    • This meant it required special provisions where it can exercise sovereign rights over seabed and subsoil in the jurisdiction beyond. 

    • It prolonged the decision-making as it affects the interests of landlocked and distant states.

  • Many developed countries opposed the treaty as they stand by private entities which are at the forefront of advanced research and development in marine technology (patents relating to marine genetic resources are held by a small group of private companies). 

  • Russia and China also are not in favour of the treaty. 

  • Russia withdrew from the last stage of reaching a consensus in intergovernmental conferences IGC-5, arguing that the treaty does not balance conservation and sustainability.



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Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam: High Seas Treaty UPSC NOTE
High Seas Treaty UPSC NOTE
Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam
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