The UN finally approves an International Conference on the governance of the High Seas

© Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Expéditions

Viewpoint – by André Abreu, International Policy Manager, Tara Expéditions Foundation

Andre Abreu de Almeida© Tara Expéditions Foundation


Eleven years after the first official UN communication to establish rules on the sustainable management of the High Seas, Friday, July 21, 2017 marked an important date for the governance of the Ocean. An agreement was reached at the UN to launch an International Conference on the Management of Marine Biodiversity, beyond national jurisdictions, in that huge space covering about half the planet.

We have been awaiting this resolution since the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil in 2012. The overall failure of the final declaration of the RIO+20 summit precluded any provisions for an agreement on the High Seas. Discussions at the UN were hampered by the extreme complexity of the stakes and the divergent national interests concerning exploitation of resources in the High Seas.


Kambou Sia AFP.image© Kambou Sia / AFP


Last week in New York, negotiators, experts and observers completed the last preparatory session leading to the launch of an international conference: a multilateral process within a stable and funded framework, a series of “COPs” similar to the Paris Climate Conference, with binding objectives, a steering committee, a secretariat and a scientific committee.

But the goal seemed once again to elude us when several nations rejected the text presented by Brazilian Ambassador Carlos Duarte. The cordial tone of the first conferences had disappeared with the arrival of the provisional text. Between the countries of the Pacific which are very attached to the preservation of maritime zones, the big nationalist countries resisting foreign intervention, and the great world powers trying to delay any decision, the compromise remained very uncertain.

With the presentation of a new version of the text last Thursday, we finally thought we were on the right track. The diplomatic work of the Brazilian Ambassador was unanimously welcomed, with the representative of Kenya even comparing him to Pele, Ronaldo and Neymar and his dribbles! The countries of the G77 + China, the European Union, the countries of the Pacific, Africa, the Caribbean, South America, the least developed countries, all supported the text.

But Russia, the United States, Iceland and Japan rejected it. Mr. Duarte had to organize negotiating sessions on the side to deal with blockage issues such as fisheries management, the creation of Marine Protected Areas, and the financing or management of marine genetic resources.


1-CREDITS MAEVA BARDY-SCIENCES-OCEAN-1© Maéva Bardy / Tara Expéditions Foundation


It should be noted that until the end, the United States and Russia attempted to weaken a text that they believe is dangerous for their economic interests, in a vision that resonates with the current policies of Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin.

Thanks to the strong will and determination of Ambassador Carlos Duarte, the involvement of NGOs and the efforts of mediators, including the European Union, Costa Rica, Norway and also China, the negotiators finally reached a compromise. Unfortunately their text is seriously weakened by the absence of a specific date for launching the conference, the lack of rules for funding research, and the omission of mechanisms for managing fishing in the High Seas.

The resolution will next be forwarded to the General Assembly in September for signature, and will finally launch an Intergovernmental Conference whose objective is to write the first treaty for the conservation and sustainable management of the High Seas.

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