Member states of the global body fail to finalise a treaty to protect the high seas following two weeks of negotiations.
UN member states have ended two weeks of negotiations without a treaty to protect biodiversity in the high seas, an agreement that would have addressed growing environmental and economic challenges.
“Although we did make excellent progress we still do need a little bit more time to progress towards the finish line,” said conference chair Rena Lee on Friday.
Lee added that a plenary session had nonetheless approved the resumption of the negotiations at a future unspecified date.
After 15 years, including four prior formal sessions, negotiators have yet to reach a legally binding text to address the growing environmental and economic challenges involving international waters –– a zone that encompasses almost half the planet.
Many had hoped that this fifth session, which began on August 15 at the United Nations headquarters in New York, would be the last and yield a final text on “the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction,” or BBNJ for short.
A new version of the treaty –– distributed to delegates on Friday morning just hours before the official end of negotiations, and seen by the AFP news agency –– still included many paragraphs open to negotiation.
One of the most sensitive issues revolves around the sharing of possible profits gained from developing genetic resources in international waters, where pharmaceutical, chemical and cosmetic companies hope to find miracle drugs, products or cures.
Such costly research at sea is largely the prerogative of rich nations, but developing countries do not want to be left out of potential windfall profits drawn from marine resources that belong to no one.
Only 1% of international waters are protected
“While it’s disappointing that the treaty wasn’t finalised during the past two weeks of negotiations, we remain encouraged by the progress that was made,” said Liz Karan with the NGO Pew Charitable Trusts, calling for a new session by the end of the year.
Greenpeace on Thursday accused the EU, the United States and Canada of rejecting the proposal out of “greed” to keep the resources for themselves.
The high seas begin at the border of nations’ exclusive economic zones (EEZs) –– which by international law reach no more than 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres) from each country’s coast –– and are under no state’s jurisdiction.
Sixty percent of the world’s oceans fall under this category.
And while healthy marine ecosystems are crucial to the future of humanity, particularly to limit global heating, only one percent of international waters are protected.
One of the key pillars of an eventual BBNJ treaty is to allow the creation of marine protected areas, which many nations hope will cover 30 percent of the Earth’s ocean by 2030.