Philippines welcomes adoption of UN high seas treaty

2023 June 20

PROTECTING MARINE BIODIVERSITY. The MANTA collects, treats, and recycles plastic waste on water. The initiative aims to clean up the pollution of the seas and oceans. (Photo courtesy of UN/Synthes3D for The SeaCleaners)

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MANILA – The Philippine government on Tuesday welcomed the historic adoption of the legally binding international treaty on the protection of marine biodiversity in areas beyond a country’s jurisdiction or the high seas.

The United Nations’ 193 member states adopted by consensus the landmark UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) Agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ Agreement) on June 20 after nearly two decades of negotiations.

The agreement, also known as the High Seas Treaty, recognizes the need to address biological diversity loss and degradation of ecosystems of the ocean in a coherent and cooperative manner.

It underscores the need for a comprehensive global regime, under UNCLOS, to better address the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond jurisdiction.

“As an archipelagic state, and home to richness in species, the waters around the world form one single interconnected system. Activities on waters in other parts of the world impact our ecosystems, and ultimately our people. Integrated ocean governance is crucial,” Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Multilateral Affairs and International Economic Relations Carlos Sorreta said after the adoption at the UN Headquarters in New York.

“With UNCLOS as our guidepost, we approached this process with the following principles – the common heritage of mankind, fair and equitable sharing of benefits, rights and jurisdiction of adjacent coastal states, special recognition for archipelagic states, the precautionary principle, and transparency of action and support.”

Sorreta also highlighted the recognition of archipelagic states, particularly in relation to building capacities, to implement the treaty.

“The regime of capacity building and transfer of marine technology to assist developing states, particularly archipelagic states as a distinct category that need support, are most welcome,” he said.

The agreement sets up a framework for fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from activities with respect to marine genetic resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

It also enables the establishment of area-based management tools, including marine protected areas, to conserve and sustainably manage habitats and species in the high seas and the international seabed area.

In addition, it will ensure that the environmental impacts of activities in areas beyond national jurisdiction are assessed and taken into consideration in decision-making.

The negotiations on the historic treaty were concluded with an agreed text on March 4, 2023 in New York.

UN Secretary General António Guterres hailed the adoption as a demonstration of the strength of multilateralism.

“By acting to counter threats to our planet that go beyond national boundaries, you are demonstrating that global threats deserve global action,” he said, adding that “countries can come together, in unity, for the common good.”

The treaty will enter into force 120 days after the date of deposit of the 60th instrument of ratification. 

Joyce Ann Rocamora (PNA)