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10/07/24 07:03 AM IST

India to ratify High Seas Treaty: What is the agreement

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  • The Indian government recently said it would soon sign and ratify the High Seas Treaty, a new international legal architecture for maintaining the ecological health of the oceans.
About treaty
  • The High Seas Treaty has often been compared with the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change in its significance and potential impact.
  • The treaty deals only with oceans that are outside the national jurisdiction of any country.
  • Typically, national jurisdictions extend up to 200 nautical miles (370 km) from the coastline, an area that is called exclusive economic zones or EEZs.
  • Areas outside of EEZs of every country are known as high seas or international waters.
  • They constitute about 64%, roughly two-thirds, of the total ocean area and are considered global commons.
  • They belong to no one and everyone enjoys equal rights for navigation, overflight, economic activities, scientific research, or laying of infrastructure like undersea cables.
  • But because these belong to no one, high seas are also no one’s responsibility.
  • As a result, many of these areas suffer from overexploitation of resources, biodiversity loss, pollution, including dumping of plastics, ocean acidification, and many other problems.
  • According to UN estimates, about 17 million tonnes of plastics were dumped in the oceans in 2021, and this was only expected to increase in the coming years.
  • It is not that there is no international governance mechanism for the oceans.
  • The 1982 UN Convention on Laws of the Seas, or UNCLOS, is a comprehensive international law that lays down the broad frameworks for legitimate behaviour on, and use of, seas and oceans everywhere.
  • It defines the rights and duties of nations regarding activities in the oceans, and also addresses issues such as sovereignty, passage rights, and rights of exclusive economic usages. Demarcations of territorial waters, and EEZs are a result of UNCLOS.
  • UNCLOS also sets the general principles for equitable access and usage of ocean resources, and protection and conservation of biodiversity and marine ecology.
  • But it doesn’t specify how these objectives have to be achieved.
  • This is where the High Seas Treaty comes in. Once it comes into force, this treaty would serve as one of the implementing agreements under the UNCLOS.
Protection and Access
  • The High Seas Treaty seeks to achieve three substantive objectives: conservation and protection of marine ecology; fair and equitable sharing of benefits from marine genetic resources; and establishment of the practice of mandatory environmental impact assessments for any activity that is potentially polluting or damaging to the marine ecosystem.
  • There is a fourth objective as well, that of capacity building and transfer of marine technologies to developing countries.
  • This will help them make full use of the benefits of the oceans while also contributing towards their conservation.
  • Protection and conservation of marine ecology is supposed to be achieved through demarcation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), much like the national parks or wildlife reserves.
  • Activities in MPAs would be regulated, and conservation efforts also taken up. A few potential areas that may get recognised as MPAs have already been identified, and many more are expected to be added in due course.
  • Oceans are home to a very large number of diverse life forms, many of which may be of immense value to human beings.
  • These ocean organisms can offer insights into evolution, and some of them might even be useful in drug discovery, making them commercially lucrative.
  • The High Seas Treaty seeks to ensure that the benefits from these ocean living resources, either through scientific research or commercial exploitation, is equally shared amongst all.
  • The treaty does recognise that there might be costs involved in accessing these resources or their benefits but makes it clear that there cannot be proprietary rights of any country over these.
  • The treaty also makes it mandatory to carry out a prior environmental impact assessment (EIA) for any activity that is potentially polluting or damaging to the marine ecosystems, or to conservation efforts.
  • The EIAs need to be made public. An EIA is to be carried out for activities within national jurisdictions as well if the impacts are expected in the high seas.
Significance
  • Like any other international law, the High Seas Treaty would come into force only when a certain minimum number of countries ratify, or accede to, it.
  • In the case of this treaty, this number is 60. The treaty would become international law 120 days after the 60th ratification is submitted.
  • Ratification is the process by which a country agrees to be legally bound to the provisions of an international law.
  • This is separate from a mere signing on to an international law.
  • Signing indicates that a country agrees with the provisions of the international law concerned, and is willing to abide by it. But till it ratifies it, the process for which varies from country to country, it is not legally bound to follow that law.
Source- Indian Express

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