Search
Close this search box.

Ludovic Schultz: "The agreement reached at the United Nations on 4 March is doubly historic.

After 15 years of discussions and negotiations, the Member States of the United Nations have agreed on an International Treaty for the Protection of the High Seas. Ludovic Schultz, an auditor at the IHEDN and recently appointed Director of the Écrins National Park, was involved in drafting the treaty for many years, first as deputy director at the Ministry for Ecological Transition and then as adviser to the Secretary General for the Sea. He sheds some light on this historic agreement.

Why is this treaty historic?

The agreement reached at the United Nations on 4 March is doubly historic.

Firstly, it is the first global agreement on the protection of biodiversity in areas of the high seas beyond national jurisdiction, where until now there has been no international instrument to regulate activities in terms of their impact on marine species and habitats. It is therefore a considerable geographical area, representing 60 % of the surface area of the oceans and almost 50 % of the surface area of land, which will finally be protected by international law.

Secondly, this agreement, adopted by consensus between all the States represented at the United Nations, marks the end of a long process of international discussions initiated in this forum in 2006. This result is particularly noteworthy at a time when international tensions are rising and multilateralism is being called into question. It shows that on issues as serious as environmental challenges, the global decision-making scale and the tried and tested mechanisms for multilateral dialogue of the United Nations remain as useful and relevant as ever.

What are the main objectives of this agreement?

In concrete terms, the objectives of this agreement are firstly to enable the deployment of tools to protect biodiversity on the high seas, in international waters. These tools will make it possible to halt the decline in marine biodiversity, which we now know makes a decisive contribution to the oceans' function as a climate regulator, and which also remains a fundamental resource for food and many other uses.

Firstly, the agreement will make it possible to subject all activities on the high seas in international waters that are likely to have a serious and lasting impact on biodiversity to a prior impact assessment, and to subject those for which there is doubt about their potential effects to a prior assessment. On this basis, these activities may be banned or regulated to limit their impact.

The agreement will also make it possible to designate marine protected areas whose measures to control or restrict activities will be binding on all States and all their nationals. Other international organisations with jurisdiction over fisheries, maritime transport or the exploitation of the seabed will also have to report on the way in which they translate the protection objectives in force in these marine protected areas into their own regulations.

Finally, the agreement will establish a system for controlling the exploitation of marine genetic resources on the high seas and a system for sharing the benefits of their exploitation with developing countries. This benefit sharing could take the form of making scientific data available or sharing monetary benefits.

What are the next steps?

The next steps will be those that precede the entry into force of an international instrument. In the very short term, the United Nations General Secretariat will produce a document verified by legal experts, available in all the working languages of the United Nations, which will be submitted to the United Nations General Assembly for formal approval.

The text will then be opened for signature and ratification by States. It will enter into force 120 days after the deposit of the sixtieth instrument of ratification.

A first Convention of the Parties will have to be convened within a maximum of one year after the entry into force of the agreement. It is from this first meeting that the work of the COP on the designation of protected areas on the high seas can begin.

 

It is important to note that various mechanisms and bodies will be set up to support the work of the COP. In particular, a scientific and technical body will assess the proposals for the creation of marine protected areas and the management measures to be implemented, as well as the quality of the impact assessments carried out by the States.

 

A data sharing and transparency system (Clearing House Mechanism) will also be set up to enable the sharing of data resulting from the exploitation of marine genetic resources. A fund will also be set up to ensure the sharing of resources for the benefit of developing countries. For France and the European Union, it is now important to encourage rapid ratification of this agreement by as many countries as possible. The United Nations Conference on the Oceans, which France will host in Nice in 2025, will undoubtedly be a very important stage in this mobilisation process.