High Seas UN Treaty Negotiations Conference Third Session

Date: 19th August 2019

August 19 – 30 2019

The High Seas is the part of the ocean that lies beyond countries’ exclusive economic zones and belongs to everyone. It constitutes almost two thirds of the global ocean and nearly 50% of the planet’s surface but is one of the least protected areas on Earth.

Current governance of the High Seas is limited to a patchwork of regional and sectoral management mechanisms that have failed to ensure the conservation of marine biodiversity and to protect the environment.

In the High Seas there is no legal mechanism to establish Marine Protected Areas and currently less than 1% is fully protected. Although prior Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) are required for some activities in the High Seas, they are not for others and standards governing how an EIA should be done vary widely. There is also no regime for the access and sharing of benefits arising from the use of marine genetic resources.

In 2018, after ten years of discussion, a formal process to negotiate a new treaty to protect the biodiversity of the High Seas began. This session is the third and intended to be the penultimate negotiating session towards that treaty.

Peggy Kalas, Coordinator of the High Seas Alliance

“We are in a negotiation that could bring real protection to two-thirds of the ocean. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to turn the tide, not just for the ocean but for the planet.  World leaders have an unparalleled opportunity to take action in defence of our planet by protecting half of it, and with that comes unenviable responsibility. The status quo cannot continue and this treaty is a fleeting opportunity for transformative change and to finally fill the gaps in how our ocean is managed.”

“What we are engaged in now has the power to protect the whole of the High Seas – the two-thirds of the ocean and its marine life, currently at the mercy of multiple human impacts and with no other effective means of protection.”

Professor Alex Rogers, Oxford University

“The High Seas is a vital part of whole ocean health and needs rigorous protection to ensure that it can continue performing vital ecosystem services of benefit to our planet.”

A robust treaty will provide:

  • a strong legal process for the designation, effective management and enforcement of a network of protected areas, including marine reserves, in areas beyond national jurisdiction[1];
  • specific measures to ensure that environmental impact assessments are consistent, comprehensive, accountable and rigorous[2];
  • institutional arrangements that establish a global decision-making body such as a Conference of Parties (CoP), a Scientific/Technical Committee, a Compliance Committee, a Secretariat, dispute resolution provisions, a Clearing House Mechanism and a Financial Mechanism[3].


The proper term for the two-thirds of the ocean subject to these negotiations is Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction; this is often abbreviated to ABNJ.

The treaty is dealing with biodiversity in the High Seas and this is often referred to as Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction, abbreviated to BBNJ.

The term treaty is used to describe the outcome of the current UN process to protect the High Seas.

Legally speaking, the final outcome will be an Implementing Agreement to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Contact:  Mirella von Lindenfels attending the Negotiations or other spokespeople in the database

[1] HSA Recommendations on MPAs and Marine Reserves

[2] HSA Recommendations on EIAs

[3] HSA Recommendations for Institutional Arrangements

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