The United Nations has launched a far-reaching initiative that could give U.N.-sponsored authorities sway over the biological resources of the high seas—all the waters that lie outside national territories and economic zones.
“Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.” Jude 1:13 (KJV)
The potential shift in power involves multi-trillion-dollar issues, such as whether large areas—conceivably, as much as 30 percent– of the world’s international waters should be designated as no-go areas to protect biological diversity; whether and how to require elaborate “environmental impact assessments” for future ocean development projects; and how to divide up the economic benefits from the future development of “marine genetic resources.”
Eden Charles, a diplomat from Trinidad and Tobago who is serving as the chairman for a U.N. preparatory committee that began the discussions this week underlined to Fox News that the talks are at a “very, very preliminary stage.”
Overall, the hoped-for treaty will cover “two-thirds of the oceans, almost half the planet,” says Lisa Speer, a senior official of the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which is in turn a lead member of a squadron of 33 environmentalist groups banded together as the High Seas Alliance to lobby for protectionist measures during the talks.
One of the biggest backers of the preliminary talks is the Obama Administration
Even though the U.S. has never ratified the 1982 U.N. Law of the Sea Convention—the new talks are aimed at creating an “implementing agreement” under the Law of the Sea umbrella—the Administration is deeply involved in the negotiations, as are some of the world’s most powerful environmental organizations.
The U.S. also has a legal precedent for its involvement: its ratification in 1996 of another “implementing agreement” under the Law of the Sea Convention that orchestrated the activities of a variety of regional fisheries management organizations across international waters, allowed for international enforcement, and a variety of other measures.