UN ocean conference seeks steps toward high seas deal

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — The United Nations hopes a conference starting Monday will give new impetus to long-running efforts to find an international agreement on protecting the world’s oceans.

The five-day United Nations Conference on the Oceans in Lisbon, Portugal, has drawn senior officials and scientists from more than 120 countries to the Atlantic port city in southwestern Europe, as well as activists dismayed by the lack of international standards that can guarantee the sustainability of the oceans. .

No comprehensive legal framework covers the high seas. The oceans cover around 70% of the earth’s surface and provide food and livelihoods for billions of people. Some activists refer to them as the largest unregulated area on the planet.

The oceans face a “serious” threat from global warming, pollution, acidification and other problems, says the UN. Potentially damaging deep sea mining also lacks rules.

The conference is set to adopt a declaration that, while not binding on its signatories, could help implement and facilitate the protection and conservation of the oceans and their resources, according to the UN. The declaration must be approved on Friday.

But a vital new international agreement on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction, also known as the High Seas Treaty, is still out of reach.

That treaty is being negotiated under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which is the main international agreement governing human maritime activities.

However, after 10 years of talks, including a fourth round of talks three months ago, no deal is in sight. A fifth round is scheduled for August in New York.

“The largest ecosystem in the world…is still unprotected and dying as we watch it,” activist group Ocean Rebellion said ahead of the Lisbon event.

Activists plan demonstrations in the Atlantic port city during the event.

Despite the frustrations, the conference is “an important opportunity to accelerate” steps toward a high seas treaty, the UN says, as delegates informally debate possible ways forward.

The conference is also expected to reaffirm and build on the 62 commitments made by governments at the previous summit in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2018, from protecting small island states with ocean-based economies to sustainable fisheries and fight against the warming of the waters. Funding models for ocean conservation are also on the agenda this year, as well as creating innovative science-based solutions that could improve ocean health.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, US climate envoy John Kerry and French President Emmanuel Macron are among those attending some days of the event.


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