UN Negotiations

4 March, 2023

New Treaty agreed to protect half the planet but formal adoption still required

New York, 4th March 2023: Late this evening governments meeting at the United Nations in New York reached agreement on key substantive issues for a new Treaty to protect High Seas marine life. To ensure this hard won progress is not lost, The High Seas Alliance is calling for the UN to conclude the formalities of adoption as soon as possible in the final resumed session.

“Following a two week long rollercoaster ride of negotiations and super-hero efforts in the last 48 hours, governments reached agreement on key issues that will advance protection and better management of marine biodiversity in the High Seas,” said Rebecca Hubbard, Director of the High Seas Alliance. 

The High Seas, the area of ocean that lies beyond countries’ national waters, is the largest habitat on Earth and home to millions of species. With currently just over 1% of the High Seas protected, the new Treaty will provide a pathway to establish marine protected areas in these waters. It is also a key tool to help deliver the recently agreed Kunming-Montreal target of at least 30% protection of the world’s ocean by 2030 that was just agreed in December- the minimum level of protection scientists warn is necessary to ensure a healthy ocean. But time is of the essence.

The new Treaty will bring ocean governance into the 21st century, including establishing modern requirements to assess and manage planned human activities that would affect marine life in the High Seas as well as ensuring greater transparency. This will greatly strengthen the effective area-based management of fishing, shipping and other activities that have contributed to the overall decline in ocean health. 

The issue of sufficient financing to fund the implementation of the Treaty, as well as equity issues surrounding the sharing of benefits from marine genetic resources was one of the key sticking points between North and South throughout the meeting. However, right up to the final hours of the meeting, governments were able to land an agreement that provided for equitable sharing of these benefits from the deep sea and High Seas. 

It’s been a very long journey to get to a Treaty. We will be looking to the 52 states that make up the High Ambition Coalition to lead the charge to adopt, ratify and identify important High Seas areas to protect,” said Rebecca Hubbard.

High Seas Alliance Member Quotes

Gladys Martínez, Executive Director, Asociación Interamericana para la Defensa del Ambiente (AIDA) English: “Governments have taken an important step that strengthens the legal protection of two-thirds of the ocean and with it marine biodiversity, the livelihoods of coastal communities and global food sovereignty. The agreement sets out a path for establishing areas of high and full protection on the High Seas, as well as for the environmental assessment of projects and activities that may harm this vast area.”

Spanish: “Los gobiernos han dado un paso importante que fortalece la protección legal de dos terceras partes del océano y con ello de la biodiversidad marina, los medios de vida de comunidades costeras y la soberanía alimentaria mundial. El acuerdo marca una ruta para establecer áreas de gran y plena protección en alta mar, así como para la evaluación ambiental de proyectos y actividades que puedan dañar esa vasta zona.

Laura Meller, oceans campaigner, Greenpeace Nordic, said from New York: “This is a historic day for conservation and a sign that in a divided world, protecting nature and people can triumph over geopolitics. We praise countries for seeking compromises, putting aside differences and delivering a Treaty that will let us protect the oceans, build our resilience to climate change and safeguard the lives and livelihoods of billions of people. We can now finally move from talk to real change at sea. Countries must formally adopt the Treaty and ratify it as quickly as possible to bring it into force, and then deliver the fully protected ocean sanctuaries our planet needs. The clock is still ticking to deliver 30×30. We have half a decade left, and we can’t be complacent.”

Matthew Collis, Deputy Vice President for Policy, IFAW: “The agreement of a new Treaty to conserve the High Seas is a wonderful way to celebrate World Wildlife Day for ocean animals and their High Seas homes. IFAW congratulates governments on this significant step, which charts a course to protect 30% of the ocean by 2030. To achieve 30×30, governments must now adopt, ratify and implement the new Treaty without delay.”

Minna Epps, Director Global Marine and Polar Programme, IUCN: “The High Seas Treaty opens the path for humankind to finally provide protection to marine life across our one ocean. Its adoption closes essential gaps in international law and offers a framework for governments to work together to protect global ocean heath, climate resilience, and the socioeconomic wellbeing and food security of billions of people”. 

Dr. Lance Morgan, President, Marine Conservation Institute: “Coming on the heels of the Global Biodiversity Framework, this historic agreement is a huge step towards ensuring marine protected areas in the High Seas and reaching 30×30.”

Lisa Speer, Director of the International Ocean program at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)“This text provides the basis for protecting key biodiversity hotspots in the High Seas. We now have a pathway to achieve the goal of meaningfully protecting at least 30% of the ocean by 2030, a goal that scientists tell us is crucial to maintaining ocean health in the face of ocean warming, acidification and other impacts of climate change. Now let’s get started.”

Fabienne McLellan, Managing Director, OceanCare: “This Treaty will be the game-changer the ocean urgently needs. We particularly welcome the conservation focused elements, such as environmental impact assessments. EIAs are one of the most effective and important mechanisms to prevent, mitigate and manage harmful activities in cases where there is severe harm to marine life through, for instance, underwater noise pollution. While we advocated for more ambition in the EIA provisions, these requirements will nevertheless strengthen ocean conservation.”

Susanna Fuller, VP Conservation and Projects at Oceans North: “Following the Kunming Montreal Agreement, which sets out a global path for biodiversity protection, this treaty  will bring  a similar ambition to the high seas. Because Canada’s waters are bounded by three international ocean basins, it has an outsized role in ensuring that the Treaty is fully implemented, once formally adopted.”

Liz Karan, Director of Pew’s ocean governance project. ”The effective implementation of this landmark treaty is the only pathway to safeguard high seas biodiversity for generations to come and provides a pathway for nations to fulfill the 30 by 30 target. Governments and civil society must now ensure that the agreement is adopted and rapidly enters into force.”

Christopher Chin, Executive Director at The Center for Oceanic Awareness, Research, and Education (COARE): “With this finalized text, the world is now one great step closer to embracing the importance of the High Seas, and to achieving the 30×30 objectives. Once adopted, however, member States must still ratify the Treaty, and we call upon them to do so swiftly.”

Andrew Deutz, Director of Global Policy, Institutions & Conservation Finance, The Nature Conservancy: “While the Treaty leaves room for improvement, we should nevertheless celebrate the fact that –after more than a decade of discussions and three concerted attempts to wrestle it across the line – we finally have a global framework in place for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity for almost half of our planet’s surface. Whether this has arrived in time to slow the accelerating ecological crisis happening in our ocean will depend on how quickly countries can ratify the Treaty at national level and start mainstreaming ambitions like 30×30 into both their own decision-making, and that of the global bodies which manage human activity on the High Seas. If they can do so swiftly, putting people and planet above politics, we may yet have a chance to move beyond the damaging status quo and into a new era of nature-positive stewardship for this most critical of ecosystems.” 

Farah Obaidullah, Ocean Advocate and Founder Women4Oceans: “This is an historic moment for humanity and for the protection of all living beings in our global ocean. A rare and welcome moment of hope for all of us rightfully concerned with the state of the world. Almost half our planet will now have a chance of some sort of protection from the ever-increasing onslaughts to the ocean. This treaty comes not a moment too soon. With the climate and global wildlife crises worsening and a reckless new industry of deep-sea mining on the horizon, we cannot afford any delays in putting this treaty into force.”

Dr Susan Waugh, Global Marine Policy Coordinator, BirdLife International: “It’s a really important for marine biodiversity conservation to see this Treaty reach its closing phase, there is still the adoption and ratification to complete, but it’s a momentous task to have agreed the text of the Convention after 15 years of negotiation and preparatory meetings. Now the management of the High Seas has an appropriate framework for managing human activities, and importantly the mechanism to enable protection of this important ecosystem has been secured. Under the BBNJ agreement, it will now be possible to create and manage marine protected areas on the High Seas. This area is vital for biodiversity, but also for the earth’s climate, covering half of the planet’s surface.”

MEDIA CONTACT: Patricia Roy email: patricia@communicationsinc.co.uk, Tel: +34 696 905 907.

20 February, 2023

New York, 20th February 2023: Today governments resume negotiations at the United Nations in New York to finalize a new High Seas Treaty to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. The two-week Intergovernmental conference is taking place from 20 February to 3 March 2023 and is a resumption of negotiations from August 2022, when governments ran out of time.

Covering half of the planet, the High Seas support vibrant marine ecosystems, life that is vital to the global food supply, and the planet’s climate system. However, it has been plagued by poor or patchy governance, and with only 1.2% protected, vast High Seas areas are open to unsustainable exploitation. This new treaty aims to address these shortcomings and offers a historic opportunity to put in place game-changing new measures for the ocean, including establishing highly and fully protected areas and strengthening assessment and management of human activities.

The recent global commitment to protect at least 30% of the ocean by 2030 (the “30×30” goal) offers an ambitious backdrop for ensuring this new treaty provides the legal tools to turn the target into a reality. The pressure is now on governments to ensure the treaty that is finally agreed upon will be ambitious enough to result in a healthy ocean rather than a degraded one.

Key issues that still need to be addressed at the meeting include: measures to ensure that the new treaty can deliver effective new marine protected areas rather than “paper parks”; safeguards to avoid harm arising from human activities affecting the high seas and the deep seabed; a strong institutional framework to ensure effective implementation and compliance; decision-making rules to avoid enabling one or two countries to block progress; and critical finance and equity issues related to capacity building and the sharing of benefits from marine genetic resources. 

We came frustratingly close to getting this treaty over the line in August at what was supposed to be the final round of negotiations. With the accelerating climate and biodiversity crises, time is not a luxury we have to put ocean health back on track,” said Sarah Bevis from the High Seas Alliance. “This time round we need to seize the moment and get an ambitious treaty over the finish line, so we can roll up our sleeves and work on the crucial tasks of getting the treaty ratified and implemented”.

Additional Quotes from High Seas Alliance member organizations

Dr Laura Meller, Oceans Campaigner and Polar Advisor, Greenpeace Nordic said:

“The oceans support all life on Earth. Their fate will be decided at these negotiations. The science is clear. Protecting 30% of the oceans by 2030 is the absolute minimum necessary to avert catastrophe. It was encouraging to see all governments adopt the 30×30 target last year, but lofty targets mean nothing without action.”

“This special session taking place so soon after the last round of negotiations collapsed gives us hope. If a strong Treaty is agreed on the 3rd of March, it keeps 30×30 alive. Governments must return to negotiations ready to find compromises and deliver an effective Treaty. We’re already in extra time. These talks are one final chance to deliver. Governments must not fail.”

Trevor Jones, Campaign Manager, Only One said: 

“Without protections for the high seas, we cannot hope to have a healthy ocean, and without a healthy ocean we put marine life, coastal livelihoods, and global food stability at grave risk. Millions of people from around the world have spoken out: They want a strong High Seas Treaty, and they’re counting on their leaders to finally get the job done.”

Liz Karan, Director of Pew’s Ocean Governance Project said:

“The high seas support diverse marine life and unique ecosystems critical to the health of our ocean and planet. Countries must seize this opportunity to finalize a robust high seas treaty to establish highly protected, cross sectoral high seas MPAs for the benefit of current and future generations”.

 Jennifer Morris, CEO of The Nature Conservancy said: 

“Ensuring legal protection for the vast areas of open ocean beyond national jurisdiction, and actively acknowledging the importance of addressing this situation, is a pivotal step in moving toward our ambitious ‘30×30’ target in the new UN Global Biodiversity Framework. Ensuring a successful outcome from the New York negotiations, in the form of a formally agreed and legally binding High Seas Treaty, is imperative to meet the collective commitment to conserve 30% of the Earth’s ocean this side of 2030.”

Gladys Martínez, Executive Director de la Asociación Interamericana para la Defensa del Ambiente (AIDA) said: 

“The high seas urgently needs a governance framework. We look forward to states concluding a strong and ambitious treaty during these two weeks.”

Fabienne McLellan, Managing Director OceanCare said: 

“We have high hopes that governments will find a way to finalize the High Seas Treaty during the resumed session of IGC 5. Countries must understand that it would be grossly negligent to once again fail to conclude an agreement to conserve marine diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. The climate and biodiversity crises are in full swing, and the ocean is our ally, not an infinite resource to be exploited. It is not only important that the Agreement is finalized, but what is agreed needs to make a tangible difference in protecting biodiversity. Against this backdrop, it is difficult to imagine that no agreement will be reached – the agreement is vital for marine biodiversity, a healthy ocean and thus also for us humans” 

16 February, 2023

In 2017, the UN convened a series of Intergovernmental Conferences (IGCs) to create an international legally binding Treaty for the High Seas (Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction). Since then five IGCs have failed to secure this crucial Treaty. Before we move into IGC5bis (the resumption of IGC5), here is a brief timeline of the negotiations so far, as reported by China Dialogue Oceans.



The UN General Assembly conven an Intergovernmental Conference –  “under the auspices of the United Nations, to consider the recommendations of the Preparatory Committee established by resolution 69/292 of 19 June 2015 on the elements and to elaborate the text of an international legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.”


4 -09.2018

IGC1 – “The first round of talks to establish a new Treaty to protect marine life and biodiversity in the High Seas took place at the United Nations in New York in September, with the goal of finalising a treaty in 2020.”

Read the China Dialogue Article


25.03.2019 – 05.04.2019

IGC2 – Talks continue.


IGC3 – “Ahead of negotiations in New York later this month, some observers are worried about whether a legally binding deal can be reached in 2020 as scheduled. There is only one more round of talks planned next year.”

Read the China Dialogue Article

2020 + 2021 

Talks are delayed by the Covid-19 Pandemic



IGC4 – “The fourth and final scheduled round of talks was supposed to conclude a multi-year process and result in a Treaty. Now, governments will have to keep making progress in the coming months until another round of talks, likely to happen in August.”

Read the China Dialogue Article


IGC5 – “Despite an extra two-week negotiation session, countries ran out of time yet again, stalling over differences on sharing marine genetic resources”

Read the China Dialogue Article


20.02.2023 – 04.03.2023

IGC5 Final – ” After two decades of negotiations, almost 200 countries have agreed to a legally binding treaty to protect marine life on the high seas”

Read the China Dialogue Article

23 January, 2023

23rd January 2023: High Seas Alliance welcomes the announcement just made by the United States of America that they have joined the High Ambition Coalition for Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ)

This High Ambition Coalition launched in February 2022 at the One Ocean Summit, is a political commitment by countries that recognize that securing a strong international treaty is “the greatest opportunity to conserve ocean life”. With the announcement by the U.S., 51 members have joined to date. 

The negotiations to finalize a new High Seas treaty will pick up again at the United Nations in New York from 20th February to 3rd March 2023, at the resumed 5th Intergovernmental Conference (IGC5.2), after they ran out of time to find enough common ground in August 2022. 

With less than a month to go before the Conference starts it is critical for members of this Coalition, including the U.S., to live up to its name, and ensure in the coming weeks there is high-level momentum and commitment for negotiations to land on an ambitious final treaty that benefits ocean life, rather than short-term interests and concerns. 

As a key and active player within international ocean governance, the U.S. can play a key role in facilitating these discussions, and in the future to help lead efforts to implement a robust and future proof treaty that safeguards high seas marine biodiversity for the benefit of all humankind now and across generations

19 December, 2022

Ocean groups reacted with relief to the announcement from CBD COP15 that states have committed to a target of 30% protection by 2030 (30×30) of land and sea as part of the new Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) that was just adopted in Montreal.

Following serious concerns that commitments relating to the ocean would be weaker than for terrestrial, Target 3 in the final outcome does include at least 30% protection of the marine realm. It also clearly highlights the need to respect the rights, roles, knowledge and territories of Indigenous peoples and local communities in achieving this 30×30 target.

The OneOcean Flotilla, made up of 90 groups globally, welcomed the new GBF after urging delegates to represent the #OceanInTheRoom through a new campaign.  Mirella von Lindenfels of the Flotilla said, “Ocean biodiversity is our greatest ally against climate change, it is vital that it is afforded at least 30% protection and recognised for its role in making the Earth habitable. Now the real hard work starts, implementing this target on the water. ”

To achieve 30% protection of the ocean will also require the completion of the High Seas Treaty which has been under negotiation at the UN and delayed until February 2023. Nathalie Rey of the High Seas Alliance said, “We have this global commitment to protect the ocean, now we need the High Seas Treaty to enable us to enact it in protecting two thirds of the ocean that make up the High Seas. States must bring this wave of action to completing a robust and strong Treaty at the resumed negotiations in February.”  

Jennifer Josehans  of SeaBlue Canada which began the #OceanInTheRoom campaign added:  “We welcome this historical agreement, particularly the acknowledgment of Indigenous rights and commitment to 30% protection of our ocean by 2030. Let us take this shared momentum and ensure quality and equitable protection on the ground. The countdown to 2030 starts today.”

1 March, 2022

Partners of both the Global Tuna Alliance (GTA) and the Sustainable Seafood Coalition (SSC) – which includes every supermarket in the United Kingdom, plus nearly 50 other companies, have published a joint position on Marine Biodiversity of areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) citing that although the supply chain rarely takes a stance on this topic, ‘biodiversity is everyone’s business.’

In advance of the fourth session of the BBNJ Intergovernmental Conference, seafood supply chain stakeholders have made their priorities clear. In their joint position, these businesses recognise commercial fisheries as the largest direct driver of biodiversity decline in the High Seas and call for the increased protection of these areas. They ask for Governments to conclude a robust global treaty as soon as possible, including provision of marine protected areas. This is the first ever public effort by members of the seafood sector to contribute to the BBNJ process in 15 years of negotiations.

 “BBNJ” refers to the marine life found in the ‘high seas’, and is known to be a murky and complex topic. The ‘high seas’ encompasses the water column that lies beyond national waters – specifically, they are outside of the Exclusive Economic Zone of any country, and equate to almost ½ of the Earth’s surface. The high seas are largely unexplored, vastly deep, and teeming with marine life. At the same time, they are under increasing threat from overfishing, mining, climate change, and pollution. Only around 1% are currently protected and – due to the lack of clear rules and effective enforcement that follows – the high seas are notoriously difficult to manage and often subject to contention. 

Nations across the world are working on creating an international legally-binding treaty to manage shared marine biodiversity in the high seas, and, until now, neither the GTA or SSC, or its partners, have stated individual positions on it. The coalition of retailers they comprise, though usually market competitors, have joined forces to publish a joint BBNJ position. They not only call on governments for action, but also hope that other organisations and businesses will be inspired to follow suit.

 The voice of the supply chain tends to focus on seafood matters rather than biodiversity, however all seafood – including tuna – is part of a wider ecosystem. The health of this ecosystem is integral to the sustainability of seafood for future generations.

Giles Bolton, Responsible Sourcing Director at Tesco said:

“At Tesco, we want to make it easier for our customers to buy affordable, healthy, sustainable food. We are committed to sourcing from healthy marine ecosystems, however, currently there’s no robust global conservation framework for fishing in areas beyond national jurisdiction, or the High Seas. As a partner of both the Global Tuna Alliance and the Sustainable Seafood Coalition, we are pleased a strong common position on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdictions (BBNJ) has been established, and call on governments to accelerate action for a Robust High Seas Treaty, including a 30×30 commitment for a network of Marine Protected Areas.”

Under this joint position, all  UK supermarkets are included, along with nearly 50 other supply chain companies. This collaborative approach between competitive businesses is unique and amplifies the global responsibility that is necessary under the BBNJ treaty.

It’s the 21st century – sustainability is on everyone’s minds, especially with countries currently coming together for COP26. It was Paul Polman, ex-CEO of brand giant Unilever, who said, “Sustainability makes good business sense, and we’re all on the same team at the end of the day.” Competitors working together and taking ownership of social and environmental impacts makes it possible to achieve real, transformative change that no single group could achieve alone.

As well as profitable seafood supply chains, GTA and SSC partners want to source from healthy and sustainable fisheries, which are directly linked to a healthy marine ecosystem. This joint position demonstrates how these major retailers are thinking about the bigger picture, stepping forward to make noise and call on governments for action. Because after all, biodiversity is everyone’s business.

The Global Tuna Alliance (GTA) is an independent group of retailers and tuna supply chain companies who are committed to achieving more transparent, socially responsible, and environmentally sustainable tuna fisheries. Operating over 10,000 stores in 21 countries across five continents, they use their collective purchasing power to influence the policies set out by the tuna Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (tRFMOs).

Dr Tom Pickerell is the Executive Director of the GTA: tom@globaltunaalliance.com

The Sustainable Seafood Coalition (SSC) is a group of businesses that collaborate to tackle pressing sustainability challenges facing seafood supply chains in the UK. Its members represent all sectors of the seafood industry, from the largest retailers to individual fish and chip shops. Its vision is, quite simply, that all seafood sold in the UK comes from sustainable sources.

Oliver Tanqueray is the Sustainable Seafood Coalition Coordinator at ClientEarth: OTanqueray@clientearth.org

1 March, 2022

From 9-11 in Brest, France, world leaders, governments,  and civil society gathered in Brest, France at the One Ocean Summit,  under the leadership of French President Emmanuel Macron, coinciding with the French Presidency of the Council of the EU, to raise the collective level of ambition on ocean issues, along with concrete commitments and calls to action.  In the opening workshop of the Summit, High Seas Alliance Director, Peggy Kalas, moderated a high level panel on ocean governance that was co-chaired by Ambassador Rena Lee, President of the BBNJ Conference, included views on how to improve global ocean governance gaps as well as a call to action for conclusion of a robust BBNJ agreement in 2022 by Ambassador Waldemar Coutts, Director of Environment and Oceans for Chile.  Other speakers included Secretary-General Henry Puna from the Pacific Island Forum, Ambassador Walton Webson, Permanent Representative of Antigua and Barbuda to the United Nations, Secretary-General Michael Lodge of the International Seabed Authority, Professor Dire Tladi from University of Pretoria, Francoise Gaill, CNRS and Ocean-climate Platform, Eudes Riblier, President of Institut Francais de la Mer, and closing remarks from Miguel de Serpa Soares, Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and United Nations Legal Counsel, and US Asst. Secretary of State, Monica Medina

On March 11, during the high level segment of the Summit, President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen announced the launching of a High Ambition Coalition on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) that was joined by over 40 Heads of State (including all EU Member States), to achieve an ambitious outcome of the BBNJ negotiations in 2022. 

Meanwhile, in the center of Brest, activists from Greenpeace France delivered a strong message calling for world leaders to deliver on their promises and turn words into action to protect the ocean.  The world will be watching as governments gather at the UN to negotiate treaty text in the fourth intergovernmental conference taking place at UN headquarters from 7-18 March.

1 April, 2020

World governments were due to meet at the United Nations in March/April this year for the final scheduled negotiation session to establish a new international legally-binding High Seas Treaty.

While these negotiations have been temporarily postponed, it is important to continue the work and momentum towards finalising negotiations and the adoption of this landmark treaty as early as possible.

Continue reading High Seas Alliance and Prospect Round Table

5 December, 2019

Source: Ocean as Common 

Le 8 juin 2018, nous lancions un Appel pour que l’Ocean soit reconnu comme bien commun de l’Humanité.

Ce mardi 2 décembre 2019, lors de son discours aux Assises de l’économie de la mer, le Président de la République, Emmanuel Macron, a posé ce principe comme fondement de la stratégie maritime de la France.
Dans une allocation portant haut l’ambition maritime pour la France, le chef de l’Etat a en effet déclaré : « La vision maritime que la France doit développer est claire : l’océan est un bien commun de l’humanité, … Un bien placé sous notre responsabilité collective et individuelle, de la haute mer aux eaux territoriales »

Continue reading La France à l’avant-garde de l’Ocean, Bien commun de l’Humanité

15 November, 2019

Good news for global governance of the ocean! The High Seas Alliance, a global partnership of 40 environmental NGOs and IUCN, has been selected as one of the 10 projects out of a total of 700 applicants, to be “scaled-up” over the next year through support and advice from the prestigious Paris Peace Forum.  Specifically, the Paris Peace Forum will promote HSA’s work to protect the ocean’s immense and unique biodiversity with a binding international governance treaty, currently being negotiated at the UN. 

Continue reading Paris Peace Forum Announcement