High Seas Treaty by United Nations

High Seas Treaty by United Nations

High Seas Treaty by United Nations


  • The High Seas Treaty aims to address the regulatory gaps, by promoting coherence and coordination with and among existing institutions, frameworks, and bodies.
  • In 1982, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), was adopted, which delineated rules to govern the oceans and the use of its resources.
  • However, there was no comprehensive legal framework that covered the high seas.
  • As climate change and global warming emerged as global concerns, a need was felt for an international legal framework to protect oceans and marine life.
  • The UNGA (United Nations General Assembly) decided in 2015 to develop a legally binding instrument within the framework of UNCLOS.
  • Subsequently, the IGC was convened to frame a legal instrument on BBNJ.

Key Features of the High Seas Treaty

Access and Benefit-sharing Committee:

  • High Seas Treaty will set up an access- and benefit-sharing committee to frame guidelines.
  • The activities concerning marine genetic resources of areas on high seas will be in the interests of all States and for the benefit of humanity.
  • They have to be carried out exclusively for peaceful purposes.

Environmental Impact Assessments:

  • Signatories will have to conduct environmental impact assessments before the exploitation of marine resources.
  • Before carrying out a planned activity, the member will have to undertake processes of screening, scoping, carrying out an impact assessment of the marine environment likely to be affected, identifying prevention, and management of potential adverse effects.

Consent from Indigenous Community:

  • Marine resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction that are held by indigenous people and local communities can only be accessed with their “free, prior and informed consent or approval and involvement”.
  • No State can claim its right over marine genetic resources of areas beyond national jurisdiction.

Clearing-House Mechanism:

Members will have to provide the Clearing-House Mechanism (CHM), established as part of the High Seas Treaty, with details like the objective of the research, geographical area of collection, names of sponsors, etc.


A special fund will be established for the High Seas Treaty as part of the pact which will be fixed by the conference of parties (COP). The COP will also oversee the functioning of the treaty.


The High Seas Treaty is significant in achieving the 30×30 target set at UN CBD (Convention on Biological Diversity) COP15 under which the countries agreed to protect 30% of oceans by 2030.

Major Impediments to the Treaty on High Seas?

The negations have failed to reach a consensus on several contentious issues:

  • Ensuring fair access to marine resources (MGRs) for all. Industrialized nations have technology to access deep sea resources which less-industrialized nations lack. Just 10 industrialized countries account for 71% of fishing catch value and 98% of patents on genetic sequences of marine life in the high seas. Several Latin American nations have criticized richer nations’ rigidity and continued focus on their narrow economic interests.
  • Principles and procedures to establish Marine Protected Areas (MPAs): They are global common that belong to all countries. No single country can claim exclusive rights over the high seas and its resources. There has been a lack of consensus on framing an overarching mechanism for implementing and managing MPAs, how to integrate them with existing fisheries management policy, or how the environmental impacts of planned activities should be assessed.
  • Issue of funding: There are also differences regarding funding and support for developing countries. The Arctic is another undecided issue. As Arctic ice melts due to climate change and shorter winters, it will open up new areas of extraction. However, countries are divided over the activities to be permitted and their impact on the Arctic ecosystem.

Related Links:

Indo-Nepal Friendship TreatyNon-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)
New Start TreatyNATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation)