Nature and Biodiversity

UN High Seas Treaty: Why we need a global dialogue on the ocean

The oceans will now be protected thanks to the UN High Seas Treaty.

The oceans will now be protected thanks to the UN High Seas Treaty. Image: Unsplash/Alex Braga

Yves Mathieu
Co-director and Founder, Missions Publiques
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  • The historic UN High Seas Treaty has been finally been agreed and its signing marks a giant step forward for the ocean and its governance.
  • We now need a global dialogue on the ocean to ensure that any proposals or policies developed under the treaty are as effective as possible.
  • Only by involving all stakeholders, including experts, Indigenous peoples and civil society, can action to protect the ocean be successful.

The United Nations’ High Seas Treaty has finally been signed and aspires to "universal participation" for the first time, marking a giant step for the ocean and its governance.

The historic UN agreement will see the implementation of its proposals carried out after a consultative process with civil society, prior to being reviewed and agreed upon by consensus by a “conference of the parties”, as seen with COP sessions on climate change and biodiversity.

As such, the time has come for the international community to hold a global dialogue on the ocean to properly consult actors and effectively feed into this long-awaited process.

We need a global dialogue on the ocean

A large-scale dialogue on the ocean, involving all the stakeholders mentioned in the UN treaty, will allow for the participation of “Indigenous peoples and local communities with relevant traditional knowledge, but also the scientific community, civil society and other relevant stakeholders”.

The historic nature of this unprecedented agreement lies not only in the fact that the high seas will be subject to jurisdiction, but also in the fact that civil society on a global scale will be fully consulted in the implementation of the new proposals developed under the treaty.

It also promises impact at state level since the conference of the parties will meet periodically and enable member states to be held to account on issues such as governance and biodiversity.

This can only be done within a framework of broad-based deliberation and informed participation. In line with the UN's wording, decentralized global dialogues such as the We, the Internet dialogues designed by Missions Publiques, are "transparent and inclusive, conducted in a timely manner".

A global dialogue on the ocean will provide a framework for permanent citizens' processes, incorporating traditional, native and Indigenous inputs into decision-making.

Accordingly, a solid and high-level ecosystem of practitioners of global participatory processes is needed to implement this decentralized dynamic in 100 countries, including small island states.

By combining online consultations and decentralized face-to-face deliberations, thousands of citizens offer their field expertise and life experiences to come up with new perspective and policy options with stakeholders on issues such as sustainable fisheries, coastal zone conservation or marine pollution.

In November 1997, UNESCO published its Declaration on the Responsibility of the Present Generations Towards Future Generations. In this statement, the UN educational, scientific and cultural body expressed its concern about the fate of future generations in the face of the vital challenges of the 21st century.

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It also stressed its determination to contribute to the solution of current global problems through enhanced international cooperation and by “creating the conditions necessary to ensure that the needs and interests of future generations are not compromised by the weight of the past”.

Accordingly, all the competent authorities must tackle and profoundly transform the existing status quo for the benefit of future generations and for the simple survival of humanity and the world in which we live.

Unheard voices must be consulted to support High Seas Treaty

To support the UN High Seas Treaty’s conference of the parties, including the voices that are missing from current national and international negotiations is a must.

With non-human voices and the future generations as well as the public, the wider civil society, the scientific community and Indigenous communities, whose traditions and belief systems often mean that they regard nature with deep understanding and respect.

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By enriching ocean policy through collective intelligence and by refocusing the negotiations around a narrative based on the reality of citizens' lives, the global dialogue will be a significant moment for a coalition of actors committed to changing the way decisions are being taken in ocean policy: national and local governments, non-governmental organizations, civil society actors, private companies and citizens.

Bringing these key players on board will be a strong international signal to renew the governance of the ocean while consolidating trust in policies at all levels.

Creating the conditions for a wider political support for the high seas strategies that are ultimately put in place will take time, inclusion and deliberation. However, taking this deliberative approach will also promote transparency, legitimacy and accountability of decisions when it comes to protecting the ocean.

Four organizations are cooperating in the development of this process. Missions Publiques is the initiator of the global dialogue on the ocean, Arizona State University's Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes (CSPO) and ParticipAction support the initiative. Make.org is a collaborator on the massive consultation phase.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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