Diplomats from around the world have failed to reach agreement on a United Nations treaty designed to protect marine life on the high seas, after a fifth round of talks ended in impasse.
Negotiations at U.N. headquarters in New York were suspended early Saturday following two weeks of talks that environmentalists had hoped would close a gap in international marine protection measures.
A proposed treaty would set rules for protecting biodiversity in two-thirds of the world's ocean areas that are outside of national jurisdictions.
Less than 1% of the high seas are protected without a new treaty, and “pockets of marine protection are not enough” for threatened species, said Maxine Burkett, the United States deputy assistant secretary of state who was involved in negotiations.
The global goal is to set aside 30% of ocean area as some kind of marine sanctuary.
Ocean health is also key to combating climate change because more than 90% of the excess heat from climate change is absorbed by the seas. Marine heat waves are getting longer and more frequent.
“The ocean cannot afford further delay,” Burkett said earlier in the week, when the negotiations looked promising.
In the Caribbean, “our livelihoods are directly dependent on the health of the ocean,” said Janine Felson, Belize's ambassador to the United Nations.
Talks centered on how to share benefits from marine life, establish protected areas, prevent harm from human activity on the high seas and to help poor countries gain the skills and means for ocean exploration.
Campaigners expressed disappointment at the failure to reach a deal but said the talks produced some progress.
Laura Meller, who leads Greenpeace’s ocean protection campaign, accused rich countries such as the United States of being too slow to compromise.
“Russia has also been a key blocker in negotiations, refusing to engage in the treaty process itself, or attempting to compromise with the European Union and many other states on a wide range of issues,” Meller said.
The talks will resume next year unless a special emergency session is called before the end of 2022.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Monica Medina also voiced disappointment but expressed hope that the work done so far would carry forward. She said the United States remained committed to the goal of protecting at least 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030.
"We cannot let the tides and currents push us back. We must keep going,” Medina said.