A fifth round of negotiations for a UN ocean treaty to protect and manage the high seas failed to reach an agreement on Friday in New York.
The treaty has been described as “the most significant ocean protection agreement for four decades”.
It seeks to protect 30% of the world’s oceans – 11m sq km – by 2030, and would provide a legally binding mechanism for safeguarding the high seas – areas that lie beyond national jurisdictions more than 200 nautical miles from shore.
A group of more than 50 countries known as the High Ambition Coalition committed last year to protect 30% of the planet’s land and sea by 2030. But without an agreement, these pledges have no legal basis in the high seas, which cover almost half of the earth’s surface and account for two-thirds of the global ocean.
The latest negotiations had stretched over two weeks and failed to reach an agreement despite progress in the last 48 hours. Conservation organisations have warned that the fresh failure of talks meant time was running out to protect the world’s oceans and marine biodiversity.
A further round of negotiations will be necessary, and unless an emergency meeting was convened it was unlikely the treaty would be finalised in 2022, Greenpeace said.
“Time has all but run out,” said Laura Meller of Greenpeace in a statement. “Failure to deliver a treaty at these talks jeopardises the livelihoods and food security of billions of people around the world.
“Members of the High Ambition Coalition and countries like the USA have moved too slowly to find compromises, despite their commitments,” she said.
The World Wide Fund for Nature said it was worried a delay in reaching a global treaty would “further erode the declining health of the ocean”.
“The high seas play a vital role in supporting fisheries, providing habitat for hundreds of thousands of species and mitigating climate change impacts,” WWF said in a statement.
“Much in the draft text has seen significant progress, with provisions that ensure we are moving away from the current situation where the high seas are open for all, toward common stewardship and collective responsibility, but the diplomatic deal is not struck until everything is agreed.”
The WWF International director general, Marco Lambertini, said the remaining UN member states must get behind the treaty.
“The high seas epitomise the tragedy of the commons,” he said. “Because they don’t ‘belong’ to anyone, they have been treated recklessly with impunity. We need a common governance mechanism for our ocean to ensure that nobody’s waters become everybody’s waters – and everyone’s responsibility.”
Jessica Battle, a senior global ocean governance and policy expert at WWF, said in a statement: “These delays have real consequences for people and nature.
“We call on leaders and the UN to get the necessary work done so a treaty is concluded with urgency,” Battle said. “The ocean can’t wait.”
Australian Associated Press contributed to this report.