Leveraging the UN High Seas Treaty to strengthen EU-ASEAN maritime cooperation


Global Europe

Picture of Robert C. Brears
Robert C. Brears

Founder of Our Future Water and Author of "Developing the Blue Economy"

The signing of the United Nations High Seas Treaty on 5 March 2023 marks a significant milestone in ocean preservation and governance. The treaty, which took nearly two decades to negotiate, establishes a legal framework for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, which cover about two-thirds of the world’s oceans and seabeds. The European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) now have the opportunity to take advantage of this achievement to further strengthen maritime cooperation between the two regions by, among other things, establishing a shared framework for marine conservation, improving information sharing and bolstering maritime law enforcement.

A joint framework for maritime conservation between the EU and ASEAN should first be established, concentrating on shared aims and objectives. This framework ought to be founded on already-existing international accords that can act as the cornerstone for collaboration, like the Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. By harmonising their marine conservation policies, both regions can collaborate more successfully to address urgent issues, including overfishing, marine pollution and biodiversity loss.

The efficiency of marine conservation activities can be significantly improved by improving information exchange and scientific cooperation between the EU and ASEAN. Both regions can benefit from one another’s knowledge and experience to create more robust solutions to existing problems. Collaboration in research can also result in novel tools and methods for monitoring and safeguarding maritime ecosystems. The EU and ASEAN should establish a joint maritime research centre hub for collaborative initiatives and information sharing to enable this cooperation.

The health of marine ecosystems is significantly at risk due to climate change

Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing poses a severe risk to marine ecosystems and coastal populations’ way of life. Therefore, the EU and ASEAN should strengthen their cooperative maritime law enforcement and surveillance operations. This can be done by setting up a regional coordination hub for maritime law enforcement, making it easier for relevant organisations, like coast guards, navies and fisheries agencies, to work together. In addition, to better detect and discourage IUU fishing practices, both regions should invest in cutting-edge surveillance tools like satellite monitoring and aerial drones.

Maintaining healthy marine ecosystems and ensuring long-term food security require sustainable fisheries management. The EU and ASEAN should cooperate to promote sustainable fisheries management techniques in their respective regions, such as implementing catch quotas, seasonal closures and gear restrictions. The EU can aid ASEAN member states in this effort by giving them financial and technical support to increase their capacity for sustainable fisheries management. At the same time, ASEAN can impart to the EU its vast knowledge of community-based fisheries management.

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are a tried-and-true method of preserving the diversity of the maritime environment and encouraging the wise use of its resources. As a result, the EU and ASEAN should invest more effort into creating and overseeing MPAs in their respective regions. Furthermore, both regions can help the world achieve its objective of protecting at least 30% of the ocean by 2030 by selecting priority areas for preservation and exchanging best practices for MPA management.

The health of marine ecosystems is significantly at risk due to climate change, which extensively impacts how well the oceans regulate the world’s climate. As a result, the EU and ASEAN should expand their collaboration on initiatives to enhance disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. This can be accomplished by creating collaborative projects on ecosystem-based adaptation, early warning systems for natural disasters and coastal resilience. Additionally, both regions should work together to conduct research and create cutting-edge strategies for reducing the effects of climate change on marine ecosystems, such as restoring coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangroves.

Both regions can significantly advance the conservation and sustainable use of marine resources by cooperating to address shared concerns

Forging a culture of ocean stewardship and generating support for marine conservation efforts, ocean literacy and public awareness is crucial. The EU and ASEAN should collaborate on projects to promote ocean literacy and public awareness by educating the public about the value of healthy marine ecosystems and the difficulties they face. This can be accomplished by creating instructional materials, public awareness campaigns and programmes to increase the capacity of journalists and educators. In addition, both regions can produce the political will required to implement effective policies and procedures to conserve the ocean by involving the public in marine conservation.

Promoting sustainable development and marine conservation relies heavily on the business sector. By creating public-private partnerships, offering rewards to companies that adopt sustainable practices, and promoting the growth of sustainable blue economy sectors like ecotourism, aquaculture, and renewable energy, the EU and ASEAN should encourage private sector involvement in ocean preservation. In addition, involving the corporate sector will enable both regions to use additional resources and knowledge to address marine conservation issues.

For the EU and ASEAN to improve maritime cooperation, the UN High Seas Treaty is a crucial cornerstone. Both regions can significantly advance the conservation and sustainable use of marine resources by cooperating to address shared concerns, improving the health and well-being of present and future generations. The suggestions outlined above serve as a road map for improved cooperation between the EU and ASEAN, and as a model for other regional alliances attempting to progress ocean preservation without a universal agreement.

This article is a contribution from a member or partner organisation of Friends of Europe. The views expressed in this #CriticalThinking article reflect those of the author(s) and not of Friends of Europe.

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