Inside the long, long struggle for a Global Ocean Treaty

It has taken decades, but we finally have a Global Ocean Treaty that can deliver the protection the oceans desperately need.


It has taken decades, but we finally have a Global Ocean Treaty that can deliver the protection the oceans desperately need.

This Treaty provides the tools to create vast protected areas covering at least 30% of the oceans by 2030.

In June 2023, governments met at the United Nations to officially adopt the treaty after agreeing the text back in March.

Let’s take a look back at how we got here, what comes next, and what the UK government can do to move things forward.

How did Greenpeace help?

Why ocean protection matters

The seas provide half of our oxygen, and food for a billion people. With this new treaty, we can give them the protection they deserve.

Winning this treaty took decades, and Greenpeace has been there since the beginning.

In 2005, we published our first ever briefing calling for a new treaty under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. It was a call to protect ocean life and provide tools to create marine protected areas on the high seas.

This was vital because the high seas, (waters beyond the borders of countries), were (and still are) a wild west of destructive activity.

We, along with our allies, were also among the first to call to protect least 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030. This crucial ’30×30′ target was finally agreed to by all governments in December 2022. 30% is the absolute minimum scientists say we need to let the oceans to recover and thrive.

Without the millions of people on every continent who worked together to call for ocean protection, the strong treaty and 30×30 target would not have been possible.

People stand on brightly painted traditional Senegalese fishing boats. A banner between the boats reads Global Ocean Treaty Now.
A row of people in blue clothes and ocean themed face paint at a campaign event.

The treaty was decades in the making

The Global Ocean Treaty is the first legally binding treaty related to the oceans in over 20 years. And it’s the first ever to focus on protecting ocean life on the high seas.

Treaty timeline

Treaty agreed

After years of negotiations and buildup, governments finally agreed the treaty text in March 2023.

Treaty adopted

After translation and legal checks, the treaty text was formally adopted at the UN in June 2023.

Treaty ratified

At least 60 governments now need to adopt the treaty into their national laws so it can come into effect by 2025.

Ocean sanctuaries created

When the treaty is ratified, the race is on to create new ocean sanctuaries. These need to cover 30% of the oceans by 2030.

The process began in the early 2000s. In 2004, a working group was established to study gaps in how the global oceans are governed. In 2008, the first debates were held on a new Implementing Agreement, and in 2011, the “key elements” of the treaty package were agreed.

In 2015, the UN General Assembly recommended the development of a new Implementing Agreement. Then the first Preparatory Committee (Prep Comm) was established which would elaborate on the key elements of the treaty.

A series of 4 PrepComms were held in 2016 and 2017, paving the way for a series of negotiations on a treaty text – the IGCs – Intergovernmental Conferences.

The first Intergovernmental Conference happened in New York in 2018. Five years, and five (well, 6 really) negotiating sessions later, we finally have a treaty.

This long process has been full of highs and lows. But its success shows how persistent, long-term campaigning can make a difference.

'Protect the oceans' slogan is projected on the side of the iconic Chrysler building in New York.

Greenpeace USA activists project ocean protection messages onto the Chrysler Building in New York during the Global Ocean Treaty negotiations. © Greenpeace

What happens next?

The agreement of this treaty is powerful proof that protecting nature can still triumph over global politics.

But winning the treaty is just the start. Now it needs to come to life at sea.

For the treaty to enter into force, at least 60 governments need to sign it into their national laws. This is called ‘ratification’.

To hit the 2030 deadline, countries need to ratify by 2025, leaving five years to get the new protected areas in place.

We have no time to waste. Now the treaty is adopted, governments must urgently pass the laws needed to ratify the treaty.

The UK government worked hard to to get a Global Ocean Treaty, and it has an important role to play in what comes next. The government should be among the first to ratify, and must also put forward proposals for the first new ocean sanctuaries.

We’ve come so far, and even if we still have a long way to go, together, we can win.

Let the race to ratification begin…

What's next?