The United Nations has launched a far-reaching initiative that could give U.N.-sponsored authorities sway over the biological resources of the high seas—all the waters that lie outside national territories and economic zones.

The potential shift in power involves multi-trillion-dollar issues, such as whether large areas—conceivably, as much as 30 percent– of the world’s international waters should be designated as no-go areas to protect biological diversity; whether and how to require elaborate “environmental impact assessments” for future ocean development projects; and how to divide up the economic benefits from the future development of “marine genetic resources.”

Eden Charles, a diplomat from Trinidad and Tobago who is serving as the chairman for a U.N. preparatory committee that began the discussions this week underlined to Fox News that the talks are at a “very, very preliminary stage.”

Overall, the hoped-for treaty will cover “two-thirds of the oceans, almost half the planet,” says Lisa Speer, a senior official of the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which is in turn a lead member of a squadron of 33 environmentalist groups banded together as the High Seas Alliance to lobby for protectionist measures during the talks.

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