Through three international conferences, the third lasting more than nine years, the United Nations has spearheaded an international effort to promote a comprehensive global agreement for the protection, preservation and peaceful development of the oceans. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which came into force in 1994, with a goal of standardizing how nations exploit or protect the resources of the open sea. It lays down rules for the determination of national maritime jurisdiction, navigation on the high seas, rights and duties of coastal and other states, obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment, cooperation in the conduct of marine scientific research and preservation of living resources. It could be sorely tested in the near future, with potential conflicts over oil and gas, fisheries, deep sea mining, and more. China's current push to build artificial islands in the South China Sea to extend its territorial claims is a flashpoint. At 2021, the USA is not one of the 168 signatories.
The Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982 defines the boundaries of each part of the sea and the continental shelf and the legal regime applicable therein, the rights and conditions of passage for shipping through other states' waters, jurisdiction over ships on the high seas and exceptions to the freedom of the high seas and the legal and management regime for the exploitation of mineral resources on the deep-sea bed and ocean floor beyond national jurisdiction. The Parties are obliged to: (1) keep under surveillance the effects of any activities which they permit or in which they engage, in order to determine whether these activities are likely to pollute the marine environment; (2) follow up their commitment by actively enforcing national and applicable international standards with regard to all sources of pollution under their jurisdiction; (3) adopt measures for the conservation of living resources of marine pollution and cooperate in taking such measures for high-seas fisheries.
It is left to the Parties to devise the ways and means of individually or jointly pursuing systematic and ad-hoc monitoring programmes, taking into account similar programmes already established by other treaties and organizations. Many of the provisions of the Convention are codifications of customary law and therefore applicable to all states, irrespective of signature or ratification. The process of realisation of the Convention through many years worked as a catalyst encouraging an integrated approach to the sea. The General Assembly of the United Nations decided in Resolution 49/28 that it would evaluate the implementation of the Convention and review other developments relating to ocean affairs and the law of the sea on an annual basis.