The conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction is increasingly attracting international attention.
The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea provides the legal framework for all activities in the ocean.
The fifth session of the Intergovernmental Conference made progress on marine genetic resources, area-based management tools, environmental impact assessments, and capacity building and the transfer of marine technology.
Having come close to reaching consensus, delegates negotiating a new high seas treaty agreed to reconvene in early 2023 to conclude the talks. According to the Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) summary report of the meeting, many were optimistic that another round of talks may get them “over the finish line.”
The conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction is increasingly attracting international attention, ENB writes. Scientific information points to “the richness and vulnerability of such biodiversity, particularly around seamounts, hydrothermal vents, sponges, and cold-water corals.” There are also growing concerns over “the increasing anthropogenic pressures posed by existing and emerging activities, such as fishing, mining, marine pollution, and bioprospecting in the deep sea.”
The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provides the legal framework for all activities in the ocean. In its resolution 72/249 of 24 December 2017, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) decided to convene an Intergovernmental Conference to elaborate the text of international legally binding instrument under UNCLOS on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ), with a view to developing the instrument as soon as possible.
The fifth session of the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC-5), which convened in New York, US, from 15-26 August 2022, was expected to be the final negotiating session towards a high seas treaty. While this was not to be the case, and differences remain on a number of issues, IGC-5 was lauded by many as the “the closest we have come to reaching consensus,” with one delegate suggesting “we have made more progress at this session than over the last decade.”
The ENB summary of IGC-5 notes that delegates advanced discussions on the four elements that have guided the negotiations:
- Marine genetic resources, including questions on benefit-sharing: progress was achieved on provisions on application, and activities related to marine genetic resources, including their notification, while divergencies persist on the establishment of an access and benefit-sharing mechanism, monetary benefit-sharing, and intellectual property rights (IPRs);
- Area-based management tools, including marine protected areas (MPAs);
- Environmental impact assessments (EIAs): progress was made on planned/proposed activities and on strategic environmental assessments, while differences remain on decision making, thresholds, and an area- versus impact-based approach; and
- Capacity building and the transfer of marine technology: in spite of disagreement on funding modalities, delegates agreed to establish a committee on capacity building and the transfer of marine technology – “an essential element” of the future high seas treaty.
Negotiators also made progress on cross-cutting issues and institutional arrangements.
As consensus appeared elusive, some participants expressed frustration over the slow pace of negotiations. Yet, the ENB analysis of the meeting highlights, there is a need for a “strong treaty addressing serious existing conservation concerns [that] will allow future sustainable use for the benefit of all people, including future generations.” Indeed, as both delegates and observers stressed during the negotiations, “having a weak treaty is not an option.” [Earth Negotiations Bulletin Coverage of IGC-5]