PrepCom 3 Advances Discussions on High Seas Biodiversity Agreement
UN Photo/Rick Bajornas
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At PrepCom 3, delegations were asked to elaborate their vision for the backbone and key content of an international legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction under UNCLOS.

The meeting concluded with delegations requesting the preparation of an updated Chair’s non-paper, the structuring and streamlining of submissions, as well as draft substantive recommendations for consideration by PrepCom 4 in July 2017.

7 April 2017: UN Member States met for the third time to continue discussions on the draft text of an international agreement to manage biodiversity in the high seas. At the third session of the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom 3) on the elements of a draft text of an international legally binding instrument (ILBI) on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), delegations were asked to elaborate their vision for the backbone and key content of such an agreement.

PrepCom3, held at UN Headquarters in New York, US, from 27 March to 7 April 2017, was considered the last fully substantive negotiating session before the fourth and final session set for July 2017, where delegates will need to reach agreement on recommendations to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on whether to convene an intergovernmental conference to finalize negotiations of an ILBI. It was also the last BBNJ PrepCom before the UN Ocean Conference convenes in June 2017 to set the path for progress on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 (life below water).

Delegations’ discussions were based on guidance from the Chair’s compilation of submissions from governments and civil society, which had been produced intersessionally. Delegates met in informal working groups and in plenary to consider: marine genetic resources (MGRs), including questions on benefit-sharing; measures such as area-based management tools, including marine protected areas (MPAs); environmental impact assessments (EIAs); capacity building and marine technology transfer; and cross-cutting issues, such as the scope of an ILBI, its relationship with other instruments, and its institutional arrangements.

On MGRs, discussions focused on: scope and definitions; principles and approaches; access; benefit-sharing; intellectual property rights (IPRs); and a clearinghouse mechanism (CHM). The talks on principles and approaches centered, in part, on whether MGRs fall under a common heritage regime. Discussions on access looked into how and what regulations are needed, with a view to not hindering scientific research. Participants also addressed how a CHM might function and support an ILBI.

On area-based management tools (ABMTs), discussions centered on: objectives; principles and approaches; relationship with existing mechanisms; definitions; and governance. Delegates also addressed governance models, considering three options suggested by the chair for MPAs: a global model, establishing a global institution to consider and decide on ABMT proposals; a hybrid model, reinforcing regional and sectoral organizations’ mandates through regional coordination mechanisms, and providing global guidance and oversight; and a regional and sectoral model, recognizing regional and sectoral bodies’ authority for decision making, monitoring and review of ABMTs, with the ILBI providing general policy guidance to promote cooperation, without global-level oversight.

On environmental impact assessments (EIAs), delegates focused on: scope; thresholds; transboundary EIAs (TEIAs); strategic environmental assessments (SEAs); governance; transparency; costs; monitoring; a clearinghouse; EBSAs; guidelines; and capacity building. Delegations also discussed options for a clearinghouse mechanism or central repository from which EIAs could be accessed.

On cross-cutting issues, delegations debated how to avoid undermining existing regional and sectoral bodies, and how the ILBI could interface with other agreements and conventions. For instance, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) suggested that “not undermining” involves non-duplication, coherence and coordination, addressing existing gaps. The EU stressed that the ILBI should respect the balance of rights and obligations under UNCLOS, and the competence of other bodies. Morocco emphasized that the ILBI should not affect existing instruments’ effectiveness, while Guatemala, with Mexico, proposed “not contradicting or weakening” existing instruments’ mandates.

Overall, PrepCom 3 continued the exchange of increasingly detailed proposals on possible elements of the ILBI. Largely seen as a positive step forward, according to the Earth Negotiations Bulletin, the meeting concluded with delegations requesting the preparation of an updated Chair’s non-paper, the structuring and streamlining of submissions, as well as draft substantive recommendations for consideration by PrepCom 4 in July 2017. Noting that the roadmap was acceptable to delegates, the chair invited participants to provide indicative suggestions for PrepCom 4 by 24 April 2017, to contribute to the streamlined Chair’s non-paper. [ENB Meeting Coverage]


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