Working Group Discusses Scope, Parameters and Feasibility of Agreement on BBNJ
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The eighth meeting of the UN General Assembly's (UNGA) Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction (BBNJ) was considered successful.

The meeting was the second of three meetings to discuss the scope, parameters and feasibility of a possible new international instrument on marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

United Nations19 June 2014: The eighth meeting of the UN General Assembly’s (UNGA) Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction (BBNJ) worked to clarify a series of substantive elements of a new agreement on BBNJ that were considered necessary to prepare recommendations to the UNGA at the next meeting of the Working Group, scheduled to take place in January 2015.

The meeting was the second of three meetings to discuss the scope, parameters and feasibility of a possible new international instrument on marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Delegates discussed the instrument’s objective, legal nature, membership, geographic scope, guiding approach, principles, relationships with other instruments, marine protected areas (MPAs), marine genetic resources (MGRs), environmental impact assessment (EIA), technology transfer and capacity building, and feasibility of a new international instrument.

Australia favored a legally binding instrument with a legally binding dispute settlement mechanism. New Zealand and the EU also called for a legally binding agreement. Brazil explained that coordination without a legally binding instrument could only achieve limited results, such as raising awareness and sharing good practices. Trinidad and Tobago underscored the role of a legally binding instrument in allowing least developed countries (LDCs) to participate in research on MGRs that otherwise would remain subject to agreement among developed countries. The Russian Federation said the 2011 package does not necessarily need to be tackled in its entirety through a legally binding agreement.

On membership, New Zealand, Australia, the EU, Algeria and Guatemala called for a universal instrument open also to non-parties to UNCLOS. Colombia and Peru cautioned that the participation of non-parties to UNCLOS in future negotiations of a new instrument based on UNCLOS would not mean that non-parties accept UNCLOS obligations.

On feasibility, Australia said a new agreement is feasible because it would: continue and not disrupt the work of UNCLOS; address gaps including fragmented oceans governance; and fill the legal gap related to MGRs. The African Group remarked that: an implementing agreement is needed; its scope should be based on the 2011 package; and there is no need to detail all objects that will be included in a future agreement, as this will be debated in actual negotiations. New Zealand said a new agreement is an opportunity to, inter alia: unify the current fragmented regime through a centralized mechanism providing common objectives and guiding principles; fill the legal gap related to MGRs; create a platform for coordination and cooperation; and operationalize UNCLOS obligations in the specific context of BBNJ. Argentina said a new instrument would fill gaps in the UN Fish Stocks Agreement (UNFSA) and UNCLOS. Peru and Ecuador underscored increasing consensus on the existence of a legal gap on MGRs and on the need to fill it.

On next steps, Co-Chair Palitha Kohona (Sri Lanka) expressed commitment to preparing draft elements of a recommendation, based on the 2011 package, for consideration at the January meeting, which would also outline the main elements of convergence that have emerged in the Working Group.

The meeting took place from 16-19 June 2014, at UN Headquarters in New York, US. The meetings are expected to contribute to a decision to be taken at the 69th session of the UNGA on the development of a new international instrument under UNCLOS, as mandated by the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20). [IISD RS Meeting Coverage]


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