2 May 2017
Negotiations on Ocean Call for Action Continue, WTO and UNCLOS among Remaining Issues
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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UN Member States concluded the second round of informal consultations on the Call for Action to be adopted at the UN Ocean Conference, and will consult on a new draft text on 22, 23 and 25 May.

As identified by the co-facilitators, difficult areas for agreement include the references to UNCLOS (paragraph 12) and to the WTO ongoing negotiations on harmful fishing subsidies (paragraph 14P).

Progress was made during the week on references to the BBNJ process (paragraph 14S).

27 April 2017: UN Member States concluded the second round of informal consultations on the Call for Action to be adopted at the UN Ocean Conference. Several areas of divergence remain to be resolved after two-and-a-half days of discussion, and the co-facilitators will draft a new text for Member States’ consideration at a third round of consultations, scheduled for 22, 23 and 25 May 2017.

Governments met on 24, 25, and 27 April in informal consultations led by co-facilitators Àlvaro Mendonça e Moura, Permanent Representative of Portugal, and Burhan Gafoor, Permanent Representative of Singapore. Discussions focused on the 7 April revised zero draft of the document, titled ‘Our Ocean, Our Future: Call for Action.’ The Call for Action will be the political outcome of the UN Ocean Conference convening from 5-9 June 2017, in New York, US. The revised zero draft was issued by the co-facilitators following the first round of informal consultations, held in March 2017.

During the second round of discussions, Member States exchanged views in a complete reading of the text. The co-facilitators then identified three particularly difficult areas for agreement: references to the biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction (BBNJ) process (paragraph 14S); references to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) (paragraph 12); and references to the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) ongoing negotiations on harmful fishing subsidies (paragraph 14P).

On 26 April, in an informal-informal, expert-level session facilitated by experts for the co-facilitators, governments made progress towards agreed language on BBNJ. The language on UNCLOS as well as the WTO negotiations, however, remains a subject for further discussion. On the WTO negotiations, the EU and others prefer to call for the negotiations to conclude swiftly, while others warn against language that could prejudge the outcome of the WTO negotiations. On UNCLOS, some governments (the Russian Federation, the EU, Belize, Norway and others) called to leave the text as drafted in paragraph 12, while others, including some States that are not party to UNCLOS, proposed using the wording from SDG target 14.c as a compromise.

Other areas of the text were also flagged as problematic by multiple delegations. On “blue economy,” Argentina, the US and others preferred to avoid including the concept, citing the lack of a widely-agreed definition. Others argued for finding a suitable way to reflect it (China, EU, the United Arab Emirates, Bangladesh and Australia).

On plastics and microplastics, Mexico said these references are of “utmost importance,” echoed by several delegations, including the Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS), Australia and the EU, which noted that plastics and microplastics are “moving up the food chain” and affecting human health. China called to delete references to microplastics.

On the Rio Principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR), the Group of 77 and China (G-77/China), supported by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the African Group, Cuba, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Gabon and others, stressed the need to include the concept. China said that developed countries’ calls for greater ambition in the Call for Action imply either an interest in taking more responsibility themselves, or in having developing countries shoulder greater responsibility. He added that in this case, including a reference to CBDR is extremely important. The EU, Australia, Canada, the US and Japan objected to the relevance, appropriateness or applicability of CBDR in the Call for Action.

On middle-income countries (MICs), several governments called to add MICs to SIDS and LDCs when referring to groups of countries in special circumstances. Others suggested broadening the reference to “developing countries.” Micronesia cautioned against adding additional groupings (MICs, LLDCs, coastal African countries, etc.) to the list, since the countries that rely disproportionately on the oceans are actually very few.

Finally, on follow-up and review, several delegations underlined the need for a stronger role for the UN Oceans mechanism to improve coordination in the governance of ocean-related issues, with the Pacific SIDS and others suggesting biannual reporting from UN Oceans beginning in 2019. Other countries (Argentina, EU, Iceland) preferred to review UN Oceans’ role during the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), which is already scheduled to discuss its terms of reference. Papua New Guinea asked where people will look to judge progress on SDG 14, and stressed the need to ensure that ocean-related mechanisms feed well into the High-level Political Forum (HLPF). Kenya, Fiji and the PSIDS expressed support for holding additional Ocean Conferences in future years to follow up on the 2017 gathering. Belize and others expressed concern about jeopardizing the holistic approach to the 2030 Agenda and its follow-up and review framework. Argentina, Iceland, Japan did not agree that SDG 14 is an “orphan goal”, with Japan cautioning against the word “fragmentation.”

It was stressed by the co-facilitators and some governments that the Conference will not replace or undermine the role of the HLPF with regard to the follow-up and review of SDG 14. The co-chairs elaborated that the point is not to “create new things,” but to ensure that Goal 14 will be “accompanied to the HLPF” like the other SDGs. Further, identifying the Goal as an “orphan” does not mean we need to construct it a new home, said Gafoor, but to find it one that already exists, in order to ensure that the system is optimized, working well, that governments are creating a Call for Action that matters.

The co-facilitators indicated that they will make the next version of the revised draft available early May. They said the third round of consultations must be the final round and that governments must find solutions and compromises to all outstanding issues, resulting in a finalized text. [IISD Sources] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Consultations Day 1] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Revised Zero Draft]

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