Talks on High Seas Treaty Address Marine Genetic Resources, Environmental Impact Assessments
Photo by: Lauren Anderson
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A "zero draft" text includes sections on: marine genetic resources, including questions on the sharing of benefits; measures such as area-based management tools, including marine protected areas; environmental impact assessments; and capacity building and the transfer of marine technology.

Based on discussions in August, a revised draft will be developed prior to the fourth meeting, which will take place in March 2020.

30 August 2019: Delegates at the third session of the intergovernmental body that is negotiating a treaty on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction offered comments on a “zero draft” of the proposed treaty text. Our Earth Negotiations Bulletin team tracked the talks and has summarized the areas where progress was made and further consideration is required.

The official name for the negotiating body for the treaty is the ‘Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ).’ This body was established following a resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2017. The IGC is mandated to meet for four sessions, with the fourth session scheduled for March 2020.

Delegates at the third session, which convened from 19-30 August 2019, at UN Headquarters in New York, US, engaged in textual negotiations on the basis of a “zero draft” that had been developed by IGC President Rena Lee (Singapore). The zero draft document addressed:

  • marine genetic resources (MGRs), including questions on the sharing of benefits;
  • measures such as area-based management tools (ABMTs), including marine protected areas (MPAs);
  • environmental impact assessments (EIAs); and
  • capacity building and the transfer of marine technology (CB&TT).

IISD’s Earth Negotiations Bulletin team reports that, for marine genetic resources, progress was made on issues including: the temporal scope of the agreement; the inclusion of benefit-sharing modalities in the international legally binding instrument (ILBI) as opposed to having them developed by the Conference of the Parties (COP); the referencing of non-monetary benefits; and including a definition of MGRs.

For MGRs, further consideration is still required on issues including: whether to refer only to MGR collected in situ, or also have reference to ex situ, in silico, digital sequence information (DSI) and data, and derivatives; the definition of access and whether it should be subject to a permit or license, or free and open; mandatory or voluntary benefit-sharing, its modalities, and triggers; and whether to address intellectual property rights (IPRs) and, if so, how.

On measures such as area-based management tools, delegates’ positions converged on issues including: developing proposals on the basis of best available science, including traditional knowledge (TK) of indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs); submitting proposals to establish ABMTs, including MPAs, by states parties; and including a list of streamlined objectives that are outcome- rather than process-oriented.

Divergence of opinions on ABMTs remained on, inter alia: determining the role of relevant global, regional, and sectoral bodies; whether different processes for MPAs should be distinguished from those of ABMTs; and provisions around implementation, and monitoring and review.

Regarding environmental impact assessments, new provisions were proposed to address potential gaps as well as to further streamline the text, including by removing alternatives that received no support and merging provisions, where appropriate. Some provisions that enjoyed support, such as on strategic environmental assessments (SEAs), may require further development.

Additional discussions on environmental impact assessments are needed on operational provisions such as thresholds, criteria, the degree of internationalization of the process, and the relationship with EIA processes under other processes and bodies.

Delegates indicated progress was made on capacity building and the transfer of marine technology with regard to: the inclusion of most of the listed objectives; a provision on cooperation at all levels, including through global, regional, sub-regional, and sectoral bodies; the suggested types/categories of CB&TT;
the desirability of a clearing-house mechanism (CHM); and the COP or other appropriate body having a role in determining CB&TT types.

Further work on the CB&TT remains on issues including: whether capacity building is to be voluntary, or both mandatory and voluntary; who should benefit; the role of the COP in elaborating relevant modalities; the terms and conditions upon which CB&TT are to be provided; concerns regarding the imposition of obligations on the private sector; the provision on monitoring and review, including their mandatory or voluntary nature; and questions on the scope.

A revised draft text will be developed prior to the fourth meeting, on the basis of discussions and submissions during the third meeting. [Earth Negotiations Bulletin coverage of the meeting]


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