The resumed fifth session of the Intergovernmental Conference picked up where delegates left off in August 2022, when IGC-5.1 was unable to get the negotiations over the finish line.
Closed-door President’s consultations that lasted over 36 hours led to “delicate compromise,” with delegates “agreeing” to the text as discussed during the closed-door meeting, without formally adopting it in plenary.
Once formally adopted, the new Ocean Treaty will enter into force upon achieving 60 ratifications.
“The ship has reached the shore,” said Rena Lee, President of the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) tasked with negotiating a new treaty on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ). After a decade and a half of work, including four years of formal talks, governments agreed to conserve and sustainably use the high seas.
The resumed fifth session of the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC-5.2) convened from 20 February to 4 March 2023 at UN Headquarters in New York, US, to pick up where delegates left off in August 2022, when IGC-5.1 was unable to get the negotiations over the finish line.
The Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) summary report of the meeting notes that the Ocean “constitutes over 90% of the habitable space on the planet and contains some 250,000 known species.” Nearly two-thirds of the Ocean are in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ), yet “fragmented legal frameworks have left biodiversity in ABNJ vulnerable to growing threats,” such as climate change, pollution, overfishing, habitat destruction, ocean acidification, and underwater noise.
“Balancing conservation and sustainable use is a demanding undertaking,” writes ENB in its analysis. “But when benefit-sharing requirements are added to the equation, achieving the right balance is even more difficult.”
Closed-door President’s consultations that lasted over 36 hours led to “delicate compromise,” with procedural issues evident at the end of the meeting. Delegates “agreed” to the text as discussed during the closed-door meeting, without formally adopting it in plenary. The IGC established an open-ended informal working group that will undertake technical edits, harmonize the wording in all six UN official languages, and report to the Intergovernmental Conference, which will hold another resumed session in the coming months.
The new agreement, ENB underscores, “is a critical piece of the conservation puzzle.” The 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provides the overarching framework. Specific activities are regulated by subsequent agreements, including the 1995 UNCLOS Implementing Agreement relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, and the 1994 Agreement Relating to the Implementation of UNCLOS Part XI on deep-sea mining. According to ENB, the new treaty will fill in remaining gaps, including:
- addressing the exploitation of marine genetic resources (MGRs), including questions on benefit-sharing;
- establishing area-based management tools (ABMTs), including marine protected areas (MPAs) to ensure effective conservation;
- conducting environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for planned activities in ABNJ or for activities within national jurisdiction that may have negative impacts in ABNJ; and
- providing for the necessary capacity building and transfer of marine technology.
ENB analysis indicates that the agreement provides a strong overall policy framework and can become a gamechanger in Ocean governance.
Once formally adopted after technical edits and translation, the new Ocean Treaty will enter into force upon achieving 60 ratifications, which, according to some, “may take some time.” The agreement comes some two months after governments adopted the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF). [ENB Coverage of IGC-5.2]