Conference participants tackled a myriad of topic clusters and exchanged views on procedural mechanisms, monitoring, reporting and review modalities, along with the use of terms, as the intergovernmental conference drafting a legally binding treaty under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea governing marine biodiversity in ocean waters beyond national jurisdiction continued its consideration of environmental impact assessments today.
The representative of Mauritius, associating himself with statements to be made by the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, the African Group, and the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), said that related articles of 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea should continue to be the basis of States’ obligations to protect the marine environment. More specifically, the importance of articles 192 and 206 should be reaffirmed in the new instrument. There must be consistency of environmental impact assessments across all clusters. There should also be no duplication of existing instruments, he added, emphasizing rather the need for complementarity.
The Russian Federation’s delegate brought up the issue of reassessing the assessment. When an assessment has already been carried out, is it wise to assess the assessment, he asked the conference. “We do not believe that this would be the correct approach,” he said, adding that one assessment is sufficient.
A representative of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) said basic standards could be developed in the new instrument, particularly regarding transparency. The instrument enhances the opportunity to enhance cooperation and coordination. Further, she expressed concern over the impacts of climate change, warning that the rising temperature of global oceans will result in the relocation and extinction of marine species.
Also speaking were representatives of Iceland and India.
Representatives of the International Seabed Authority and the World Wide Fund for Nature spoke as well.
The conference then turned to the cluster on procedural steps of the environmental impact assessment process and the cluster on monitoring, reporting and review.
Egypt’s representative, speaking for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the text must specify the required content and description of planned activities, environments likely to be impacted, social impacts, and a non-technical summary. Reports should remain consistent with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The delegate of the Maldives, speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), said procedural steps should include at a minimum a clear scope of steps. Adjacent coastal States should be consulted in conducting an environmental impact assessment.
Nauru’s representative, speaking for the Pacific small island States, and associating herself with the Group of 77 and AOSIS, said the review of the report could require that alternative measures be implemented to take into account presented recommendations. Adjacent coastal States should be actively consulted.
The representative of the European Union said the obligation to ensure that an environmental impact assessment is carried out lies with the State party. She stressed the need to avoid duplication and, where possible, build on existing instruments.
Fiji’s representative, associating himself with the Group of 77, AOSIS, and Pacific small island States, reaffirmed the need for mandatory consultations. Indigenous communities must be involved in discussions, he stressed, also adding that details of the environmental impact assessments reports should not be too detailed.
The delegate of the Russian Federation said he was against the internationalization of the environmental impact assessments process, adding that he could not agree with the proposal of a hierarchal approach. The concept itself is dubious, as it applies a lack of trust in the expert commission.
The United States’ delegate said that States should be encouraged to adopt reasonable monitoring processes to examine environmental impact assessments, expressing support for the best use of scientific data. The environmental impact assessments are procedural. It is designed to improve Government decisions.
China’s representative said the environmental impact assessments report may include a reasonable alternative to the proposed activity and a description of the marine environment that would be significantly affected by the proposed activity. Regarding transboundary impact, he said that those impact assessments should consider both location and impact.
The representative of Colombia, associating himself with the Group of 77, recalled the responsibility bore by States to prevent significant environment damage within its borders and jurisdiction and beyond.
The representative of Ocean Care voiced strong support to an activity-and impact-oriented approach, also expressing concern that underwater noise was a great source of pollution.
Also speaking on the cluster were representatives of Algeria (for the Africa Group), Antigua and Barbuda (for the Caribbean Community), Mexico, Philippines, Federated States of Micronesia, Togo, Canada, Tonga, Japan, Norway, Palau, Chile, Australia, Jamaica, New Zealand and Morocco.
Also delivering statements were representatives of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, Food and Agriculture Organization, High-Seas Alliance and the International Cable Protection Committee.
Turning to the cluster on “use of terms”, Egypt’s representative, speaking for the Group of 77, said it is essential that environmental impact assessments consider the special needs of developing countries, including their technical and financial assistance. A clearing house mechanism and a capacity-building network could be useful to an agreement or institutional arrangement.
Algeria’s representative, speaking for the African Group and associating himself with the Group of 77, said provisions to enable effective decision-making should be included in the new instrument.
The European Union’s representative said the clearing house mechanism could help share experience and play a role in promoting international coordination and collaboration in relation to the objectives of the implementing agreement.
Nauru’s representative, speaking for the Pacific small island States, and associating herself with the Group of 77 and AOSIS, underscored the importance of a fund that could help rehabilitate marine biodiversity in areas of non-jurisdiction. She further added that a clearing house mechanism should provide sharing of information and data for all.
Senegal’s delegate, associating himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said environmental impact studies are an important tool to ascertain the potential consequences of projects. Studies should inform the decisions taken and all the subsequent activities rolled out. It is important to use the most strategic scientific data available.
Also speaking on this cluster were representatives of Maldives (for the Alliance of Small Island States), Antigua and Barbuda (for the Caribbean Community), Mexico, Philippines, Russian Federation, Canada, China, Iran, United States, New Zealand, Federated States of Micronesia and Nigeria.
Speakers from the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, High Seas Alliance, World Wide Fund for Nature and the International Council of Environmental Law also spoke.
The conference then commenced discussion on marine genetic resources, including questions on the sharing of benefits, with broad agreement among delegates on the need to draw a distinction between fish harvested as a commodity and fish used for their genetic characteristics.
The representative of Egypt, speaking for the Group of 77, said any regime contained in the new instrument must not hamper marine scientific research. It must cover all marine genetic resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction, without prejudice to the sovereign rights of coastal States. He also insisted on a distinction being made between the use of fish as a source of genetic resources and as a commodity, adding that it would be useful for monitoring reports to include the geographic coordinates of collected marine genetic resources.
Echoing that stance, the representative of Maldives, speaking for AOSIS, said there should be distinction between fish harvested for food and for their genetic properties.
As well, the representative of Algeria, speaking for the African Group, also affirmed that the geographical scope be as extensive as possible.
The representative of Barbados, speaking for Caribbean Community (CARICOM), agreed that the geographical scope of application should be the high seas, without prejudice to the rights and sovereignty of coastal States, including their continental shelves. The instrument should affirm that marine research activities do not create a basis for any claim to the marine environment. She also said she agreed that a distinction between fish as a commodity and fish as a genetic resource be included. Information on genetic sequences could be open to all after a reasonable period, such as two to five years.
The European Union’s delegate said the bloc envisions a non-prejudice clause that gives due regard to the rights and interests of coastal States, based on relevant parts of the Convention of the Law of the Sea and the United Nations Straddling Fish Stocks Agreement [formally, the Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks]. Further, the implementing agreement should cover fish used for genetic research, but not those harvested as a commodity. The treaty under negotiation should deal with marine genetic resources after its entry into force, and not be retroactive. Lastly, genetic derivatives should not be included within the scope of the implementing agreement.
Nauru’s representative, speaking for the Pacific small island States, said the scope of the instrument should include marine genetic resources in the high seas. She voiced her agreement with the Group of 77 and AOSIS on respecting the rights of coastal States. Guidance in that regard can be sought from relevant sections of the Convention on the Law of the Sea and the United Nations Straddling Fish Stock Agreement. Voicing support for making a distinction between fish harvested as a commodity and those collected for genetic properties, she emphasized the need for clear language on mechanisms to ensure traceability.
The observer of the Holy See suggested an alternative way of looking at marine genetic resources. Instead of distinguishing between resources based on their location, the focus should be on the resources themselves, making a distinction between those with actual economic value and those with potential economic value. The focus must be on developing further the provisions in the Convention of the Law of the Sea to address resources that are either unregulated or insufficiently regulated. Economic value is key to assessing appropriate access and benefit-sharing regimes. She went on to suggest that the instrument presume that the origin of all marine genetic resource patents are areas beyond national jurisdiction unless otherwise stated in a patent application. Such an approach would clarify jurisdictional issues while protecting the rights of coastal States.
China’s delegate said the new instrument should not undermine the rights of States under the Convention on the Law of the Sea in areas beyond national jurisdiction. It should focus on regulating in situ access to marine genetic resources, but it should not apply to genetic derivatives, which are naturally occurring chemical components.
Also speaking on the cluster were representatives of Argentina, Republic of Korea, Brazil, Philippines, Colombia, Peru, Thailand, Mauritius, Samoa and New Zealand.
Convened pursuant to General Assembly resolution 72/249, the session — continuing through 17 September — is seeking to elaborate the text of an international legally binding instrument under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.
The session is the first in a series, with the second and third to take place in 2019 and the fourth and last session planned for the first half of 2020.
The conference will meet on Wednesday, 12 September, to continue its work.